How Do You Use Social Media Anyway?

When I started using Facebook back in high school, I struggled to find some kind of functional meaning behind all the “liking” and “poking”. Still, that cute girl from biology had just joined, and my teenage hormones hadn’t heard of the term “Facebook stalking” yet. My struggle with Twitter was very similar when I was in college. In fact, the challenge of communicating with only 140 characters kept me from using the site until just a couple of years ago.

This is a challenge many would-be content makers and social media marketers struggle with. The question of “how” keeps many people up long nights, which often causes more stress and frustration than is needed. It took me a few years until I realized that when you strip away all of the liking, retweeting, and pinning, all social media platforms have a combination of some very basic functions.

The 7 Functional Building Blocks of Social Media

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one (nor the first) to get this memo. Researchers from Simon Fraiser University took a look at various social media websites and reduced their built in features, and how users regularly use the websites, into seven basic functions. Once you get the basic idea, I’m going to show you how you can use this idea to make content that’s designed to take advantage of these functions.

Tailor Your Content to Match the Functional Blocks

One part of the whole “know your audience” process is to understand how they are using each social media platform you use. Unless you have the luxury of publishing to the entirety of Facebook’s billion plus user base, chances are you have a small niche of that user base as your audience. More importantly, there’s an even greater chance that the majority of your audience is using each social media site in multiple ways.

Using the 7 Building Blocks, you can tailor your content in a couple of specific and effective ways:

Make content that plays to each social media channel’s strengths

While most of the social media platforms provide features that fit into all seven of the basic blocks, each platform still has its strengths. For example, unless Twitter expands its 140 character policy, the platform will always excel with social sharing and short conversations. Know the strengths of each platform, and tailor your content to exploit these strengths.

Make content that enhances the way your audience uses social media

In the same vein as above, tailoring your content that will enhance your audience’s social media experience will make your content more effective. I see this all the time with content in virtual communities. Special kinds of content like memes are quite often used to enhance the relationship and group aspects of social media communities. Once you know how your audience is typically using each social media platform, you will have a better idea of how to make your content fit with these uses.

Making effective CTAs for Each Functional Block

Keeping in mind that all of this hinges on how your audience uses social media (within the limits of the functions of each site), the real trick is in the content’s call to action (CTA). All content encourages user action, even if it is as simple as “read me!” or “watch me!”. When combined with relevant subject matter, a relevant call to action will let users interact with your content in a meaningful way. Here are some examples:

Identity – content that focuses on personal information and stories often relate to users at the identity level. Common CTAs that encourage users to “share their story” are often working on this functional block.

Presence – the typical call for a status update isn’t as common as other forms of CTAs, but can be highly effective for physical locations and virtual communities. This functional block is often enhanced with “checkin” types of CTAs.

Relationships – encouraging users to form bonds with each other at the individual level has been a corner stone of several virtual communities. In the beginning at least, this was the very idea of Facebook’s purpose. “Invite a friend” CTAs are very typical for this functional block.

Reputation – have you ever wondered why so many Facebook games have you share your score with your friends? It’s because sharing results, scores, or level accomplishments is a great CTA for enhancing the reputation building aspect of social media.

Conversations – arguably, this is the most basic CTA of all social media: “Comment”, “Tweet”, “Email”, etc. Since social media is all about communication, most CTAs encourage conversation in one form or another.

Groups – the difference between this functional block and the relationship block is the scale of the user connecting with other users. CTAs that invite users to join a larger community (i.e. a Facebook page) take the relationship building to a whole different level.

Sharing – much like the conversations block, this functional block is also primary function of social media. Most CTAs in this block will even use the word “share” to promote the exchange and flow of digital content.

Read more: