Steve Campbell


How to Hack Your Way to Success on Social Media

Note: This post is for a 2018 audience only.

I pride myself on being a hacker trapped inside of a marketer’s body. That is the lens through which I am able to see the world just a little bit differently.

Because of this, I don’t often identify as a “digital marketer” publicly. No, you’re much more likely to find me touting myself as a professional writer, personal branding expert, or simply content creator.

As such, when I talk about a subject as broad as social media or marketing, I like to try and bring something new or different to the discussion, because that’s how you provide value.

As I mentioned previously:

The marketing world has evolved to the point where it’s common knowledge that businesses and brands need to have a meaningful presence on these platforms.

That said, there are still plenty of people out there who just don’t fundamentally understand how to create “a meaningful presence.”

Worse yet, a lot of the information out there revolving around “success on social media” these days often involves dated tactics and get-rich-quick (at least in terms of follower growth) schemes.

This is hardly a surprise. After all, marketers ruin everything

But, seeing as these social platforms are here to stay, I wanted to try and lend a fresh perspective to the conversation. If you cared about this topic enough to click on this post, I hope that you’ll find the information here valuable.

① Determine the Value of Your Audience’s Time

Photo by Lukas Blazek

Everybody values their time. As marketers, it is our job to do whatever we can to beg, borrow, and steal consumers’ attention.

This, you rarely hear about, but it’s something I think about quite often.

That said, to be successful on social media, you need to develop a deep understanding of how your target audience values theirs.

For many marketers, success on social boils down to a simple equation:

Impressions x Frequency = Engagement + Attention

Attention, or “a concentration of the mind on a single object or thought,” is the name of the game. As such, attention hacking, as discussed here, is very much the epidemic of our generation.

As a marketer in 2018, you’re competing with everyone, so you need to try and develop any competitive advantage you can.

We all know that shorter copy often works better, visuals help a lot, and you should always optimize for mobile.

What we don’t always consider is:

  1. Who these target audience members really are
  2. How they spend their day/week/month/year
  3. What information they find most valuable

Oftentimes, marketers just look at a specific demographic. “Our goal is to reach moms between the ages of 24 and 34 who live in suburban areas and shop at Whole Foods once a week…” They then target an ad to that specific group.

That’s not enough in 2018.

You need to invade the minds of your core consumers. What makes them tick? How do they spend their time? What information do they find valuable?

Then, once you have down those intangibles, you can create something of value for them, showing you really understand their wants and needs.

Embrace creativity as the variable that it is. Creativity warrants attention, especially when paired with value.

Maybe your targets primarily use social for quick escapes throughout the day. Maybe they’re looking for inspiration, or tips & advice around a certain topic.

Or maybe, it’s a combination of those things. Maybe there are a few key things here that your social media marketing efforts aren’t currently covering.

When you start to embrace the above, you will start to find success on social media. Things like impressions and frequency will give you more at-bats with your target audience, but considering how they value their time will yield you more of their attention.

② Respect Each Individual Platform You’re On

Photo by Jakob Owens

This is something I see all the time, and yet, 90% of people who market themselves on social media still fundamentally get it wrong.

To hack your way to success, you have to respect the platform.

In the same way you need to understand how your target audience values their time, you need to understand the mindset and intent users have when visiting certain platforms.

As a publication owner right here on Medium, I see this all the time. We receive countless article submissions featuring large blocks of (unedited) text, posts devoid of imagery, and extremely short reads… despite there being no shortage of evidence out there of what success looks like on this platform.

Don’t get me wrong, you can and should do whatever you can to inject your personality into your social media presence and brand.

But each platform you create and consume content on has certain strengths, and leveraging them to the best of your abilities creates new opportunities.

You can’t break the rules until you understand them all. There’s a reason some of the world’s best data security minds are also some of the world’s best hackers.

When it comes to social, among other things, I’m a firm believer in adopting a test, learn, and adapt type of strategy. It’s how I became a top writer on Medium in two separate categories in just 10 days’ time.

Furthermore, here’s some advice you won’t often find:

Use subtle automation to your advantage.

Dabbling in automation, especially in my world, is often a big no-no. I personally despise whenever I get auto-DM’d or “greeted” by a new follower, simply because I know that the interaction wasn’t genuine.

And I’m not alone. How many here hate automated messages and comments?

However, I think that if used properly, automation can play a subtle role in your account’s development over time.

As I mentioned above, people value their time. What automating social interactions does is it tells the person that they’re not worth your actual time. Even if you think you’re doing it in a nice way, they hate it, and they’d rather have those 3 seconds back. You’ve effectively robbed them of their time.

