SXSW: The mean girl’s guide to social marketing

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Social media is a lot like high school: it’s one big popularity contest.

Huge

For brands on social media, revisiting all the social codes of high school can help make you the most popular girl in school, ummm…. on Twitter. That’s the idea behind “You Never Graduated: Social Media As High School,” a talk Brooklyn-based agency Huge held on Saturday at South by South West in Austin, Texas.

Ahead of the talk, Marketing chatted with Huge community manager Andrew Cunningham and co-presenter Mea Cole Tefka, a freelance content producer, to talk about the pair’s high school/social media comparison and get some tips on not getting picked last in Facebook class.

Here is a five-point guide to social marketing.

Be trendy. But not, like, too trendy

Social is all about what’s trending. And just like in high school, you have to hit the trend at the right time. “To succeed in social as a brand, content needs to be pushed just before a trend hits critical mass; not too early where no one understands it, but not two weeks too late,” said Cunningham.

Take the Harlem Shake. It was fun for a day or two, but by the time most brands got to it, it was totally insufferable. “It’s a lot like high school fashion sense,” Cunningham said. “You want to look trendy, but being too avant-garde is a bold move… and being late to the game is just plain lame.”

No one likes the kid who’s desperate to be cool

Trying too hard is not a good look. The Plastics of high school – and social – can sniff out anyone trying too hard and obsessed with being something they’re not. Instead, Tefka said brands need to sit back, observe and then take calculated, informed risks.

“Constant obsession with what other people think will distract you from your own identity,” said Tefka. “It will lead to a superficial message that just looks to be a follower and not a leader.”

Know who your real friends are

If she could go back in time, Tefka said she’d have four pieces of advice for her 16-year-old self, and each one applies to brands on social media:
1) Know who you are
2) Know who your real friends are (a.k.a. your audience)
3) Know what’s relevant to both
4) Know you can’t be everywhere, and it’s better to be calculated in the right place at the right time.

The cafeteria is crowded

Social isn’t the niche alternative high school it once was. It’s a massive public school and every table at the cafeteria is full, making it harder than ever for brands to stand out. That means tactics have to change for marketers.

“The tactics that users and brands utilize to stand out are no longer a secret,” said Cunningham. “Throwback Thursday is a great example. Almost anyone under the age of 30 knows what it means, but it’s hardly trendy anymore.”

Face it: you’re probably too scrawny for football

Risks can lead to big rewards on social, but the risk of a new trend’s not worth it if it’s obviously not a fit for your brand. “Saying yes to trends and ideas for the wrong reason is the ultimate social crime,” says Cunningham.

“To bring it back to high school, anyone can try out for football,” he said. “But if you’re 5’1” and weigh 90 pounds, you’re not setting yourself up for success.”

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