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3 Tips for Nailing Social Media Design Strategy

March 3, 2015

From one social media manager to another, you know this bit is not easy. Everybody out there has spoken so much about social media marketing strategy, but I wish there were advocates for the design folks as well. After all, these are the people who give personality to a brand and make it come alive.

In my profession (did I mention I am a copy ninja?), I am vehemently and almost unceasingly told that content needs to work in tandem with design. Surprisingly I have never heard it the other way around (*makes personal note to ponder over this soon*). But that’s mainly because a brand’s design guidelines are often too rigid to play around with. You have to (really have to) adhere to a color pallet, fonts, images and illustration templates, and to come out with a Picasso with these limitations is no easy feat. Content team, on the other hand, often has no guidelines or very flexible guidelines that I call ‘a context trampoline’. All we do is shoot off copy ideas from a strong enough foundation of set brand attributes.

But coming back to design, I realize one of the biggest challenges faced, especially by those who work in/for a start-up, is getting the social media design aspect right. I mention start-ups for the reason that these people hardly ever have the luxury of a brand consultancy to guide them through this activity.

I strongly believe that designing for web is not the same as designing for social media, and it shouldn’t be so. Here’s why:

A brand’s website is its professional face. It’s a brand’s resume of sorts, telling us all that the brand is, all it does and all that it has accomplished so far. The use-case for a website is to offer information and inspire positive action (be it a sale or a subscription to the service).

Social media on the other hand is the human side of the brand. It is supposed to be a people-pleaser platform where conversations are the order of the day. The social outlook for a brand, therefore, should be flexible, reactive, and colloquial and should have a personality that would stand out in the crowd — much like that hipster at a party that every person flocks to for an interesting conversation.

What does design matter all that much?

I am going to go back to an earlier post I had written about why good story telling makes for good marketing, for, the same idea applies here. But I am going to talk about it from the design point of view this time.

At the risk of losing my day job I will admit that the best way to describe something is by putting a face to it — talk about it with a picture, illustration or even a doodle for that matter. Scientifically speaking, images — with all the colors, composition and subjects — make for greater sources of limbic stimulation than cognitive elements. Design related components always spark a greater scope of engagement than text since reading things verbatim is a conscious effort, and instantly calls out to our rational processing capabilities. Art and design on the other hand, appeal instantly to the emotional part of human brain, instigating a reaction almost immediately. And if all this scientific reasoning hasn’t gone down well for you, just give this following thought, a thought — when was the last time you went and read a blog that had a crappy design or spent more than 2 minutes browsing the Facebook Page of a brand with a gaudy aesthetics and poorly executed posts. And the reason you didn’t engage with these pages is because these platforms did not stimulate you enough visually.

As a content and social media ninja this scares me. Why? At the end of the day, I am a communications person and I talk to people about my brand in various ways — through text of course. But if the design supporting my content isn’t good enough or appealing enough to my audiences what are the chances that my efforts fail? Quite big, actually.

So how do I get a social media design strategy in place?

  • Create a user narrative

Before getting deep into how you ought to design and pretty-up your social media posts, understand the ‘use case’ of each post. And by use –case I mean the context/situation this post is likely to be acknowledged in.

Let me break it down for you. A user narrative is basically an account what your most engaged customers do in a day; an aggregate view of it essentially. If you know the user narrative, you are in a better position to understand what your user is likely to be doing when you share a post, what will be his/her emotional/physical state, how much attention they are likely to offer to your message and what possible action they can take at that particular hour of the day.

social media design strategy

Therefore, a user narrative can help you determine concepts that your audiences really care about, establish the right outcomes to measure and even identify the right call-to-action elements that can be included in the post. Now let your posts be designed keeping these factors in mind, and you are sure to hit bull’s eye every time you share such a post on social media.

  • Choose a flexible brand design guideline

One of things I keep hearing is that a brand’s design guideline is often too constrictive to work with. But remember — even Louis Vuitton has a sense of humor and Comedy Central has its moments when it really talks the serious talk.

If your brand aesthetics are minimalist, go for clean designs and play with copy. If your brand is fun, you can always opt for exciting illustrations in your posts, gifs, memes, list verse and so on.

Essentially, take the core attributes of your brand and design your posts based on just these. It is ok to lose some control when working with social media. Remember, 95% of the time users are looking for entertaining pieces of content when browsing a social media platform.

  • Ensure relevancy

No one quite cares if you are Andy Warhol of the design world. If your post is irrelevant to the time, it will not spark engagement. Now do not let this mean that you ought to go on a hunting spree for every topic that trends. Choose topics your brand can genuinely contribute to. Build posts that add to the topic in discussion — in a humorous way or otherwise. What is imperative is that your message and design stay relevant and leverage-worthy. Amul — an Indian dairy brand — does this better than any brand I have known.

I will admit to one thing here. I realize that design takes precedence in many situations, particularly when talking about social media but a design strategy does not develop in isolation. It needs context and purpose. Communication strategy is what lends design team a contextual framework to work with and the overall business strategy helps drive the impact purview of it all.

I hope this has given you a decent enough ground work to rethink your social media design strategy.

Meeta Sharma is an independent writing and editing professional from digital marketing domain. Loves marketing and everything about it.

Meeta Sharma

Meeta Sharma is a content marketing specialist and regularly writes about her domain and start-up life.

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