Overcoming Social Media's Steep Learning Curve

Further reading: Social media best practices.

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In the beauty category, brands have embraced their role as storytellers, and look to inspire us with commercials that resemble movies, packaging that mimics poetry and ever more romantic ingredient stories. But when it comes to social media, many brands are still struggling to connect their content to their broader brand themes and stories that would promote cross-generational appeal.

Social media is still very much the Wild West when it comes to storytelling. Brands that spend a fortune managing their image and messaging across every other platform have a surprisingly laissez-faire attitude to social media.

With major beauty brands making actual posts, such as “I just want to say that I am so happy it’s Friday #HelloWeekend” and “Well hello there, first weekend of October,” it’s no surprise that a recent CMO survey showed that only 20% felt that their social media was well integrated with their marketing strategy.

Telling stories on social media can feel daunting given the demands for fresh content every day, and the constraints imposed by 140 character Tweets or six-second Vines.

That being said, here are six tips to help beauty brands make CMOs happy by delivering strong social content that reinforces the core brand strategy and messages.

1. Don’t obsess about being popular

When it comes to social media, 80% of U.S. marketers measure the effectiveness of their content with metrics, such as likes and retweets. But being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—remember those teen horror movies where the most popular character always gets killed off first?

In social media, it’s easy to get likes and retweets—just ask an open-ended question, such as “How are you getting ready for summer?,” and the likes and shares will flood in.

But posts from beauty brands, like “RT if shaving your armpits is a part of your daily shower routine” or “It’s Adopt a Shelter Dog Month! Post a picture below. We’d love to see your adopted animal,” do little to support marketing strategy or further a brand’s story.

2. It’s about more than product

StoryScore recently analyzed the social media posts of 10 beauty brands for one month and found that content promoting individual products accounted for one in four of all posts. The majority of these posts followed the same formula of product packaging photo + caption, and quickly got lost in a sea of similar-looking content.

But with a bit of effort and imagination, product posts can be made eye-catching and memorable. For example, Olay Fresh Effects promoted its Acne Control Scrub with a colorful, fall-inspired back-to-school outfit on Instagram, while Clinique showcased its Grandest Grape Chubby Stick by showing it beautifully photographed in a bowl of grapes (also on Instagram).

Product innovation is the lifeblood of the beauty category, so it’s not surprising that posts promoting these are the single most dominant theme across the 10 brands in the StoryScore study.

But it is surprising that so many other themes that are important to building strong brands—people/employees, ingredient stories, brand history/heritage stories—are broadly neglected by the beauty category. None of the above themes accounted for more than 1% of social media posts in October 2014, while posts about celebrities accounted for 6%.

3. Understand your audiences

For seven out of 10 brands in the StoryScore study, Twitter was the dominant social platform, accounting for up to 78% of all the social content they posted.

Twitter’s dominance is surprising given that more online women prefer Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn or Instagram to Twitter. Facebook is, of course, still the most popular social platform, attracting 71% of all female Internet users, according to the Pew Research Center.

The only brand to use Facebook as its dominant platform in the StoryScore study was Urban Decay.

Instagram is the place to be to catch the attention of online women ages 18–29, 53% of whom are regular users.

This explains why Instagram is the dominant platform for both MAC and Too-Faced. Pinterest is also popular with younger audiences (34% of online women), as well as older audiences (27% of online women ages 50–64).

Beauty brands should use visual platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest, to post more than just product shots. MAC posts great content from behind the runway at fashion shows on Instagram, while Fresh Beauty uses Pinterest to showcase beautiful mood boards and lifestyle imagery.

4. Give your audience a reason to care

Social media is a great forum for brands to tell powerful stories that promote their cause-related activities. Supporting a meaningful cause is also a great way of building relationships with millennial consumers, who typically spend 25% more on beauty products than the U.S. average.

In the StoryScore study, cause-related posts accounted for less than 10% of social content across all brands. Dove is the leader in cause-related content, with 42% of all posts relating to its self-esteem/Real Beauty campaign.

The brands posting the least amount of cause-related social content included Maybelline, Kiehl’s, MAC Cosmetics and Urban Decay.

5. Color comes from context and authenticity

On its Pinterest page, Benefit Cosmetics has a “Beauty Throwbacks” gallery showcasing old products, advertising and other memorabilia from the brand’s history. This is a fun way of engaging consumers, especially those from the boomer generation, while also reassuring them of the brand’s heritage and longevity.

In the StoryScore study, only three out of 10 brands posted content related to brand heritage—Kiehls, Maybelline and Too Faced. This represents a huge missed opportunity for other brands in the study, and for any other brand that is not digging into the corporate archives to find inspiration for social content.

Younger brands that don’t yet have corporate archives are also able to weave their (shorter) history into social content. For example, Espionage Cosmetics, an “all nerd” makeup company founded in 2011 and funded by Kickstarter, posts photos and unboxing videos from backers as well as a gallery of photos from all conventions that the brand has exhibited at since it was founded.

As brands look to develop more robust social content strategies, storytelling will only become more important across social media. For many beauty brands there is still a steep learning curve before they master social media in the same way that they have mastered other forms of expression like advertising, packaging and promotions.



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