Social media lessons

15 Lessons That Took Me 15 Years to Learn by Jim Tobin

This audio recording, “15 Lessons That Took Me 15 Years to Learn” by Jim Tobin is the perfect resource for social media managers and brands alike. In this session, Jim shares his personal journey of success in the world of social media and influencer marketing. He offers valuable insights that will help guide your own path toward achieving your goals. Tune in now if you are ready to take your career up a notch!

Jim Tobin:

Today I’m happy to share with you 15 lessons it took me 15 years to learn in social media, and I’m trying to make it have 15 key takeaways for you to use today. A bit of a reminder, I’m Jim Tobin, I’m the founder and CEO of Ignite Social Media. I also created a company called Carusele. Ignite was founded in 2007, Carusele was founded in 2015, and that’s just been such a long time. If we take a look at what’s happened over those 15 years, to frame this in the context of the larger timeline going on in the world, MySpace launched in 2003. Facebook opened to the public moving away from colleges in September of 2006. Ignite Social Media launched in 2007, just a few months before the first iPhone came out. That same year, Tumblr, Friend, Feed and launched. was one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard until it changed to Twitch and was later sold for a billion dollars, so sometimes dumb ideas lead to remarkable places. 

In 2010, Pinterest, Instagram, and Quora all launched. So we were three years before those even started, and it was yet another year before Snapchat, Twitch as Twitch, and Google Plus launched in 2011. We then founded Carusele in 2015 based on the assumption that’s proven true that basic influencer marketing could be improved and optimized. So with that, I just want to give you a little background. The brands we work with are typically larger brands, so that’s the background from which we speak today. I don’t work with a lot of startups. We’ve worked mostly with national and international brands. But without further ado, let’s go ahead and get to the 15 lessons.

Lesson 1: There are no social media experts.

I’ve been doing this for more than 10,000 hours, which is what Malcolm Gladwell says is the magic number of hours to make somebody an expert. And I’ve written two books on it. I still don’t feel like I’m an expert in part because social media marketing is so many disciplines. 

It’s strategy, it’s photography, it’s videography, it’s creative writing, it’s community management, it’s paid media buying, it’s influencer management, it can be sweepstakes and promotions, and it’s analytics and reporting, and I have never met anybody who is really, really, really genuinely expert at all of those things. I think if you took our company, Ignite, and you took all the people and slapped us together as a transformer, then we collectively would be a social media expert, but I don’t believe a single person can be a social media expert, truly. And so that leads to a couple things. If you are the social media person for your company, you’re probably good at two or three of these disciplines and you probably need help in the others, which is fine as long as we realize it and staff accordingly. On the flip side, if an agency’s giving you their social media person, you’re likely to have blind spots in some important areas that potentially could be hurting your brand. It really does take a team. 

Lesson 2: Fan and follower counts are increasingly irrelevant.

In fact, they’ve been mostly irrelevant since 2013, but that doesn’t stop clients from coming to us and still saying, “I need to increase my followers.” You do not need to take steps that are only designed or mostly designed to increase your followers. Why? Well, let’s look at what TikTok is doing. TikTok now doesn’t really care who you follow. Most of the content they show you is based on what you’re interested in, what content you’ve already shown that you like to watch, either by liking it or just by watching it. TikTok is more like an entertainment platform. They don’t really care who you follow. They’re not really mapping the social network. 

Now, Meta, who has mapped the social network better than any company in the history of the world, is also moving away from that social mapping, and has said that they’re looking at virality as well, and not friends, to see what content to share you. You already see this in suggested for you, suggested for you, suggested for you in post after post after post. So your follower count isn’t particularly relevant because organic reach is 2%, give or take, depending on the platform and the size of your following. So most of your followers you can’t reach anyway, so why would you worry about building that number? 

Lesson 3: Reputation is fragile, so plan for mistakes.

We’re publishing online every day for brands that are really well known, and it would be easy to damage them with mistakes. There’s this tweet here. “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the Motor City, and yet no one here knows how to effing drive.” That came from the Chrysler Autos account way back in like 2010 or nine I think. It was a mistake. The person working for the agency had it on their phone and thought they were saying that from their own account. The timing was awful. Chrysler had just launched their Imported from Detroit campaign, had just paid Eminem millions of dollars to drive around Detroit in a Chrysler, was trying to build the reputation of Detroit as quality automakers, and then this tweet came out. 

