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The Social Media Strategy For Winner Brands

An Interview with Emily Lyman

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Emily Lyman, social media expert who is the CEO and Founder, Branch & Bramble.

She discusses setting up successful social media campaigns, influencer marketing. She takes us through her hashtag strategy on different platforms. In this discussion, she shares how the social strategy for brands has changed significantly during the pandemic.

She even tells us about the workshop she conducts and the classes she teaches at a college in New York.

Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.

Google does take into account how relevant your content is for website visitors. Social media is going to help you determine what your audience finds most relevant and enable you to serve them the content that resonates.

Founder and CEO, Branch and Bramble
Hello everyone, how's it going? Today, we have with us Emily Lyman, Founder of Branch & Bramble. The topics we are going to discuss today are exciting. Before we start, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your company to our viewers.

Hi, everyone. I’m Emily Lyman, CEO and Founder of Branch & Bramble. We are a social media marketing advertising agency. We specialize in blending together creativity and data to develop strategies that actually appeal to a brand’s audience.

Going viral, collecting followers, hoarding clicks; digital marketing can make these feel like attrition warfare against competitors. So, we really look at how to reevaluate your strategy and make real connections with your company’s true audience.

A little bit about me personally. I’ve worked with top global companies for well over a decade before founding Branch & Bramble with the goal of driving those real results for businesses that actually create a better world. So, I personally want to be involved with digital marketing that’s backed by data that’s valuable not just to the brand, but the consumer as well.

Well, data and social, you follow people to the T, right? Sometimes I feel I should block my social accounts because I don't know if anything is hidden.

Yeah, I’m the opposite. I’m like, “Oh, I want you guys to find me and follow me and personalize everything so that I can see how it works.” I’m definitely one of those consumers.

You're also a professor at a business school. It must be fun teaching future business leaders?What is the subject that you're teaching them?

Absolutely it is. I’m an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York City. It’s so wonderful to see them come in. The students are always so creative and innovative. It’s really exciting and helps motivate me every day. I teach social media. I stick with what I know.

Talking about social, how you as a social expert see social marketing evolve over the years?

I remember making my first Facebook page when the platform was born, and not to mention MySpace before that. But since then, we’ve really seen the norm shift, almost constantly. At first social platforms were pure social networks where people just kept up with their friends and family.

Then, over time brands really became more involved. Platforms and features became more robust. There’s a significant change in how and why people use social media. Previously, people were on there to share opinions, now they’re mainly there to consume content. So as hard as it might believe, personal sharing has actually decreased on the platforms.

Then you continue to see that pendulum shift. Moving from these small initial groups on social where it was easier for brands to insert themselves and gain traction to these massive platforms with billions of users, where everyone is reveling in finding their people. Now, we’re actually going back to those small groups. But people are once again craving, so those smaller slack or discord groups, etc, you might be part of them yourself. I know I am.

Throughout it all, marketing had to really keep up with all of those changes. It used to be just fine to have a Facebook page. Slap a book giveaway with a gated entry and gain tons of followers every month. But, now brands have to be extremely thoughtful about their content. What matters? What purpose driven stories resonate with their specific target audiences and really having a true content marketing strategy?

Right. Any particular trends that you have observed over the past few months with this pandemic in picture?

Actually a lot. In terms of marketing specifically, I can talk about the increase of Instagram stories and the decrease of Youtube use. With so many more people flocking to social media they’re actually dispersing across multiple platforms rather than focusing on just one. They may have had limited time?! But to me, the most interesting trend is that brand trust has been impacted significantly.

I’m a huge fan of Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report. If you guys don’t see the report, I highly recommend you go out and follow it every time it comes out. It shows that one out of three people have punished brands for how they’ve responded to the pandemic. 71% of global respondents say that brands and companies they see placing profits before people, will lose their trust forever.

I think for industries like hospitality, this has been the time where they have to earn that trust and still keep on promoting so that people remember them. The ads or the content has to be more related to the situation.I don't remember the name of the company, but it was hospitality. They had an ad with a tagline, "Don't worry. Be home, be safe. We're here, we're not going anywhere. That was thoughtful.I remember it in comparison to let's say a hotel ad. An ad that says, "Hey, we have everything in place or precautions in place, please come over." It is kind of salesy. It might not be the right pitch to have at this point.

Absolutely. It’s tone deaf. I think throughout the year, we’ve all seen companies be tone deaf. Now, it’s more important than ever, not to be checked.

You also do a very interesting workshop with your clients where you help find their brand purpose. Tell us more about it?

It’s one of my favorite workshops that I do with new clients. Success in marketing and social media really relies on finding one’s unique and ownable benefits. In today’s crowded social and event landscape, brand love is really that new currency, kind of intent, gentle to that brand trust. With marketing really shifting to building big ideas and leveraging those purpose driven stories. You’ll hear me say purpose driven often and you might hear it on your own just foray down it into the world of marketing and it comes up over and over again. So instead of shouting the message at everyone, this workshop helps marketers and brands confidently connect with those that are most motivated by what they do.

We sit down for a six to seven hour interactive session. We drill down into their who, what and why and then combine those insights with their brand position, their social IQ to come up with what we call their social purpose. What do they talk about? What do they look like? How do they sound and how do they interact? At the end, we really want our clients to walk away having a very clear and cohesive picture of what drives their story and how to tell it.

I think that is very important. First step right, then the entire content strategy would revolve around it, otherwise they're just going everywhere, throwing everything. Once they know the story, the same can apply to other forms of marketing as well. It doesn't have to just be social.What works best on social media? I mean, the approach of using content as a trigger point to nurture prospects or direct lead generation campaigns?

In my opinion and our expert opinion, as we do this every day, it’s not one or the other. It’s actually both simultaneously. The idea of the direct straightforward marketing funnel that’s been around since the 1960s, the thought awareness, consideration and then moving to conversion, that linear ABC is not as relevant today. It’s all about that disrupted customer journey.

Potential customers can reach out to you at any point. Studies show that they are more than 60% through their buying journey before they actually engage with the brand in any way, shape or form. You need that two pronged approach. 100% use content as a trigger point to nurture prospects. Especially those that want to know you a bit before signing on the dotted line or before sending that email. Social is such a fabulous place to do that, both organically and paid.

However, you don’t want to neglect the importance of direct lead gen campaigns. The best way to figure out what extent you need to run each in, is to really hone in on what the journey looks like for your specific target audience. Where can you find them? What they’re looking for? What specific platforms are going to convert? Run both of those campaigns and see how they perform.Where you need to balance each other out? Your customers are going to come at you from both angles.

I have a follow-up question to it. I realize that sometimes when we're doing social paid campaigns and if it's a content driven campaign, it shows wonderful results. You have a funnel and it's not direct sales. But sometimes when we're doing direct lead gen campaigns, I have seen a lot of the leads that are coming in are not relevant. They did click on the CTA, but they were not the right target audience. So, what are the best practices for creating the best match target audience for social campaigns?

I like to start with your content nurturing campaigns and then build a remarketing campaign that’s directly Gen from those audience members. It’s my favorite way to do it. In terms of drilling down in honing-in on that target audience, I would rarely do lead gen campaigns to cold audiences. The quality is just not there unless it’s on a platform like LinkedIn. You’re really able to target very specifically. LinkedIn as a platform already is known for driving quality traffic. That kind of higher quality is already there. That’s how I would approach it.

Remarketing is a solid tool. If you're doing a paid Google campaign, you just pull it up with remarketing and even do remarketing on social networks. What are your thoughts?

I would not focus on one or the other. I would definitely pair them together.

How do you track the performance of your social campaign? How does one set the right benchmarks?

Benchmarks are somewhat relative. More importantly, it’s how you measure yourself against those benchmarks is relative. If you look at the number of different factors when determining the best metrics in order to get a good complete picture for your program, look at your company goals.

Determining company and business goals should be the first step in figuring out exactly what benchmarks are relevant for your program. Are you focused on sales? Newsletter signups or platform growth? What social channels will you focus on? Past performance? You always want to make sure that your goals stay realistic. Understand what’s aggressive, but achievable. You don’t want to be those that say, “Hey team, we’re gonna have these goals”. You know that you’re never going to reach these goals. People just get completely frustrated about that.

Then looking at upcoming campaigns and initiatives. Do you have any major campaigns going live throughout the year? How will it affect your benchmark performance? Do you anticipate a spike in engagements? What’s normal for your industry? I don’t want you to say, “Oh, I’m going to expect 2% growth,” when maybe 15% growth is normal for your industry. You’re already behind the times, even though you’re internally going, “Oh, hey, we’re doing great.” You don’t want to leave that growth on the table.

Then it’s always competitors. What are they doing? Are they doing better or worse than you determining where you are in that space? Doing that competitive analysis is really going to be an invaluable exercise that’s going to inform a number of strategic processes.

Right. I remember you once said that when you're running a paid campaign on Facebook, there are certain numbers of conversions that you should be generating to make sure that your ads or campaigns are going to the most impactful audience. Could you tell us more about that?

So, for a lead gen campaign specifically, you need to be generating 50 to 100 conversions per week with your Facebook ad campaign to help the platform optimize your ads effectively and efficiently. That’s not to say that Facebook isn’t going to do a good job, but it’s not going to be as smart as it could be with regards to your specific ads.

This comes back to really diving into building out your audiences first and foremost when you’re running those campaigns. I like to build out my audiences first before I build out my campaign goals. That’s first and foremost what you should be doing. From there, you can subset your audience and build out these personas.

