Reach Is Much More Than An Impression

Working in marketing over the last 20 years I have seen the meaning of an “impression” change a lot.

Ad Age1 references an impression as “…a term used for online advertising metrics.  It refers to an ad delivered onto a web page in a place that could be seen by the user…  …The Media Ratings Council’s standard for a viewable display impression is a minimum of 50% of pixels in view for a minimum of one second.”

The definition clearly outlines what most people in the marketing / media business consider an impression – and the success of most marketing campaigns are judged by the number of impressions, delivered either through paid or earned media efforts.  However, I posit the true value of an impression must be based on the audiences’ reaction to the media, not simply whether or not it passed by them, on the constant stream of content flowing through their newsfeed.

The non-media professional’s definition of the word impression is one that the vast majority of us think of when we hear it.

im·pres·sion2 – noun
an idea, feeling, or opinion about something or someone, especially one formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.

I always like to say that content is not about filling the channel; it is about filling the void. As the global director of social media for CENTURY 21®, I have the privilege of managing multiple social networks for one of the largest real estate brands.  The one thing I learned early on, was that the most important aspect influencing any campaign’s success, is the impact its content has on the audience.

In 2008, when I begin my role with the brand, the type of content that I was disseminating via Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin was mostly real estate industry news and information.  As a public relations professional, hard news was always the most attractive content to share with an audience who followed that industry.  One day I posted about the Kardashians moving into or out of a new home somewhere near Los Angeles.  The result was an increase in engagement and share-ability by approximately 400% over the average post volume.  It was an epiphany that has influenced my content strategy decisions ever since.

Social Media Is About Them, Not You

In providing best practices for how to leverage social media for business to our affiliated real estate professionals, we focus on three core areas; building up followers or social sphere, fostering those relationships via a consistent content strategy that provides value, and follow up, follow up, follow up.  It is called the BFF (Business Friends Forever) strategy and it is designed to help our system members make new BFFs every day.

It all starts with building up a following.  There is a strong impulse to want to have more followers than your competition.  It is human nature to want to be the best, and the higher number of followers you have is an easy benchmark for businesses to hang their hat on.  A lot has been written dismissing this goal.  While the evidence that more followers equals more business is scant, perception is often times reality and when a Facebook page or Twitter account looks like a ghost town, it definitely leaves a negative impression. More importantly, especially in a sales environment, more contacts improve your chances of generating more business opportunities.

There are only so many ways to achieve rapid increases in followers.  Advertising is the most powerful and efficient method to increase followers.  A small amount of Facebook advertising goes a long way and with Twitter and other networks now becoming more affordable for the masses, the trend toward increased digital (social / mobile) advertising3 will continue to grow.  As noted by Pew Research:

  • In 2014, $50.7 billion was spent on digital ads, including mobile, up 18% from $43.1 billion in 2013.  That is on par with the 17% increase a year earlier.
  • Digital advertising has also grown as a percentage of total media advertising across all platforms: 28% in 2014, up from 25% in 2013.

The next tactic that may boost a business’ social sphere is a consistent content distribution strategy.  It is becoming more common for brands to employ inbound marketing strategies.  According to Hubspot4, “The number of marketers who state they are practicing inbound rose to 85% this year from 60% last year.”

However, just because you are posting regularly, does not mean that more consumers will find your page – or want to keep coming back for that matter.  To keep customers coming back, you must offer something that they cannot get anywhere else.  You must make them feel something.  The best marketing inspires emotion in its target.  Whether it is happy or sad, it connects with you on a deeper, subconscious level and drives a reaction.

The fostering relationships part of our BFF strategy is designed to provide a consistent drumbeat of digital content, which creates an emotional response from its audience and enables an opportunity to drive the online conversation with their social sphere.  Combined with locally relevant content about the community, real estate, and personal hobbies, our affiliated real estate professionals have a game plan for long-term success via social selling.

Recently, the brand released two video series that provide excellent examples of content that connects with consumers on an emotional level.  The #EmptyNesters campaign was released right in the heart of graduation season.  The three-part digital ad campaign takes a light-hearted look at how parents are coping with their little ones “leaving the nest,” literally, in the ads.  The ads appeal to anyone who has college-age children and who may be considering downsizing or investing in a second home.

The next, #WorldsWorstGarageBand was released just in time for the summer concert season.  Four of the world’s worst garage bands were featured in this short video series that showcases their special talents.  Each of the videos ends with a simple message, “If You Live Within Earshot, We’ll Help You Move Immediately.”  While not everyone lives next to a garage band, the emotional impact these videos have on anyone who watched and listened to them is obvious, painful, seems to be the most apt description.