So you have to put processes in place to ensure that the most common mistakes aren’t likely to happen, so no business accounts on the same phone as personal accounts, having someone do a post check before anything is posted to an account. Those sorts of things are very, very important. And yes, we did work on the Chrysler business. We won the business after this tweet happened and after that agency was terminated, so it wasn’t us. But it is the kind of thing that can happen, and so that’s why you have to plan for it. 

Lesson 4: Attribution, particularly sales attribution, is broken, but measurement is absolutely not broken.

So the fact that iOS 14.5 came along and blocked most apps from tracking, including Facebook, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that you can still measure. Now, direct last touch attribution is probably a flawed way to measure most things, multi-touch attribution, because of this iOS 14.5, because cookies are going away, because of GDPR, because the lots of reasons it’s very difficult to get accurate multi-touch attribution. But having said that, there are at least 25 different things you can measure in social media to see how your investment is paying off and if it is something you should double down on, move your resources to something else. So we can all bemoan that attribution is broken, because it is, but it doesn’t mean we get a chance to not measure what we’re doing. Lesson number five, organic content. Do less but do better. I saw a HubSpot survey recently where a big number of marketers, I think it was about 87%, said that they would do less content if it meant they could do better content. 

Lesson 5: Organic content.  

Do less but do better. I saw a HubSpot survey recently where a big number of marketers, I think it was about 87%, said that they would do less content if it meant they could do better content.  But then the vast majority of respondents later said they were posting to social every day. Posting the social every day probably means you’re not doing great content unless you have a huge investment on your team. The post you’re doing for happy Columbus Day or whatever little holiday, happy Donut Day, it’s probably not doing anything for your brand unless you sell donuts. And because of what we talked about earlier where the virality of content determines how often it is served, there has never been a better time, well, there hasn’t been a better time in at least the last five years, to get quality content seen by people. And so a lot of people say organic content is dead. I say organic content is mostly dead. 

And if you’re a fan of the “Princess Bride” movie, you know that mostly dead makes all the difference, because mostly dead means somewhat alive, and if something is somewhat alive, then with really good content, you can get more views. We tell many of our clients to do less content when we create a strategy for them. That’s not in our best interest, candidly, because we’re an agency that gets paid to create content. But what we find when we do that is the client ends up with more impressions, more engagements, more web traffic by doing fewer pieces of content that are more high quality. 

Lesson 6: Your ad or studio or menu or catalog content that you’re shooting will underperform on social.

Our job as social media mark marketers is to stop people’s thumbs from scrolling, and people’s thumbs don’t stop scrolling on things that look like ads. And so super, super polished photography or graphic content always performs worse. We had a restaurant client, pictured here, where we did a test. We took the content they shot for their menu, of course it was beautiful content because it was on the menu, it was trying to convince someone to order it, and then we took content we shot by going to the restaurants, ordering the meals, and shooting it more in a social way. 

Over and over again, the social content al performed the menu content. That is because the menu content wasn’t social first. Now, can you get some synergy here in terms of using that shoot? Absolutely. You can send the social person to the catalog shoot or the menu shoot or whatever it is, and take that same stuff that you’re using and just shoot it in a social way, different angles, people in it, those sorts of things. But just using the imagery, it’s likely going to underperform for you. 

Lesson 7: You need to get a paid budget or you need to really be prepared to push boundaries.  

We already talked about how interesting content can travel. I don’t know if you remember Dollar Shave Club. When they launched, they had a YouTube commercial that did very, very well. You can see here 27 million views. “Our blades are effing great.” It was very stunning to people, and it talked about why are blades so expensive when they don’t really need to be. More recently, there was a commercial released in early 2022 for another razor company, Jeremy’s Razors, and it was filled with things that were very not politically correct. There was a lot of offensive humor in here. It’s certainly not going to appeal to everybody, but it appealed to enough people and got passed around enough that they got 21 million views. Now, using normal cost per view metrics, 21 million views should cost around a little over 500,000 in paid media. 

So they got a tremendous lift from doing something interesting, and they knew that they didn’t need to appeal to the whole universe. They just needed to appeal to enough people to get their razor company off the ground. Now, most brands can’t afford to be offensive. Gillette could not run either of these two commercials because of their position in the world. But interesting content travels. One of my friends said, “Advertising is the price you pay for being boring.” So as you think about your content, what content can you do that’s going to get you that travel, that virality, as much as I hate that word? And then other things you’re just going to need a paid budget for. It’s just the way it is. There’s nothing wrong with it. Just know you need a paid budget. 