We take into account personality, attitudes, interests, lifestyles. On top of that, we then create this initial keyword seedless that’s based on that persona. What will they be interested in? Augment those keywords. Use Google Trends and SpyFu. Analyze competitor keywords and ads, and then lay on your audience activity and demographics to really expand those personas into really highly specific identities. That’s going to look like age behaviors, web traffic, etc. That’s how you can get the platform up to those leads that are really starting with that audience.

After you create the audience, then create your content campaigns and your lead gen campaigns. Most of them are doing the other way around. They create the ads and the content first, and then they create the campaign, the audience and then make it live.

I’ve had clients in proposals that are like, “why is audience segmentation identification first before the campaign?” I say, “ Well, you don’t know what campaigns to run if you don’t know who you’re talking to.”

What are your thoughts on the statement that organic social has died?

I have very much thought, it’s always been alive. It’s a little bit controversial and I get into this a little bit. It is much harder to achieve a successful organic content strategy on certain platforms. But what has changed? The time and resources it takes to build organic engagement that’s what has changed in my experience, and there’s no shortcut.

There’s no quick fix for organic. There’s no overnight success. But, the majority right of campaigns is like we want to go viral. That’s very rarely the case. You’re either going 100% organic and putting in a lot of time, energy and resources into content creation in partnership influence outreach, starting conversations, or you’re putting your resources toward paid to scale at a faster pace. Or you’re doing a hybrid model and using both, which in my opinion is the ideal solution. The organic is still alive; it’s still there.

How do hashtags improve social media activity? What makes a good hashtag?

They are absolutely crucial, depending on the platform. They actually have both external and internal benefits. They allow you to reach new audiences, join different conversations, find people with whom they’re most engaged at a certain point in time. Internally, they help you organize, track and measure the efficacy of your campaigns.

As with anything that you do on social media, your hashtags have to be authentic. They have to be relevant, they have to be timely. When you use them, make sure that the content you attach to them adds value to that hashtags conversation.

I had a marketer who was publishing or promoting a book and one of the authors passed away suddenly, which was heartbreaking. But, she’s like, “okay, now we can promote the book.” I was like, “please do not do that.” It should be authentic. Make sure you add value, you’re understanding the topic of the conversation that you’re joining.

Always customize and tweak your text based on the platform that you’re on. Your hashtag strategy for Instagram needs to be different than your Facebook hashtag strategy. For Instagram, you should be utilizing all 30 of your hashtag options. Facebook it’s just around events, specific campaigns, one or maybe two.

What are your favorite top three hashtag tools?

So I like TagsForLike, and then there is scheduling tool analytics. A tool that I really love and they have really great hashtag analytics. Your tool should always be able to help you analyze the most popular hashtags that are driving engagements around your content.

I also just suggest you go right down the social media rabbit hole. Hop on a platform, scroll through, click on a hashtag to see what’s been said, click on a different hashtag within that conversation, so that you can see real conversations that are happening and better create and tailor that content. There’s just no replacement for that.

You're talking about scheduling tools. So, how do you plan your social media posts calendar?

So our content and the content of our clients are always a mix of scheduled and real-time posts. We structure it this way to maximize efficiencies while still providing room to join conversations as they happen. Because you always want a mix of those various content types, curated third party, original user-generated content, we work to develop that strategic content mix that utilizes all types.

Based on the frequency of content creation, we write, approve, schedule batches or set aside every time during the day to manage the calendar. Content and social media calendars have a habit of requiring quite a lot of time. They can take up and suck up your day.

We use various data processes and trend analysis to build out predictive content calendars based on what people are searching for like, Google Trends, which allow us to better plan content that resonates with various audiences, and that doesn’t take up so much time.

All right. When we're running a paid social campaign, let's say on Facebook. What makes more sense, using a direct inquiry form or call buttons or driving traffic to a landing page?

I think this is going to be based on the campaign structure and means. There are some campaigns that you’ll have to drive to a landing page. Anytime you can minimize clicks. As much as possible, definitely do that. It’s ideal to build your campaign to be form and call button friendly if you will.

Another option that we’d like to experiment that gains more and more traction and success is a direct message campaign. Since more and more consumers are looking to interact with a brand via messenger, there are generally two ways to do this.

You can set up a Facebook comment guard, which will direct message anyone who comments on your post. Once they respond to that message, you not only get the engagement on the post, you’re gonna receive the name and email information that you can subsequently add to a drip campaign. Then, you can also skip that commenting part and go straight to the direct message. Send the message, add Call to Action and generate leads in that manner.

What are your thoughts on influencer marketing? Does it help every business?

There are a few industries that don’t often benefit from influencer marketing, for sure—for instance, legal services and anything that’s really highly regulated.

I’m hard-pressed to think of many businesses that would not benefit from some type of influencer marketing. That’s generally because the definition of influencer marketing has really expanded in the past few years. Any size of business can find those elements that work for them, from nano and micro-influencers to mid-tier individuals and celebrities. From there, it’s all about structuring the program and campaigns to work with influencers in the most effective way possible.

A little bit of self-promotion. We have a great blog post on our website that actually details the various influencers types and really how to put together an influencer marketing program that fits your budget. I would recommend it.

Check out the blog here.

Social does eventually help your SEO. According to you, what are the top three social signals that should be leveraged to help your SEO?

Social media that impacts your search ranking is all about off-page SEO. Actions taken outside of your website impact your website’s trustworthiness and authority. You should really pay close attention to social media profiles, engagement around your links, content relevant and user experience.

The top three signals? In my opinion, first is the link engagement. Are people sharing your content? What’s the likelihood they’ll link back to your content? Do they like it? Are they commenting around that link and repurposing it?

Second, Content relevance. Google does take into account how relevant your content is for website visitors. Social media is going to help you determine what your audience finds most relevant and enable you to serve them the content that resonates. Because they’re already a willing participant in your brand journey, they’re more likely to consume more content. Spend more time on your website. So it goes without saying don’t create subpar content, be thoughtful with it.

The third is the user experience. Building up that committed and engaged social media audience to really help, increase click-through rate and dwell time, decrease that bounce rate. This is going to be even more important in 2021. With that new page experience, change to Google algorithms.

Google is moving more and more towards giving the best information in the best possible way. It's ultimately about the experience as well.We all know that LinkedIn works. If I have to use LinkedIn as a lead gen tool, what are the best practices or tips you would give?

If I get to that question, do you have much success with LinkedIn? Do you find it useful?

To be honest, I have started focusing more on LinkedIn. I have not done any paid till now. I've tried using a couple of tools like LinkedIn Helper and a few other tools to grow my relevant connections.I have been posting stuff that is relevant to my audience. And, I have been getting some messages, every now and then where you know, "hey, you posted this, we would like to know more." I would say that I have not focused much. Let's say I did an interview and I published it. I read an article and shared it or just shared my blog post. If it was relevant, it added value. I got comments; I got shares. I got a couple of direct messages here and then where people want to know more.

I think LinkedIn is great. We’ve seen great results from our clients and from both paid and organic programs, especially for B2B audiences. I would say that LinkedIn is all about connections. It’s all about that individuality and that personality that’s attached to something.

So organically, treat LinkedIn as a social platform. Tailor your content, optimize your bio post, regularly engage, but tag people. Use those hashtags, join those conversations.

Bring employee advocacy into the mix because you want to have actual people attached to your brand on LinkedIn. It’s one of the easiest platforms to do that on. So you want your employees to also be proud of where they work to share your content. Help make them thought leaders in the industry and on the platform. That’s going to leave those contacts back to you.

From a paid perspective, LinkedIn ads are a bit more pricey than other social media platforms, but they allow you to really target audiences and, oftentimes, that traffic is of higher quality. Have something valuable to offer. Trying to entice cold audiences to demo products, not the way to go. Give them something fantastic, that’s only going to cost them a lead gen form.

From there, build those custom audiences and remarketing tools, integrating your CRM with LinkedIn, and try not to automate. I get automated email messages in my inbox, and I know that they’re automated. In fact, I don’t know if you’ve seen that going around, if you put a little emoji in front of your team, you can tell when people are automated. People are wise to this. If you’re true, if you reach out to truly make a connection with people and be interested in them, I think that is what has really benefited us on the platform.

Which is one of the biggest challenges you have come across during your career?

Oh, man! I would say gaslighting. I don’t want to go into the details, but it lasted for a good bit of time. I tried the HR route, the boss’s boss route, without any success. I struggled with imposter syndrome. A lack of confidence, a constant feeling that I wasn’t good enough despite the successes that I achieved. I had these people saying, “Oh, good job,” but then I had a direct supervisor saying the exact opposite and never validating my work. That was really challenging.

I'm sure it was. Well, Emily, before you go, any special tip that you can give our audience that they can implement and gain benefits from?

If you haven’t tried chatbot marketing, I would implement it for sure. Especially if you already have several pieces of valued content and a social media presence that you can use to generate leads. It’s fairly simple to put up as long as you have that content in place.

Put up a Facebook comment guard, spend a couple of hundred dollars on boosted posts to that targeted audience and analyze the attraction. Tools like MobileMonkey are a good place to start and let you experiment. It’s becoming an important tool in the marketing strategy.

Well, Emily, thank you so much for your time. It was lovely to have you, and I hopefully will talk to you soon.

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