What is "social-first" marketing?

Why the phrase could help you sell your social ideas

Hey New Yorkers (or anyone in town next Tuesday)—wanna hang? My dear friend & marketer extraordinaire Amanda Goetz is in town—we figured it’d be fun to get people together at the park, say hey, relax. We can talk marketing or, you know, not talk marketing because we’re dynamic humans in the universe. You can RSVP right over here.

Okay, we should talk about social media now, shouldn’t we. Give this a read while I pack my bags for Chicago—headed out there for, you guessed it, more basketball.

—Jack Appleby

How to make “social-first” marketing

Brands say they want to make great social media content… but do they? Do most brands actually put their money where their mouth is? Or do they keep doing the same thing, then wonder aloud why their Instagram isn’t performing?

It’s 2023. If we want our marketing assets to perform, they’ve got to be social-first. Let’s talk about:

  • What social-first actually means

  • Why it’s really a slick sales phrase (a good thing!)

  • How to make social-first content

What does “social-first” mean?

It’s pretty simple, really. “Social-first” marketing is content that’s created with social in mind. It’s when social isn’t just a distribution channel, but a strategic consideration when crafting your marketing campaigns.

That probably reads like a no brainer. We all say we understand the importance of social! Of course we want to create content that’s optimized for social! But your marketing director still emails the social media manager a dropbox link with assets in a “hey, can you tweet this,” then wonders why it flopped with 42 likes.

“Social first” is an organizational mindset, and it’s one worth pursuing.

Why is being social-first important?

Your brand won’t stand out on social unless you’re thinking social-first. Think about the competition you’re facing:

Your brand's content has to earn the eyeballs away from not just other brands, but content creators, and musicians, and artists, and our actual IRL friends posting engagement photos and baby announcements. All of those folks’s content is naturally social-first because they’re authentically sharing their lives. If your brand’s social content looks like a TV commercial, I’m scrolling right past to another CapCut template of Bill Hader dancing.

How to make social-first content

Okay, back to the premise. If you want to make social-first content, invite your social team to the room where it happens. Your social pros shouldn’t be on a need-to-know basis list—their strategic thoughts are just as vital to campaign construction as brand, PR, and media teams.

The easiest way to know if your content is social-first? Ask yourself two of the original social strategy questions: “why would I care, and why would I share?” If you don’t have an immediate answer, your content isn’t social-first. You’re the marketer inside the machine—if you don’t immediately get it, I promise your followers won’t either.

Throw a little more money towards overall content creation, too. I watch too many brands spend small fortunes on hyper-polished TV spots… but without having TV media budgets… then dropping that “TV spot” on social with a bunch of paid media behind it. Instead, be honest with yourself about where your brand message is shared most often (cough, social) and spend your marketing budgets to optimize assets for those channels.

Isn’t “social-first” just… basic social strategy?

It’s easy to talk social strategy on paper, but half the battle is how you sell social, both internally and externally. Some of the brightest social minds I know have no idea how to sell their own ideas, and it’s heartbreaking. If you can’t sell social, you can’t make great social.

That’s one reason I like throwing “social-first” into my decks & emails—it’s as much a strategy as a sales tool & challenge to my clients.

When I write “if we want to succeed, we must become social-first” in size 50 font on Google Slides, it sells better than “here’s how we’ll make a social strategy!” I’m not saying anything revolutionary—just using emotional sales language and a branded approach to build authority in the room. Because let’s be honest, here—”social-first” really is just slick branding. But that’s okay!

You see how I use the phrasing and statistics about content creation to form an argument to make great social? I want you to steal that. Use it as an upfront for your own decks. It’ll help you get great content made.

Social Cues

There are so many social big thinkers out there, writing all kinds of amazing strategies, analysis, and breakdowns. All ships rise with the tide, so here are a few reads from other places I think you could learn from.

I should’ve included this legendary history of brands getting weird in last week’s unhinged piece, written by the original voice of Steak-Umm.

This quote right here hits all my complaints about trend journalism: “a single video goes viral, some people start talking about it, the media picks it up, and suddenly it’s used as fodder for the kind of lowest-common-denominator broadcast news segments where old people marvel about how foreign young people have become… even though the thing they’re talking about isn’t even really happening on a scale that’s by any measure newsworthy.”

What if Twitter is here to stay? What if no Twitter alternative can ever succeed?