Content For Your Audience

This post from UnionMetrics isn’t the first I’ve seen that has offered advice on how to tailor your content for the various algorithms and recommendations in play across the web or how to stay abreast of changes to those systems and remain nimble enough to change. It’s just the latest example of an online genre meant to be helpful and provide guidance in uncertain times, when your finely-crafted content marketing plan can fall apart because of a few lines of code committed by someone in Menlo Park, CA.

Those sorts of algorithm and recommendation system changes certainly keep social media content marketers on their toes. As frustrating as they are, they keep us busy and employed because someone has to keep up with what’s happening and provide insights to those who aren’t plugged in. Adjustments need to be made constantly to tactics, strategies and goals based on what’s reasonable in the new reality that month.

To that end, professionals in the field need to make it a priority to stay on top of new developments. I’ve long talked about “The Newsweek Effect.” In short it’s when a new social network or other bit of news finally bubbles up from the niche blogs and early adopters to warrant coverage in the mainstream press. At that point, the social media marketer gets an email from a C-level exec or VP asking what it is they just read about. By then, a professional worth his or her salt should already have a perspective on it and be able to speak intelligently about why it should or shouldn’t be adopted.

What I’ve also found, though, is that tailoring your content strategy to every change in the algorithm is a fool’s errand. You send your entire day/week/month/year chasing a rabbit that’s always just two feet out of reach. As soon as you adjust to what’s in place now there’s something new requiring your attention. Last week you had your graphics department creating social images with a “Like for Option 1, comment for Option 2” call to action. Now you need to explain to them that the images need to have “Type ‘yes’ below to agree.”

It never ends.

So stop.

No seriously, stop.

Don’t be fooled by anyone who presents tactics designed to game the algorithms in place on social networks as “best practices.” They’re not. They’re cheap plays to an indifferent machine that will never buy your product or sign up for your newsletter.

Post for your audience instead.

That’s not a revolutionary idea, but it’s one that bears repeating. Don’t adjust your tactics or strategies based on what’s going to work within a recommendation engine. Use your own statistics – what gets engagement, what drives the most click-throughs – to guide your strategy. Those are the people you actually want to be appealing to, so do that.

There’s much more long-term success that’s possible by actually using your audience for insights on what the audience will like than using some algorithm-optimization checklist to do so.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that social media content shouldn’t be optimized in some very basic and recommended ways. Make sure you’re using key terms in your copy, that you’re using a well-formatted image, that your link works and so on. All of that is *essential.*

I’m just saying that if you have to make a choice between what the algorithm would prefer and what has been proven to get a good reaction from your human audience, choose the latter. That group is much less fickle and won’t turn on a dime, leaving you in the dust. Use your own metrics, not those offered by one of the many CMS companies, to determine when the best time to post is, what the ideal format and style is and everything else.

The important thing to do, then, is be ready to explain yourself. When an exec who’s not part of the daily program asks why you’re doing this and not that (or worse, if they bring in a “consultant” selling snake oil who asks the same questions) have the data. Know what your rationale and reasoning is and make the case.

Having documents like program frameworks and style guides will help with this greatly. If you’ve already received buy-in on a set of principles and an overall approach then you have something to point to. Those are your maps, the navigational stars orienting your journey toward its destination. They’re living documents that can and should be updated as appropriate, but making changes should be difficult, not done as a knee-jerk reaction to any one moment.

Again, there’s nothing new that I’m proposing here. It’s just important to remember that your job as a marketer is not to appease the ever-changing algorithm but to reach a human audience. The former is one way to achieve the latter, but not the only one.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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