I usually don't preface articles, but in this case, I feel that a brief note is necessary.
This article seems very à propos this month as the spotlight is being shined on Big Tech, and in particular Social Media, for their roles in electing the President.
Let me remind you that the core of my observations pre-date the US elections. So, let's put aside the political aspect for a moment as we remove the digital gloss off of this marketing tool to uncover the underlying weaknesses that prevent you from getting real results from the social media. It is not always pretty but keep an open mind as your campaigns are directly affected by the business model characterizing these platforms.
In short, your efforts could be doomed from the start and there is not much you can do about it. Social media is not the organic marketing platform we all like to believe nor is it as powerful as we have been led to believe. It just seems that way, here is why...
... But before we delve into the problems, I want to revisit the political scene -- this is the last time I promise -- because this is big and ugly. This recent marketing effort provides empirical data hard to reject. Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg's recent foray in the social media scene provides jaw-dropping statistics. His campaign allegedly spent upwards of $100 million on social media ads and influencers (more than 500 of them were sponsored); yet, he did not get the Democratic nomination and came in next to last. What were your social media goals this year?
1. First of all, the Internet has always been a social network. From day One.
Back in the 70s, the Internet was already about social networking. Interaction in one form or another was at the center of the Internet experience and was not limited to machines. Be it via email, web sites, forums, communities, social experiences with other users have defined the Internet. Social media is nothing new. In early 2005, hedge funds and special interest groups got behind the model to dominate the Web and mobile apps in order to ultimately influence consumers (and voters). Yes, achieving a virtual monopoly on online advertising was a goal but secretly finding ways to influence and track the population was part of the plan.
We have to admit the whole thing is very sexy in the eyes of marketers.
Everyone around the world is on social networks; everyone on social networks is in some way connected therefore organic growth potential is tremendous; social networks are free to use and offer cool marketing options such as buying Influencers to convince everyone around the planet to follow you. And last but not least, every marketer is doing it. No other channel can even come close to this.
...remember that everyone must be connected to the Internet to get on social media platforms. So everyone is also by default on the Internet and exposed to all the other platforms and tools it encompasses.
... remember that the big social platforms started out offering tremendous organic growth capabilities to their users to give them a "taste" and get them excited. But it is no longer the case; it has not been for years. Facebook did not even hide the fact by declaring it had set limits. Consequently, you can be on the biggest social networks and still be isolated
...remember that it is no longer free when promoted Posts and other media buys are the only way to grow your audience today on the social networks. Some of it is due to the business models of social networks; some of it is due to the fact that billions of accounts generate billions of posts and messages every day.
...remember that influencers have existed in one form or another. Before the social media took over, they were called bloggers. The ones who enjoyed a large audience usually attracted advertisers interested in media buys. Banner sponsorships were fine and accepted. Things went downhill when content was sponsored to influence readers. This always backfires. It did for Adobe and the last version of Flash Player. RIP Flash.
2. You have lost control
Always keep in mind that it is not your site. It is not your app. It is not even your hashtag. The social media platform can shut down (like Google+ and Vine) and you will lose everything; the social media platform can censor your posts; the social media platforms can limit your audience reach; your hashtags can be hijacked. None of this would happen on a site or app you own.
3. Your audience is not your audience.
Unfortunately, despite the number of followers you claim to have, ultimately the social media platform decides who will read your post. Not too long ago, a rumor circulated around the mysterious number 21 for small accounts. Of course, companies like Facebook denied the existence of that limit but a growing number of users became wary that their posts and efforts did not get the interaction level corresponding with the size of their audiences. While Facebook denied the existence of the 21-limit, they hinted that posts were evaluated and shared depending on a variety of factors such as mood of the recipient that day.
For a marketer, there is nothing worse than miscalculating the size of a market audience or reach. If you take to heart the fact that your posts will reach only a percentage of your followers, you will understand why your efforts on social media platforms need to be curtailed as soon as you notice that your ROI decreases.
4. Be patient, it takes time and perseverance to succeed
You have been well trained and sometimes briefly rewarded to post often on your page. It could not have worked better for these big techs. Marketers spend on average 4 years before calling it quits.
5. Terrible ecommerce tool
The lockdowns due to COVID-19 demonstrated one thing without the shadow of a doubt. Social media platforms do not come close to ecommerce or web sites when it comes to selling online. During the past 10 years, small business opted to bypass web sites entirely preferring instead to develop their online presence on social platforms. Big mistake. When the lockdown was imposed, we noticed that around the world, these businesses were forced to take orders via the phone or email! The chronological nature of the layout of social media interfaces made it impossible to update inventory, present accurate product availability to the buyers or take orders. In short, they were useless. These findings were supported by a recent survey 6/2020 by Bizrate insights which shows that 70% of U.S. adults have never made a purchase via a social media platform.
Consider what you are selling before wasting resources on social media. For most industries, it will generate marginal benefits and should be allotted the corresponding level of funds and efforts. It is great to connect with family and friends or if you are a celebrity. If people want to follow you then you will benefit from social media. Increasing reach with new followers is another story.
6. Easy to fake.
Fake accounts, fake posts by robots, statistics that can easily be altered. Unless you get genuine interaction resulting from your social media efforts, you must remain open to the idea that the horde of followers may not be there.
Hashtags are probably the feature we like the most. For some reason, people have become masters at creating powerful, concise and meaningful slogans to use as hashtags. It's true. I say "for some reason" because the slogans and headlines we see in ads and commercials are nothing in comparison. So, kudos to everyone. The problem is that any #hashtag can be highjacked; consequently, flooding the networks with hostile messages can easily derail the most carefully-planned efforts. There are no policies to prevent anyone from doing this. That's too bad.
On a side note, the greatest #hashtag use we have seen was DOLCE & GABBANA's #boycottDolceGabbana which they even printed on apparel. This came about as the result of the ridiculous movement to boycott the company because its designers had agreed make clothes the First Lady, Melania Trump. So highjacking it also meant promoting their product line. It quickly dissipated hostile efforts. Well done!
8. But, advancis, you ARE on social media
That's true. But simply to protect our brand. We don't really care about reach. Just that our voice is truly our own. Ironically, our ROI is great compared to that of Michael Bloomberg's.
9. In the end, it is all about them [the social media platform]
The hype orchestrated by social media giants __ it wasn't free to be mentioned every where in the media and ensure that telecom companies would not charge users for time spent on social networks __ created a huge momentum and the illusion that they were the only place online where things were happening. The genius of the social media giants was to get you involved daily, sometimes multiple times, all year long. Despite claiming otherwise, not that many marketers paid serious attention to ROI because no one wanted to declare that it was not really working as a promotional tool.
Of course, social media benefited enormously in the financial markets. Mission accomplished...