Last month, audiences were shocked by David Blaine’s headless magic trick on Nickelodeon’s Teen Choice Awards, as well as the finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead. The aftermath of both shows tells an interesting social media story. Within minutes, 2.1 million tweets were generated from teens across America in awe of the magician’s dramatic act, and 1.1 million tweets were generated from Walking Dead fans angry about the finale cliffhanger. The next day, that high number of social interactions became the lead story of websites and blogs, measuring the worth of both shows to advertisers and cable network executives.

This is just one example of the new power of Social Media. As marketers, we have to respect and understand not only how to engage this powerful marketing tool, but how to strategically leverage it to our brand’s advantage.

When it comes to social media, one size does not fit all. Different populations use social media differently. Their decisions as to which channel they use are very much purpose-driven. The first step in developing an effective social media marketing communications plan is to look at which sites your target audience is using and why. The user experience is key to gaining engagement, and the game has become less about likes and more about interactions. The end goal is consumer engagement and conversion for the brand story you are telling.

While early adopters of social media centered on the Millennial, Gen-X and Baby Boomer populations, no longer can any one demographic be affiliated with any one social site. And, with 74% of all Americans engaged in some form of social media, according to the recent study by Pew Research, social media is no longer a force to be ignored. The marketing challenge has now shifted from whether social media is a viable option for branding to how best to segment across this new mainstream media that reaches more people in a day than TV or radio can reach in a week. Each social site has its own special nuance and following, and its own unique way it of being used. Plus, social media is ever changing, forcing marketers to evolve midstream to leverage the best opportunities.

The biggest advantage is that a brand can engage in a two-way interaction that can take a message viral within days. There have been many viral engagements over the past few years. One rare exception that captured the imaginations of all ages most recently is the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge Facebook campaign. Designed to raise awareness, online traffic and dollars, this strategic use of Facebook resonated with the 710 million online adult Facebook users who stay connected with their friends through a series of likes, shares and comments. The campaign resulted in 17 million videos from 159 countries – including the ones made by business leaders and celebrities such as Will Smith, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – generating 70 billion video views and raising $220 million.

Although many have tried, no other social media interaction has been able to duplicate those results. The closest has been the now famous Ellen DeGeneres Twitter selfie from last year’s Oscars, the first ever tweet to gain 1,300,000 retweets in less than an hour. It’s clear the power of social media can no longer be denied as a viable marketing tool to get a message out in a positive, quick, real-time way.

The critical factor is to understand the user and leverage the right social site to engage at the right time, with the right delivery, whether the message is transactional, branding or cause-related. Understanding how to engage audiences through social media with purpose can have a meaningful impact on your business and your brand.

At The Point Group, we know how to build a social strategy that is engaging and authentic. Our expertise in public relations, reputation management and brand building can help your brand navigate the waters of this new wave of social media engagement. Call us for a social media audit and let us take your brand to new heights.