So, what does subtle automation actually look like, then?

Subtle automation is the act of automating low-risk, high-reward functions at scale. It’s about being targeted, patient, and not greedy with your approach. It’s also about still appearing as human as possible.

Liking posts from certain users or hashtags on Instagram (I recently found this article, minus the affiliate links, to be a good resource) throughout the day is an example of a low-risk, high-reward activity. It’s a nice interaction no matter who it’s coming from and has the ability to result in extra follows over time.

The opportunity cost of me foregoing, say, writing this article, and instead sitting here and executing hundreds of targeted likes a day myself is high. Paying someone else to do it is also hardly worth those efforts. In this case, while a last resort, subtle automation is key.

Don’t go crazy with automation. If you’re going to automate anything, make sure it’s something tedious. Otherwise, respect the platforms you’re on and be as human as you can be.

③ Leverage the Tools You Have at Your Disposal

Photo by Barn Images

I pride myself on being a guy who knows how to get things.

Think of me like Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption.

As such, one of my passions and hobbies is seeking and testing out new tools, especially those that will help me be more efficient with my content creation.

When it comes to dominating social media, there are no shortage of tools out there. Hell, some of you reading this are probably building some yourself.

Hacking your way to success here in 2018 means developing an ability to be more active in more places. As far as I’m concerned, there are two distinct ways you can go about that:

  1. Hire a team
  2. Adopt better systems and tools

For me to operate and execute a top publication, weekly podcast, daily vlog, and daily content across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram consistently and efficiently, I need to have good tools with even better prices.

Here are some great tools I’ve found to be very useful in my social media hacking efforts (sorry, as these are all links to iTunes):

  • CutStory, which auto-cuts videos into 10–20 second clips for posting on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat Stories
  • JetPack, a hashtag assistant that lets you store and access distinct 30-hashtag sets for easy copy+pasting on Instagram
  • Spark Post, a Canva-like alternative from Adobe that lets you easily create post templates and resize/create images for different platforms
  • Later, a great tool with a really good free option for scheduling posts in advance for Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram

Leverage the tools you have at your disposal in order to hack your way to success.

④ Embrace Incremental Improvement

Photo by Oliver Kiss

Get better as you go, one step at a time.

Forget about the numbers. When you put in the effort to get 1% smarter or better each and every day, the numbers will eventually come.

Building off of item two above, spend your “free time” getting to know the platforms you’re on and learning their best practices. Skimming a listicle or skipping through a video takes hardly any time, and you’ll often learn at least one new thing.

The proof is right here on Medium. If you were to scroll back in time and look at an early article of mine, you’d see that I was smart enough to include an image and that I used some of Medium’s features — like titles, subtitles, and quotes — to my advantage.

What you wouldn’t see is some of the tactics I employ now, both to visually distinguish my work on this platform and keep people engaged.

I’m talking about the usage of ASCII symbols in my headers, and little images that act as colorful line-breaks at the end of each section. I’m talking about the makeshift Instagram and Twitter logos you’ll find at the end of this article, linking out to my other accounts.

I didn’t learn all of these tactics at once, but as I learned each one over time, I started employing them in tandem, and now they work together to great effect.

When you come across a tactic or idea that might help your work stand out, try adopting it and then adapting it to your own style and brand.

Improve a little each day and your collective work will stand out further and further over time.

⑤ Engage with Your Community Systematically

Photo by William White

Engaging with your community is advice you’ve probably heard before. If you’re like me, you’ve heard it a million-plus times…

And there’s a reason for that: it’s genuine and it works.

A little while ago, I finally decided to turn off all notifications on my phone. I left things like financial and news apps in place, but my “social noties” (the bulk of my notifications) have since been gone.

This, in itself, has really done wonders to free up certain parts of my day. When I want to sit down and bang out a 2,000-word article, for instance, it no longer takes me a full 8-hours to do so.

A side effect of this, however, has been the need to schedule times for social engagement and interaction. Now, at the beginning and end of each day — or whenever I find myself traveling or with a bit of downtime — I hold time on my calendar to systematically engage.

When I head to Instagram, I start by looking at any posts I had previously made that day. If there are any comments, I make it a point to address them. Then, I head to search and start typing in my most important hashtags. Looking at the top posts, if any resonate with me, I visit them and engage.

Visit a new platform, then rinse, and repeat.

This frees up so much more of my time because it eliminates all the little timeouts I would otherwise be taking throughout the day to engage.

In short, I’m hacking my way to success on social media a little bit each day, and if you adopt the mentality and some of the behaviors I’ve tried my best to convey here, you can too.

More by Steve Campbell

Topics of interest

More Related Stories