Lesson 8: Yes, things in social are always changing, but we’re starting to see things that started one way and they’re coming back around.  

So I’ll give you an example of that. Meta, used to be called Facebook, Meta would tell us for years that we should pay to run ads to get fans. What did I tell you in lesson two? No, don’t do that. They told us that we should run things to try and get engagements, and they said, “No, don’t do any of that. You want to drive real sales, drive to the client’s websites.” Well, then iOS 14.5 came out. They can’t track anymore, what’s happening when they push people to client’s websites. And so now they’re saying, “Hey, run ads on people based on their engagement with Meta content.” It’s not a terrible idea. It’s just interesting that what they suggest as the best practices in social media is based in part on their own interests and what they’re capable of doing. It’s not necessarily what’s best for the brand. 

Lesson 9: Big transformations, big game changing stuff follows a hype curve.  

So think about QR codes, AR and VR, NFTs, blockchain, and more recently AI. What happens is we see the trigger and then people get really fired up, “Oh my goodness, this is going to change the world.” So let’s take NFTs as a good example. NFTs are nothing more than really digital tokens that can’t be duplicated, in a simple state. So people got really excited about NFTs and they ended up paying $3 million for the first tweet as an NFT, which is simply a JPEG. And then that person tried to sell it recently, and I think the high bid was $3,000. So they lost a massive amount of money. People are all saying right now, “NFTs are stupid.” So we’re way down here in disillusionment. But really NFTs, because they’re simply digital tokens have a lot of potential power. They could be the way your home transfers hands without title insurance, because if you have the NFT, it’s tracked on the blockchain. People know you are the rifle owner. You can track the ownership trail back to point certain. 

So NFTs may turn out to play out really well. And similar to QR codes, a friend of mine, Kipp Bodnar, wore a QR code to I believe it was the 2007 South by Southwest show on his shirt. And when did QR codes really take off? In 2020, 13 years later when COVID came along and we all had to scan our menus. It took 13 years for QR codes to really become a thing. So as you think about these things, like AI, we’re right now probably at the peak of inflated expectations as I’m recording this, and then everyone’s going to say, “This is terrible.” And then we’ll figure out over some point over the next several years what’s the point of generative AI in writing content, creating imagery, those sorts of things. 

Lesson 10: People rush in social media all the time, but being first only rarely pays any dividends.  

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic? Clubhouse was just the thing. Everybody had to be in Clubhouse, Clubhouse, Clubhouse. Nobody’s talking about Clubhouse anymore. Earlier in 2008 or so, there was Jaiku and Clerk and they were competitors to Twitter and everyone raced to get on there and get their screen names, and they’re dead. Google Wave came out, I think that was 2011. Looked to be a game changer. Everyone raced to get their brands on there. It went away. BeReal. Right now, brands are racing to get on to BeReal. When it makes sense to be on a platform is when you can drive a business objective. Now, if your business objective is getting your brand to seem trendy and written about in Ad Age, Adweek, PR Week, whatever, then maybe you should be first on a platform. Otherwise, you should probably be a little more strategic as to who’s there, how many are there, what’s the cost of being there, and what’s the likely measurable benefit to your brand. 

Lesson 11: Celebrities are a shortcut that usually don’t work.  

Often in influencer marketing now it’s super popular to hire a celebrity to say how much they love your product. This is not effective, and it’s a huge waste of money. And this is not just a social media thing or an influencer thing. There’s actually research going back to the 1950s. I’ve got a link to one of them here going back all the way to the 1950s showing that celebrities in TV commercials were a real mix. People very quickly realized celebrities don’t do this stuff for free, so if you’re paying them to endorse your product, they’re simply actors. This study shows a meta-analysis, so they did a study of studies, and they found across the board, there’s really no impact from celebrities. They’re equally likely to be negative brand growth or a negative brand effect than they are having a positive brand effect. 

Also, when you use celebrities on social media, you are likely to take on their baggage. So if you hire a Kardashian, for example, and a Kardashian does something dumb and gets in the news, if you’ve really associated yourself with them well, then that impacts your brand. What’s this brand going to do? If you hire 100 micro influencers for probably less money, you’ll get better content, more realistic content, more believable content, you’ll save money, and you won’t be associated, because if any of those a hundred influencers does something stupid, it’s likely not going to get written about simply because they’re not famous. So celebrities, don’t do it. It’s a waste of money. There’s rare cases when it’s really helpful. 

Lesson 12: Community management is chronically underfunded, and I’ve seen this for years. 

The people who reply to all these social inquiries, they’re often people who run phone centers, and they may know how to answer the question, but they don’t often realize that what they’re answering is being read by other people. So there’s a marketing opportunity community management as well. And there’s a really good Harvard Business Review report from 2014 that showed a linear increase between the number of positive interactions and the sales per customer. So the more often someone has a good interaction with your brand, the more likely they are to buy stuff from you. So that’s really important, because the major way that people interact now is with a brand on social media, right? So you need to make sure your community management team has what they need. 

Lesson 13: Every crisis is a social media crisis.  

You might remember that earlier, in lesson three, where we talked about in a tweet from a wrong account. That was a social media crisis back in 2009 when people making mistakes on social media were getting written about, and that’s what a social media crisis was. Today, it’s different. Today, every crisis is a social media crisis. No matter what is happening to your brand, if it’s bad, if it’s impacting people, people are going to come on social media and talk about you and talk to you. So every crisis is a social media crisis. Knowing that, you need escalation strategies. So you need to think about it.  And what we’re showing here is a blurred out version of, I think, a 53 or 58 page deck of escalation 

strategies for one of our clients. This is a major well known brand. There’s several types of things that  can happen. And so we’re imagining the different crises that could happen, and then if they did, what  are we doing about it? Who are we reaching out to? Importantly, what are their phone numbers for  after hours contact? Because social media crises don’t only happen between nine and five, so how do  we reach the, I don’t know, director of PR or the SVP of this or that to get an answer that we can say 

publicly? You need to know that in advance. 

Lesson 14: Influencer marketing is not just top of the funnel.  

Influencer marketing used to be the process of hiring influencers. They would create content including your brand, almost like a product  placement, and that would be the end of it. And that’s very much top of the funnel. That’s very much an  awareness thing. Influencer marketing can be optimized. It’s the whole reason we launched Carusele in  2015. So for this example, this was an example where Ugg and Bed, Bath, and Beyond were doing their  first collaboration together. Nobody really knew if the Ugg buyer, who tended to be a younger female,  was going to be really the buyer, or the Bed, Bath, and Beyond buyer, who tended to be a bit older  female, was going to be the interested buyer. Were they going to be interested in fashion? Were they  going to be interested in home decor? Would one crossover to the other? Nobody really knew.  So we used the broad to narrow strategy. We did a wide variety of content, and then we tracked in real  time each piece of content, how it was performing to see what themes were really resonating. And then  from there, we were able to take only the high performing content syndicated from the influencers  social accounts with dozens and dozens of different audiences, so an Ugg audience, a Bed, Bath, and  Beyond audience, a fashion audience, a beauty audience, a home decor audience, all those sort of  things, and then every day optimize those ad sets and turn off the low performers until we figured out  who really cared enough to click on this content. And then we built custom lookalike audiences of the  clickers to find more people who look like them. So influencer marketing can very much be optimized,  can very much drive all levels of the funnel if you’re prepared for it upfront. 

Lesson 15: Social media never stops. It is 24/7. It is constantly changing. But your social  

Media team needs a break periodically.   And this headline from Inc, “Your Social Media Manager May Be  Ready to Quit”, it’s a really good headline. I mean, it’s a tough job. People think it’s super easy or interns  do it or all those sort of jokes, but it’s a tough job, and so we need to build and place mechanisms to  make sure people get away from that. So for example, we require everyone on our team to take at least  one vacation a year that is at least five consecutive business days. And by that, they need to be offline  not checking in on anything. Because really it comes back to Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Habit seven is sharpen the saw. If you don’t get away and really recharge, you can’t do your job, and you’re ultimately going to burn out, and then there’s all the cost of training and replacing  people. It’s just not a good situation. So build that in from the beginning. 

So with that, these are the 15 social media lessons I’ve learned over 15 years of working on Ignite Social Media, working on clients, and working on nothing but social media and influencer marketing. I hope they’re helpful to you. 

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