Besides the emotional appeal of these campaigns’ messaging, the brand paid particular attention to how the videos were distributed.  To drive engagement and share-ability, Century 21 released the videos as it normally does via Facebook, Google+, Linkedin Groups, and YouTube.  However, to ensure it optimized the campaign’s reach, the brand released the videos natively on Facebook and also cut the videos down to 15 seconds to enable distribution via Instagram.

“Facebook and Instagram are the top social apps among U.S. mobile users5

Using micro-video to create timely content that increases media engagement, reaches mobile consumers, and includes a strong call to action has proved to be an effective digital marketing strategy.  Empowering Century 21 affiliated real estate professionals with short, fun, sharable content through the C21® Social for Business platform has enhanced our brand value proposition.

While increasing reach by posting video natively via Facebook and optimizing for mobile are tactics that drive impressions and reach, in the opinion of this author, the success of future digital campaigns will be judged based on social insights.  Today, we may evaluate the true value of a campaign based on data that just was not available five years ago.

Share-Ability Is More Important Than Media Impressions

The emotional value of a brand’s content – its ability to connect – is the new digital currency.  In Mark Schaefer’s book, “The Content Code6,” he references six key reasons why people chose to share content.

  • It made you look cooler, smarter.  Funnier, or more relevant – providing you with personal psychological benefit.
  • The content struck some strong emotional chord.  It made you laugh, cry, or otherwise feel something so profound it deserved to be shared with others.
  • It’s practical or timely.  Sharing the content will help and inform your friends.
  • You found a new idea and can’t wait to be the first to share it.
  • You feel deeply connected to the author and you want to support them.
  • It represents an achievement.  Maybe you or your company was mentioned in the content and it makes you feel good to show this representation of your status.

No surprise, none of the aforementioned reasons people share content was about the brand or company who shared it.  They were almost exclusively about the audience and a personal benefit accrued by sharing the content.

Today’s online consumer doesn’t have time to engage deeply with the constant stream of content that passes in front of their eyes on countless digital streams.  The content must have an emotional hook, be visually impactful, and answer the question WIFM (What’s In It For Me?) within three seconds.  In fact, it has been reported that just one-half of one percent of those who see a Facebook post share it 7.  These statistics support the premise that share-ability is a key metric for the success of digital campaigns.

How Do You Optimize For Share-Ability?

As noted earlier, optimize video for today’s leading social apps and networks.  To be more precise, optimize for mobile and produce more short “micro-video” segments.

One of the things that the brand has done to drive shares among its followers is to cut down on the size of its videos.  Five years ago 1-2 minute corporate videos were considered the norm.  Whether these were classic “how to” videos or internal events, 1-2 minutes seemed like a reasonable expectation from followers of the brand; however, the advent of short-form video features on Instagram and new social video sharing networks like Vine have laid-waste to that notion.

To counter this movement toward ever decreasing attention spans, the brand has produced a series of micro-videos, which are 6 seconds.  Obviously this form of video marketing requires a supremely creative mind to develop sharable content in such a limited time frame.  It is the opinion of this author that short form video, 15-seconds or less, will continue to be in high-demand by brands seeking to reach and connect with the Millennial generation.

Among the top 15 apps for millennials (as determined by monthly unique visitors), Facebook also operates the fastest-growing one: Facebook Messenger.  Facebook’s messaging app had over 30 million unique millennial visitors in October, up 145 percent compared to October 2013.  That gives it the fourth-largest millennial user base, behind YouTube (43 million) and Pandora Radio (36 million)8.

It is important to recognize that just because you have identified the networks where the majority of your target audience is spending time doesn’t mean that you or your content will connect with them.  When I posted about the Kardashians, the content engagement increased over 400%, but all that did was tell me that if I wanted to reach the 25-34 year-old female audience via social, then I better identify someone in that peer group who was culturally relevant to this demographic or post content that was relevant to them.

Whatever path you choose, it is imperative to be honest and transparent in your efforts.  Today’s consumer values the genuine article. Remember, it is impossible to be all things to all people, so take the time to understand who your core demographic audience is for your content and maintain focus on building that following, fostering those relationships and following up.  It is not about you or your company.  It is about the connection.

Reach is more than an impression and the company / brand / sales professional with the most BFFs wins!

6. Mark W. Schaefer, The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business, Schaefer Marketing Solutions, 2015
7. Facebook research cited in Marketo report, “Contagious Content: