Learn the process you need to go through to make sure each social media post has the maximum impact.

Every day, someone publishes an article about the best ways to post on social media. They may advocate large, eye-catching photos. Or they may tell you to ask questions so you get "engagement." Some will even put several concepts into one "anatomy of a perfect post" infographic.

Just like choosing the best time to post on social media, several factors contribute to what will truly constitute a successful post for you on social media. Each format and strategy has its own pros and cons, and it's up to you to pick which combinations of images, links, questions and calls to action best fit your goal for the post.

Step 1: Determine your goal

Every post you make on a social network needs to have a purpose. Something you can measure and quantify as being part of an overall strategy. Here are some common purposes and goals:

  • Click throughs
  • Search Engine Marketing signals
  • Lead generation
  • Prospecting for future blog content
  • Get Feedback
  • Grab the attention of influential users

Notice how none of these goals involves anything related to what we generally call "engagement" (comments, shares, "likes" etc.). That is because I don't believe "engagement" is a goal, rather, it is a measure of certain types of posts that require comments, shares, etc. to meet the goal of [one of the things listed above].

Not all posts need "engagement" in the shape of comments, shares and likes to be successful. In some cases, lead generation being one of them, you want traffic to your landing page, or a certain type of action on the post that opts the person into an app or contest.

Step 2: Look at the post types available

Generally speaking, there are six types of posts on social media. It helps to look at the post in terms of how it's stored in the social network's database. Without getting at all technical, a post is going to be stored as an entry, and classified as a certain "type" of post based on what is attached to it (a link, photo, etc.). Here are a few common post types:

  • Text
  • Link
  • Photo
  • Event
  • Uploaded Video
  • Embedded Object

The Embedded Object post type is typically something that streams or has interactivity within the post itself. Embedded videos that stream right on the post, for example (although in the case of YouTube, Vimeo and other hosted video services, these may behave differently than other embedded objects because they've become so commonplace and popular). Or in the case of Google+, Drive documents and presentations or the "Interactive Posts" that contain a call to action button and link preview text in it.

The rest of the post types are self-explanatory.

Step 3: Consider the strategies for each posting method on each social network

Each post type has certain display features (a link, for example, usually includes the link title and a thumbnail image from the web page). Each post type may or may not resonate with your audience such that they will respond to it and help you achieve your goal. That's okay, you can test the different post types to see which ones do.

Here are several things you can test for yourself:
For Click-Throughs: link posts against photo posts with the link pasted into the intro. On Google+ you could also add Interactive Posts to the list of tests. Personally I have found them to be heavy drivers of traffic, even though they are lacking in other areas that Google+ is known for (being able to track the sharing activity, the links are 'no-follow' and these seem to have a hard time hitting the "What's Hot" section).

For Search Engine Marketing Signals: Ideally you want a link post even though there are ways to trigger social signals on Google+ that have a ripple effect on the signals that actually mean anything to your search rankings. Generally speaking, these social search signals are triggered by gaining lots of social activity across various networks in a short period of time. Knowing this, you may want to test the types of posts that encourage sharing from one network to another, like telling someone in a Google+ post that they could pin it on Pinterest.

For Lead Generation: Link posts vs. a direct call to action as plain text (like "call 555-1212 if you're interested"). Lead generation usually involves a link to a landing page, though, which means you can also test click-throughs.

For Prospecting for Future Blog Content: Plain text with a strong call to action so answers go in the comments, against a survey (possibly embedded).

For Getting Feedback: Since you need to get people's attention when you're asking for feedback, you could test an attention-getting photo against a plain text or even a link to a survey. It also depends on what type of feedback you're looking for, in that if you want a critique on a web page, you could paste the web page into the post as a link.

For Grabbing the attention of influential users: Sharing the user's original post, or creating one of your own. This one actually depends on their goal for their post, so there's also nothing wrong with reaching out to them privately and asking if they prefer one over the other. Personally speaking, I always prefer someone take the time to share my content on their own (not a re-share of my post), because I am usually after search rankings and traffic surrounding my content; while re-shares are great for telling search engines like Google that there's something special about that web page, a separate share by the website visitor is a stronger social signal in the semantic web.

Step 4: Customize your post for each social network

Once you have a sense of what type of post could resonate the best with your audience, and drive them toward your goal of clicks, signals, etc., it's time to create the perfect post for each social network you plan to use to promote your idea. Some post types lend themselves better to one network over another. Some networks are far better for certain post types. Google+, for example, favors attention-getting photos, long discussions can go on for days, but is also one of the only social networks where links are "followed" for search engine optimization purposes. Google+ posts are also indexed in search results, meaning they can become additional content you create around your idea. So do you opt for the attention-getting photo, the link, or the plain text post with a strong call to action to get the discussion going? Or a mix?

Also, each social network handles post types differently. Links, especially, don't look the same on Facebook as they do on Twitter or Google+. The post type may or may not get preferential treatment in the "feeds" of your followers (it's well known, for example, that plain text posts from Facebook Pages get up to twice the reach of links and photos). Understanding which post type gives you the best chance of success on each network is critical.

Step 5: Test, test, and test some more!

In my article about the sad truth of "best time to post" infographics, I referenced three critically-important things that those studies usually neglect (or don't convey in the infographic). These are worth noting here as well, because they could impact how you choose to post on each network:

  1. Time zones of your followers
  2. Your goal for the post (yes, the two articles are related)
  3. The context and setting of your call to action as it relates to when and where your followers consume your post

You already have a sizable number of variables to test, but these add another layer of complexity to the process of crafting that optimum post at the optimum time to get optimum results.

Pulling it all together: a live example (this post!)

Let's apply everything we've discussed today in an example, just to illustrate what's involved in deciding how to post about an idea on social media. This very article is going to be our test case.

Goal: to raise awareness of the idea that there's way more to posting on social media than many blogs let on. My hope is that resources like the ones listed below from well-respected publishers will recognize this article as a good complement to their own article and link to it. I also hope that other authoritative blogging resources pick this up and share it with their audience, both now and in the future as a resource they refer to frequently. In the end, I don't expect consulting or web design business to come of this article; rather, I expect my reach to grow within a new market segment which may lead to more subscribers on social channels or even my newsletter.

Post Type: A photo post is probably the best bet here. Why? Because I'm playing to the crowd I'm trying to reach. Right now, they're all being told to use eye-catching photos as their posts, with the link pasted into the introduction. I don't even need to use a high-traffic post format (for me, Interactive Posts on Google+ drive more clicks than other post types on my content), since the hope is I catch the attention of a select few influencers on this post, and they help me distribute it. So a photo post it is.

Which network to use: My most authoritative social media profile is my Google+ profile, so this is a no-brainer. Some of the publishers I've listed below are also highly active on Google+, and we have even exchanged private messages between each other. And I have my blog hooked up to a few tribes on Triberr that have excellent reach, so my hope is that those members will automatically help me extend the readership of this post to places like Twitter and LinkedIn. And since I'm using a powerful image, this is a perfect candidate for some Pinterest marketing too.

Craft my posts: A couple of interesting things I've learned so far, at least about my posts on Google+:

- I have a "Blog Post Subscribers" circle that I notify when I publish a new post on social media. I include a footer, but when I do that, I tend not to get the type of sharing activity that I would get if I left it off. So, what I normally do is first post into a community, then re-share it to my profile and add the footer. I don't see that as being practical for this particular post, so I think I'm going to adjust my footer to make it less intrusive on the text of the post. If anybody shares it, the hope is that they're the influential people I'm trying to connect with on this post, and if that's the case, they may be reluctant to share when the post includes a footer that promotes my notification circle.

- I'm really only sharing this on Google+ and Pinterest, and hoping my extended network helps push this out on other social channels. So crafting the perfect post on each network isn't important to me at this time, just for Google+ (Pinterest takes care of itself). I'll want to mention certain people in the intro, so they get notified of the post and hopefully chime in or share.

Testing: This is the interesting part for me personally. I tend to post links and plain text on Google+, that is my style, and it definitely gets me the kind of interaction and click throughs I set as goals for my posts. This post is going to be a photo. I'm curious to see whether my audience responds to this style for this type of post (I suspect they will), or if it's enough to just get the attention of the influential users I'm targeting.

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(note: this article was originally published on my blog, WebSIGHT Hangouts, but it fits well on our company site because we are all about helping companies develop and execute marketing strategies that make sense for their business. So anything that educates and empowers you to be a better, smarter, marketer, deserves to be here and not on our old blog).

Stephan Hovnanian

Stephan Hovnanian runs the show here at Shovi, bringing over 15 years of email and web marketing experience to companies that need more from their digital marketing efforts.

Connect with Stephan here, on Twitter (@stephanhov), LinkedIn, or Google+.


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