The other day I was trying to convince a client about the merit of social media beyond a single tool. Then I paused and thought: why? How much return will this tactic net, even if it does fulfill the overall strategy? Today, this tool…tomorrow…which tool? And use it…how? To reach…whom? To what end?
And then, my social media digital marketing communications existential crisis hit.
Even as a pro who stays on top of social media on a daily basis — tools, best practices, evolving tactics, improved strategy — I can easily see how social media can become utterly overwhelming to the point of appearing ridiculous and pointless. A time suck. With no return on investment other than, maybe, some exposure and a few names for the email list or a couple of positive reviews.
Is this enough to make it worthwhile?
Is there too much out there — in terms of noise, distraction, and tools — and have people begun to turn off and tune out “beyond personal” uses of social media?
Should we hop into a new, hot tool?
Before you leap out of social media or into a new shiny object trying to recapture that social media high you had a couple of years ago, stop and think through what you’re doing with social media: how are you using it, how are you measuring it, and how are you growing with it?
Social media may not be the problem. How you’re using it now may be. And my “existential crisis” questions are the exact things every organization should regularly ponder.
How social media has changed (and why you need to change with it)
As Facebook and Twitter have altered how they work with brands, and new tools have popped up, any organization is going to feel frustrated with results and trying to keep up with a landscape that shifts faster than a chameleon in a Velspar commercial.
Let’s look at a few major changes in social media recently:
Facebook Unveils a Radically Redesigned News Feed in March 2013 — this allows users greater selection and deselection of content that they see, while forcing more paid content on users, especially in mobile; although nobody is completely sure how this will affect brands and pages, it’s pretty clear from how content was being sorted prior to this release that content and community managers are going to need to continue the tricks such as posting photos and then adding a link to comments to maintain visibility. Even so, expect less and less if you don’t spend more. Facebook is shifting to a profit model.
Twitter no longer working with hashtag communities? — recent notices on tools such as Tweetchat indicate that more and more outside, Twitter-support tools and apps will no longer be able to work with Twitter. For companies that run Twitter chats or a lot of hashtag-based campaigns, this might have a big impact.
Do you know where your people are, and are you there? — With the constant “coming and going” of new tools, your organization needs to keep a finger on the pulse of your market and where your targeted demographic spends time in social media. They may have shifted to new sites or may be using their limited time to inspect new tools. A drop in engagement on one, such as Facebook, may indicate a short turn in attention or may indicate an exodus, such as to Pinterest. It’s important to follow the demographics and social science, but it’s also important to remember that anecdote doesn’t equal data.
Do you know when your people are there, have you been listening? — Too many brands and organizations are using social media when it’s convenient for them. In fact, with all of the scheduling tools and changes to how content is displayed, there is no reason why your group should be doing anything other than posting at optimal times to reach the eyes you want to reach. You need to stay on top of your options for posting at optimal times. Have you tried out the autoschedule feature in Hootsuite, for example?
Vine launched and then…other social media and mobile multimedia tools hopped on the bandwagon. Suddenly everyone was weighing in like chicken little about the need for short loop video. Multimedia such as video is a great outreach and promotional tool to build influence and gain visibility, but there is a time and a place. You need to critically evaluate how and when to use it, as well as other popular trends such as Infographics.
That’s just a few examples. The point is, if you aren’t paying for the tool then you are the product. And you have to expect that monetization will come along at some point. That will bring change in functionality, and a slew of new tools. The larger point is: just be aware that this is a very dynamic industry and to some degree you need to stay on top of it (or engage a pro who does) and ensure that your current tactics are working towards your overall strategic goal.
It may sound overwhelming but it’s actually just an exercise in strategic and critical thinking.
How your tactical approach will need to respond
It’s important to think regularly and critically about the social media tools your organization uses. Once an organization creates a social media plan and executes it, it can easily become mindless maintenance. People get busy and “post on social media properties” can be one more task to quickly check off during a busy workday. With that method, you might be lucky and see a plateau in engagement and influence but more likely you’ll begin to see a drop-off, and frankly neither is that good. Suddenly your strategy has morphed from something business or mission oriented to simply “add content.”
Each week you need to measure and analyze your results against several factors:
- is this growing well and gaining momentum?
- is this meeting goals?
- is this converting into something tangible?
- is this stagnating? If so, for how long and what might be influencing that?
As with any campaign, you need to A/B test, such as try different styles and times for posting and sharing. Evaluate different platforms and tools. Consider different tactics in historically successful platforms and tools. Set a good reading resource of pros who are sharp and on top of it, then cover the current hot topics in well-written and researched articles.
Putting on blinders to other tools, tactics and best practices is setting yourself in cement. The effect of that is not reaching your goals, potentially missing a big opportunity to promote or respond to a situation, indirectly sending fans to competitors who might be doing better engagement, and so on, all the way to self-appointed spokespeople stepping in to the breach to speak on your behalf.
Your organization can benefit from effective social media campaigns. Most of all, with great social media, you can build strong positive brand recognition and retain loyalty. It may be challenging to track directly how that converts into a return on investment, but if you’ve got an uptick in social media and organization metrics then you can reasonably perceive a correlation.
Then, one day, and hopefully many one days, you feel the success. Perhaps your loyal fans defend your organization in a social media debate or crisis, you’ll gain a better and deeper knowledge of your market and community, and your organization will benefit from the impact of influence marketing on purchase decisions.
That’s because people are still using social media in incredible numbers for amazing quantities of time. So it’s still a great venue for you to reach and influence your people.