the lessons in new york bagels & elementary math

Around 8pm each weeknight I change into my PJs, I curl up with a blanket (because blankets are my favorite) and I take the latest book from my nightstand. 8-9pm is my reading time. I find it helps my eyes to relax when I dim the lights a bit, and if the book I’m reading is really good, I swear it’s better than an alarm clock getting me out of bed the next day. Only…. last week I was really bad at keeping to my reading. I made a gain of 2 pages in 7 days. If my life were a football game and I was a running back, I would bench me for poor performance on knowledge gains.

Instead, I’ve been laying down at 8pm and literally opening every social app you can think of. It used to be just Instagram that I got lost in – now it’s stretch into LinkedIn and a little bit of Facebook and Twitter (Twitter was always my least favorite too). I sit and throw out likes and loves like I’m Oprah so people think I have nothing better to do than refresh my apps every 2 minutes. At first I thought it was a bad habit that I needed to stop. Until I realized that consuming as much content as I was that week, made me feel better at my job than if I had was reading “expert” advice from “expert” sources on “expert” third-party websites on social media. Why all of the sudden did I feel so much smarter from spending what I thought to be too much time on social media?

Hold that question and ponder these two quick facts:

Do you know that what makes a New York bagel a New York bagel is not the recipe, but the water? That if the same recipe were duplicated in another state, that it still would not taste the same because of something beyond the control of the chef? Yet our expectation is that if you duplicate the formula you can duplicate the success.

Another thing to think about: 1 + 2 + 3 =  6, but, so does 4 + 2, so does 3 x 2, so does 10-4. So if someone asks you to make 6, how do you know which formula to use? Easy – you use the one that works best for you. If you stink at your times tables, I suggest you stick with basic addition. If you’ve got a photographic memory (like I do) I suggest multiplication.

So, back to my question – why did consuming content make me feel much smarter than reading about best practices for social media?

Like New York bagels and simple mathematics teach us, there is not one path to success, and often duplicating formulas don’t always duplicate success for factors outside our control. Reading about best practices is often not as useful as experiencing those practices as a consumer and reversing the tables to think like a marketer. By consuming social media, as opposed to reading about it, I was looking for the patterns through my own contexts – those content experiences which were best for myself and the clients I currently with. I was looking at “6” – but perhaps the content producer or brand got there by 1 + 5 and I was thinking about a different formula that made more sense to me. Social media is not “apply all”. In fact, I always find the more I get to know a brand, the more my suggestions start to differ. It’s not always about what works for “everyone”, it’s really about finding what works “for you”. Treating each client as its own separate entity.

I was also experiencing the full range of reaction and emotion to the content by experiencing it, rather than reading about it – and it was those reactions and emotions that I was duplicating when I was creating content for clients.

The best content solicits feelings and the feelings that we want to create as marketers differ from brand to brand. For instance – a brand may develop content that “motivates” and do REALLY well. But that doesn’t mean motivational content will be successful for every brand. If you are Coca-cola, what use do you have for your audience feeling motivated? It’s hard to connect the dots between feeling motivating and buying a bottle of Coke. Coca-Cola does a fantastic job at soliciting other emotions more meaningful to both its brand and the purchase intent of its customers – nostalgia, culture and tradition – in complete contrast to a brand like Pepsi-Cola who plays on the “trendsetting” emotions of “Generation Next”. Both play on emotions that have a direct connection to purchase intent of their customers.

The same goes for the “type” of content posted. Almost every article I read tells me that links perform poorly in terms of organic reach on Facebook – stick with vivid images. Experience backs it up as well – links for the consumer brands I’ve worked on have performed poorest of all content. Experts bring it to a macro level on user behavior – people want to consume media where they are, so they are unlikely to follow, read, or even engage or share links they do not read. (and my not-so-expert prediction is that iOS 9 and other mobile advancements which now lead to easier navigation “back” to where you were before you clicked, will actually reverse this sometime soon anyway. )

But, did you know that when it comes to the travel industry, links perform well? When it comes to travel, consumers on social media tend to favor expert sources and third-party opinions more so than their own peers. Links that solicit feelings of authority and endorsement are just as meaningful to travel brands as feelings of “wanderlust”.

Rely on experience – whether it be your own experience or that of others, but don’t take it as the final word. Be willing to listen to your customers and your audience FIRST, by either watching them, or putting yourself in their shoes (like I did by being a consumer). The consumers will tell you whats best for you, and it may not be the same lesson as you’ve learned in the past. You have to be willing to engage in trial and error to find the best formula and always be fine tuning it to a multitude of factors that are changing quicker than we can catch-up.