In her second monthly column for Hiscox, social media trainer and media expert Sue Llewellyn examines the changing nature of branded shareable content online.

After “What’s a hashtag?’ and “How do I get more followers?” the next question I am always asked is “What’s the secret to success?” In other words, what works on social media and what should you be sharing?

Some people are worried that they have neither the time, nor resources or even anything interesting to say and they often prefer to ‘lurk’ and listen.

On the other hand, there are plenty of others who go into full broadcast mode blasting out updates and Tweets without thinking if anyone will actually be interested in what they’re saying. The subsequent lack of engagement is demonstrable proof that nobody cares, simply because there’s nothing in it for them.

I always advise people to listen first before launching into anything. See what your audiences (clients or customers) are talking about, what they’re interested in and what they’re sharing. You’ll get a feel for the key topics they care about and what works, and you can then feed these insights back into your planning.

The trick to making social work for you and your business is to develop a tailored, creative and effective content strategy and to find a balance that fits resources and workflow.

Just sticking something up on Facebook isn’t going to work – not for you or for anyone. You only have to look at pages like Condescending Corporate Brand Page to see what I mean. Getting it wrong can be hilarious for the rest of us but it can also be also brand damaging for you so it’s worth spending time to get it right.

Understanding Facebook’s approach to content

These days Facebook’s algorithm changes mean that organic reach – i.e. the total number of people who were shown your content for free – has plummeted. The harsh reality is that only a tiny minority of your fans, 6% or even less, will actually be seeing what you post.

Unless you are getting Likes, Clicks, Comments and Shares, which many Facebook pages and posts don’t, then you are pretty much wasting your time.

So you have a choice, either you pay to play (by boosting or promoting your content) or you have to have a serious think about creating content that really works and that means no more cheap hits with cute kitties, pointless questions and clickbaiting.

Quality shareable content, especially visual and video content works, especially on Facebook, so it’s worth investing time and effort into getting this right and, if necessary, promoting it.  But be aware that every other brand and business will be in the same boat and the space could be drowning in ads and competition for attention.

Having all your eggs in someone else’s basket is never a good strategy so personally I’d recommend diversifying and exploring alternative places where your audiences are spending their time, particularly visual apps and platforms like Instagram, which has seen explosive growth recently – now with 300 million users. And look also at other storytelling options for creating great visuals (photos and infographics) and short-form video content on Twitter such as Vine.

Fundamentally whatever platform you choose, it’s not a question of what’s in it for me (the business owner) but far more what’s in it for you (the customer). This is advice I have been giving my friend Stephen Cronk for the last four years since he set up Mirabeau Wine.

Over a lovely bottle of Mirabeau, I stressed that to succeed at social you need to tell a great story – take people on a journey with you; make them feel part of it. Keep your videos short, shareable, fun and accessible to all.  He finally struck gold with this: How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew – a staggering 9 million views and counting.

In an increasingly noisy war for attention there can only be a few winners so to return to the question “What’s the secret to success?” I have adapted @markwschaefer’s R.I.T.E. acronym for success:

R – be relevant to your audiences

I – be interesting and useful

T – be timely.  Tap into the topical and posting at the right time, regularly and especially when your audience is listening

E – and above all be engaging. Engage the emotions, the heart, the intellect and best of all the sense of humour.

Be RITE (sic) and you won’t go too far wrong.

You can see more insight from Sue on Twitter @suellewellyn. Read Sue’s previous column on planning a social media campaign.