TSA’s Instagram has been featured on Jimmy Kimmel, @Midnight with Chris Hardwick, and several other primetime shows. Rolling Stone celebrated it as the #4 “Best Instagram Account” ahead of Beyoncé, SNL, and Humans of New York. The man behind the @TSA handle is named Bob, and at his (packed) SXSW panel, he laid bare TSA’s entire social media strategy:
- Post interesting pictures
- Lean into “dad jokes”
A few self-serious social media strategists, eager to learn from the experts at SXSW, shifted a bit uncomfortably in their seats. There had to be more to it, right?
At the conclusion of his presentation, in the Q&A portion of the program, one such individual asked Bob what KPIs and metrics he uses to gauge success.
He replied sincerely, “What do you mean by ‘KPIs’?”
Bob explained that he reads through comments to see what folks are reacting positively to, adding that he hopes media outlets continue to shine a spotlight on his efforts.
As a digital marketer, I was almost offended by how primitive it all seemed. After three days of panels with names like “Digital Copycats: Escaping Plato’s Cave” and “Redefining Ad Tech in a Distributed World,” part of me refused to believe that running one of the most celebrated Instagram accounts in the world boiled down to something so unsophisticated.
But the other part of me still can’t get Bob’s words out of my head.
When Strategy Isn’t Enough
I attended the TSA panel after a session called “Is Anybody Paying Attention to Your Content?” in which an adult diaper brand proudly boasted about the CTR on their “lifestyle video content piece,” dissecting the meticulous considerations they calculated and measured to ensure engagement would stack up against Q/Q benchmarks.
And while their engagement numbers certainly sounded impressive, it didn’t stop people from walking out of their panel. Why? Because all the strategy in the world can’t save bad content from simply being bad.
To be clear, strategy is a critical component to success in the digital ecosystem. But it’s a science that is co-dependent on art of equal merit. Some lab-grown strategy is sure to earn you clicks or likes or some other flimsy form of internet points, but we (as marketers and brands) need to dig for something deeper if we want to build substantive and meaningful relationships with our audiences.
Interesting content can do more than earn above-industry standard engagement rates for your quarterly report. It can change the conversation.
Bob highlighted a shift in perception around the TSA from a travel nuisance synonymous with “long lines and missed flights” to safe guardians who prevent everything from Batarangs to hoes (yep) from sneaking aboard your flight. None of it required digging into—or even consideration of—vanity metrics, and a good amount of it can be credited to their social media efforts.
TSA accomplished this by creating and sharing content that educates, informs, and entertains—not because, as was clear in the case of the adult diaper brand, they felt obligated to add content to the already busy digital sphere.
Giving Content a Purpose
The reality is that too many brands are creating content for the sake of creating content, hoping to strike internet gold. But content should never be the end game. Instead, we should think of it as a channel—a way to meet an objective, rather than the objective itself.
Like Bob’s means of measuring success, it may seem painfully simple at first, but it’s something that is regularly taken for granted. In the busy grind that is the advertising world, we tend to ask for more (or else we hear clients ask for more), without taking a beat to ask “Why?” And the why is really all that matters.