Nomen es omen, it’s called social media for a reason. In the beginning days of social media, communications professionals revelled in sight of something new: an opportunity to create real engagement with a consumer. Forging a long term value. Creating dialogue.
But then, for a moment, it looked that there were cheaper and quicker solutions available that could scale quicker, and that could fit the existing thinking qua reach, targeting and monetization seamlessly. For a moment it looked like paid social was everything you’d ever need to reach your audiences.
Recipe for disaster
The social networks killed organic reach through changes in their algorithms, speeding up the exodus to paid only. Sales teams of the networks focussed on bringing ad-money to the shareholder, undervaluing the ROI of good content and engagement. With virality thoroughly killed in the coding, why spend money on great content? Connections could be bought, and were guaranteed.
Armageddon: No more social posts
Facebook got a solid swap in the face when a very damning report published by The Information earlier this year showed that Zuckerberg’s social network struggled to reverse a whopping 21% decline in “original sharing”. In other words, its 1.6 billion monthly active users are starting to share less and less original content. With timelines flooded by paid –and often meaningless- messages by corporations and businesses, people stopped sharing their very own personal updates. Fortune nailed it when it stated: “Facebook’s decline in personal updates reflects a common growing pain for online communities. What starts out as a special and intimate place to share things grows into a big, impersonal, and professional platform.”
Less of what matters
Amidst all that corporate advertising, your personal posts start to look oddly out of context. The posts of your friends, the baby pictures, the personal updates, the jokes, the silly holiday snaps are more and more difficult to find… but were a big driver to routinely go back to the Facebook platform. “It’s unlikely that users will get that information anywhere else, and they don’t want to miss important life updates from their friends and family. Without the personal updates, Facebook becomes a glorified, 400 billion content recommendation engine,” warns Fortune.
Breaking the tool
And that is exactly the pain point for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. While it is absolutely normal that these networks move into a money generating model around advertising, they struggle to keep their authenticity. Beautiful targeting tools and ready-made ads-formats turn a lot of advertisers and their agencies lazy on the content. A deluge of grey and often meaningless content starts polluting everyone’s timeline, threatening to break the backbone of the very tool.
When social starves, the network dies
O Irony! The handles for paid social are now solidly in the hands of every social, creative, digital or media agency in the world. Paid social rocketed itself to a very powerful and adult mainstream connection tool. But the very DNA of the tool, the social part, the relationship-building, the true conversation, the personal connection was left out. Matter of fact is that most big agencies consider Social Media primarily and largely as a pure advertising medium, and are thus missing the point entirely. Those networks can and should be way more than yet another use of intelligent display.
To succeed as a brand requires a complete rethinking of the business eco-system. It requires savvy leadership that is willing to go through the change management required to address things differently. Great engaging content, centred on the very interest fields of the consumer, and fuelled by smart paid targeting is the way to go. Brand should rethink the complete communications and connections strategy, and not just blindly add social media to their buying planning.
Knights of the Round Table
Succeeding requires a unique set of skills. Format specialists that can use the full fletch of engaging novelties per social platforms. Platform specialists that know all the unwritten netiquette rules and the do’s and don’ts per platform. Communications strategists, connection specialists, data miners, targeting wizards, digital creatives, audience profilers. If your agency has a senior sales guy, and a fleet of young, cheap community managers, you’re obviously fighting a losing game. Your team needs to bring the consumer true value, on top of the targeted reach of paid social. To win the battle for the consumers’ attention, without breaking the tool will be hard work.
True engagement needs to be earned.