I went around my bosses back at ESPN when I started a makeshift Facebook page for the high school lacrosse website I was in charge of in 2009. I doubled down on the deception when I started a Twitter account two years later.
While I had initial success with both accounts, it was blind luck and the power of the ESPN brand. I had no idea what I was doing or philosophy behind the madness. It wasn’t until I started running social media accounts in 2014 and trying to build a brand that I realized there needs to be a method to the madness.
As someone who runs social media accounts that have attracted more than 25,000 followers, I’ve developed a philosophy and voice. I experimented and made a lot of mistakes, which taught me a lot. Perspective is something I’ve gained as I’ve failed and tried again. Those early mistakes helped to develop that philosophy, and now I’m hoping I can help you not repeat them.
If you’re not up for reading the entire story, the TL;DR of it all is fear. I was afraid of not having enough photos, anything to say, fear that no-one would like what I had to say when I did say it, fear that I would run out of content and so it’s not worth starting what I surely cannot finish.
I have fond memories of my first Twitter account. Since it was a rouge account, I kept it under my name, and those first tweets were pretty straightforward. Since Twitter had been around for a few years and I was giving it more thought than Facebook, I felt like I got the reason for its existence. My first tweet was news-oriented from an event I was attending.
Just 10 hours away from No. 1 Haverford School (Pa.) vs. No. 28 Malvern Prep (Pa.)— Mike Loveday (@McLoveday) May 25, 2011
Looking back on those early tweets it’s hard to say I made a horrible mistake with Twitter. I did not have a philosophy, but I knew that writing and publishing the story was only the halfway mark. I needed to become a marketer and push that content out to an audience who would be interested in it. Tweeting from events garnered a following fast, and the account grew. But I was not pushing any limits. Just text and links like the one above.
My biggest mistake with Twitter is similar to my Instagram mistake - not embracing photo soon enough. I talk about this more in my Instagram section, but my belief that I did not have enough high-quality photos to post - therefore didn’t post any - was a huge mistake. Now, every tweet has an image. The rise of tools like Canva and Unsplash have made it possible to create an image when you do not have one.
The most significant changes since those initial tweets have come from added abilities to the platform itself: adding images, tagging people in those images and the expanded character count. Twitter has always come naturally to me, and that likely is a big reason why it’s the top referral platform to my lacrosse website.
If I’m being honest, I’m making the same mistake with video now. I have never been comfortable in front of a camera, even though I’ve never shied away from it. I spent a lot of time in front of one in college since I was taking film and video classes while getting my associate degree. But, sitting in my office and turning the camera on still feels daunting. Here are a few of my excuses. I don’t have anything to say. I don’t have the right editing software. I can’t make a video look as good as MKBHD or Phillip DeFranco, so I shouldn’t waste my time. I’m not charismatic enough. Nobody will watch. These excuses aren’t dissimilar to my photo fears, and they are going to be overcome in 2019 as I further adopt Nike’s Just Do It mantra.
Contrast that with the college I work for, and Twitter is more of a news outlet and temperature tracker and is not the main focus. With that job, Instagram is the main focus, but Facebook is the primary referral source.
I came to Moraine Valley when the account had just more than 7,000 followers. We now have more than 15,000 and engagement is at an all-time high. It’s the place where most potential students and fans come to ask questions and get answers and to view photos from graduation and consume information about what is happening at the college.
We utilize Twitter to push out news and engage with any students who may have trouble with some facet of the college and go to Twitter to vent. The follower count climbs slowly, but we chose to bump it down on our to-do list soon after I started four years ago. This has less to do with the platform and more to do with our audience.
Knowing who your audience on any platform is the No. 1 thing every social media marketer needs to know. It dictates everything you do, from the voice you write in, the images you use and what you will choose to share. For us, students are going to Twitter to interact with the college. They do that on Facebook and Instagram, so we go to where our students are most comfortable. Twitter is used almost as a way to push out press releases.
It’s amazing how different the same platform is viewed by the same person who runs two very different accounts. I could not have grown LaxRecords.com without Twitter, but if Moraine Valley’s Twitter account went away, I’m not sure how much difference it would make.
I used to have my Twitter account feed my Facebook page via the If This, Then That service, so the two accounts were posting the same items at the same times. My Facebook page was nothing more than a backup Twitter account. I did this because in 2009/2010 I was managing two websites and working 60 hours a week and I needed an easy way to ‘feed the beast.’ The amazing thing was the Facebook page grew, which was really a bad thing since it gave me no incentive to change. Eventually, ESPN realized the power of Facebook and created an overarching Facebook account for its high school network, and I had to shut down the lacrosse-specific page. I had grown it to almost 700 friends (this was before business pages existed) in slightly more than a year.
When I started a Facebook business page for LaxRecords.com in 2014, I followed the same idea - just let Twitter handle it. But without the power of ESPN’s name behind me, growth did not happen. It was then, I realized I needed to decide what I wanted each of my Facebook page to become.
Before the Facebook algorithm changed everything, growth on the page was steady. I hit the first 200 Likes reasonably quick, but growth stalled.
Some of that stagnation had to do with life changes that resulted in me ignoring the platform for much of 2015. I had choices to make, and Twitter was the focus since Facebook’s referral numbers were not coming close to what Twitter delivered. But in 2016, with life more settled I started posting again, but growth has been slow.
When I have done boosted posts or targeted ads, I get bursts of growth, but organic growth is more challenging than ever. My most significant bursts now come when my fans share content on their pages - usually not from my Facebook posts.
When you are running a one-person business and resource constrained, this becomes the biggest frustration. I know that photos and video get more traffic and can increase engagement and Likes, but with LaxRecords, those are the toughest items for me to secure and post. So growth on that side has been challenging. Little money for marketing and to get freelance help results in a few likes per month, but not much more.
Contrast that with running the Moraine Valley Facebook page. We have an award-winning photographer and videographer on staff, and I work with them to produce photos and videos for Facebook and Instagram. We post photo galleries regularly in addition to the general news that we also post to Twitter. We create videos for the platform, like our Man on the Street series where we asked students questions about the college and campus life. Those items keep engagement high, and we consistently engage with issues both publicly and privately.
When you have a few people helping out - even two others - it makes a world of difference. I am in position to see how Facebook works from two perspectives.
The college has a marketing budget that allows us to create targeted ads in addition to boosting posts that are performing well, and with integration with Instagram, it is even more powerful. The pay-to-play landscape has changed the game since I started that rouge Facebook page for ESPN back in 2009.
My biggest mistake on Instagram was thinking I could not make it work from a small business perspective. My second mistake was not putting more focus into it early and being inconsistent.
I was on Instagram on my personal account within a year of Instagram’s launch in 2011. I did not launch LaxRecords Instagram account until 2016. A lot changed in those five years and taking two years to start an IG account for LaxRecords was a mistake.
At the start I thought I did not have enough photos to post to maintain the account. But looking back, I was displaying images with every story on the website so I could have posted those despite the low quality. After all, Instagram filters were created to make low quality photos tolerable.
And even when I did launch, I was inconsistent with posting. In the offseason, I did not have new content going up, so I neglected the account and posted maybe once a week if that. It was not until 2018 that I really started to take it seriously. Instagram Stories provided a way for me to post content other than photos and to engage with the audience. I decided I would post with the images I have and not worry about the quality or quantity. The account grew from around 500 at the start of 2018 to more than 1,000 by the end of it.
What else changed?
I focused on posting every day, sometimes twice a day at strategic times. I used my Instagram analytics to know the best times to post and created content around the daily stories or around trends like Flashback Friday or Throwback Thursday. I’ve been covering lacrosse for more than a decade now, and while some of those early photos are small and low quality, they show the history of the sport.
And I started posting at least one Story a week. Sometimes it was just a check in to update everyone on what was coming up or what was posted, but I those Story updates made a difference. That Instagram-colored ring around the account and at the top of fans’ feeds keep the account relevant and in their minds. The analytics prove the engagement is there.
In addition to all the usual metrics, they recently added Instagram Stories to the toolbox. They give you data over time versus Instagram’s two-week limitation. While they don’t provide you with data on individual Stories, they do show engagement trends for the month and over time. They provide data on taps forward, exits and more, which allows me to make data-driven decisions on what to post.
In fact, the data has driven me to make some decisions on who I want posting to the Instagram accounts. For Moraine Valley, we’re working to put the power into our students’ hands and let them show our audience what life is like at the college. For LaxRecords, I am trying to work with schools and students to post content from their area to highlight different parts of the country and broaden the view of the account. These are the new focus for 2019, and I’m excited to see how they turn out.
What I did not realize when I started writing this is that I spent a lot of time worrying when I started accounts. I mentioned being fearful at the start and over the years, I realized worrying about the finish before you start is just plain dumb. I also tried to take the lazy way out and let one network feed the others. Now that I’ve been working in social media for more than eight years now and been working as a small business owner for the last five, I realized the need for quality is the most important item.
A lot has changed since I started all these accounts and been put in charge of others. Platforms change, and part of the job is to analyze and adapt. I’ve had success with some, still waiting to crack the nut on others and decided others are not for me (I’m looking at you Snapchat).
But the one thing that has changed for the better is my attitude. As I’ve outlined here, failure is a great learning tool. Experiment, see what works for you and if something crashes and burns, dust off the ashes and rebuild.