Before 2020, digital marketing had hit a spell of doldrums: Influencer partnerships felt overdone and inauthentic and trend-driven campaigns felt both fleeting and deeply unoriginal. With shifting algorithms and the emergence of a billion-dollar paid media market, consultants and executives were left scratching their heads, wondering how to possibly stand out in the crowd (I myself felt this same frustration). How was it that everything could be done “correctly”—with nothing but best practices and intentional discipline—and still fall short of social media’s early, brand-launching impact? It seemed there was no longer a possibility of catching lightning in a bottle. One client told me they were surprised that social media was such a time-consuming and costly “slog.” I admitted that these days, they weren’t wrong.
Then came a year that changed everything. You don’t need me to recount the events that landed 2020 in the history books, but I will gladly share the three game-changing lessons that my most resilient clients learned along the way.
Lesson One: Focus on The Long Term, Not Just Band-Aids
As storefronts, museums, theaters and offices closed, teams everywhere scrambled for solutions that kept businesses afloat. Amid the scramble came an overwhelming wave of digital communications: Posts announcing closures, Instagram Lives that offered self-care programming and aggressive virtual sales. This last-minute planning and pivoting was admirably scrappy and almost always necessary. But now, as these necessities have begun to dissipate, I’ve noticed one common thread among my most resilient clients: They’ve all continued at least one new initiative that stemmed from 2020’s challenges and opportunities. Some have continued curbside pickup and livestreamed programming, both important steps toward overall accessibility. Others have remained faithful to commitments they made amid cries for inclusivity and social justice. A few restaurants that began crafting hearty, affordable family-sized meals during the pandemic have continued the practice, a response to grateful parents whose schedules and stress levels benefitted from one less to-do. Overall, the most intentional and authentic responses and solutions were the most enduring: As the months have passed, intentional activations have built a sense of newfound trust with communities, both on and offline. Social media comments and Yelp testimonials are proof enough that consistency breeds long-term retention—and appreciation.
Lesson Two: When Necessary, Choose Quality Over Quantity
Anyone can share a post every single day, but not everyone can share unique content that stands out in the crowd. As proclaims the mantra of retail favorite Cuyana, “Fewer is better.” Rather than burning out or sharing halfhearted, pieced-together content that ends up in an overwhelming pile, I now encourage clients to carefully consider investing in a few pieces of outstanding video footage or beautiful graphics that can be widely circulated. The best way to conquer social media algorithms is to demonstrate that you can drive interest: A beautiful, thoughtful video clip that’s formatted specifically for a platform like Instagram Reels is much more likely to earn views, saves and shares than a quick, shaky video that’s filmed in low lighting. Don’t rush yourself for the sake of sharing content every single day. Eventually, you’ll have the resources and connections required to produce that volume of content. For now, prioritize intention; and try consistently posting three times per week. Your audience will respond kindly to this focused effort! Stop their thumbs first—then feed their souls and minds with quality you want associated with your brand.
Lesson Three: Communication is a Two-Way Street
In a season of heightened enthusiasm and frustration, one thing is for sure: Communication matters. Not only do thoughtful responses to comments on Instagram and Facebook posts bolster your brand’s credibility, but listening matters, too. Let customer or visitor feedback guide your future planning. Even when brands receive negative feedback or track frustrations online, I make sure to remind them of one comforting adage: There is nothing better than letting your customers drive the ship! If they give you feedback, wish lists, hopes or ideas on a silver platter, follow key patterns and acknowledge their influence. Host polls in Instagram Stories, but don’t forget to let followers know when their input has been implemented.
Finally, be sure to remember that behind every active social media follower is a real person with a real story. Agree with your team that everyone will communicate with empathy, and get customer service experts or copywriters involved as you hone your brand’s voice. Throughout the last year, my team has kept our eyes peeled for “real” customers who are doing the extraordinary in their ordinary lives. By building one-on-one connections and sharing gratitude with these standout individuals, we’ve met some of our most enthusiastic evangelists. You’ll find that one person’s 500 followers may be more impactful than another person’s 500,000.
Ultimately, a brand testimonial should never be your reason for compassion or attentiveness. That said, when digital interactions are grounded in humanity, everyone wins; and we get just a bit closer to the connective magic that once made social media such a magical place.
Jenna Gulick is owner and creative director of Eye-Catcher Social Media. At the age of 20, she graduated cum laude from UCLA with nine clients and a self-owned business already under her belt. Now, with nearly a decade of experience, Jenna and her team are helping a growing number of businesses develop strategy, create content and establish their unique voice to find real, loyal fans. She can be reached at email@example.com.