Marketing, PR & Advertising and Technology

Re-thinking Facebook and Twitter for brands

January 9, 2015
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Facebook is the world’s largest social network — with more than one billion members — and its mission is to make the world more open and connected.

The numbers are more depressing than Congressional approval ratings.

Posts from top brands on Twitter and Facebook reach only 2 percent of their followers. What’s worse, with engagement being the measurement gold standard in social media, a mere .07 percent of followers actually interact with the posts from top brands.

These numbers come from a study conducted by Forrester Research, a well-regarded research firm on branding, reputation and social media, whose employees are sought-after conference speakers and authors of several books on the social phenomenon. Normally, their work is considered a “how to” on social media for brands. So this latest report is a bit of a shock, in that it seems to move from “how to” to why bother?

This follows a rash of other reports, articles and bloggers bemoaning the ineffectiveness of Twitter and Facebook for business objectives. The Forrester report encourages the use of microsites to build branded communities. Others caught on to the mobile migration and offer apps with business-specific functionality to attract and retain customers. Others, such as New York Times media writer David Carr, note that “old-tech” email newsletters have tremendous value for many. The Forrester report notes that emails get delivered 90 percent of the time. Emails are particularly effective if people “opt in” to receive them.

The problem is going to get worse, particularly for small businesses, now that Facebook in early 2015 will begin holding back brand page content that is “unpaid promotional content,” meaning they’ll make it less visible unless brands pay for it as an ad, as The Wall Street Journal reported.

Of course, Facebook and Twitter are aware of the potential migration of businesses away from their domains. And it is their business to keep them there, because they didn’t start Twitter and Facebook, so we all could have some free fun. They need to monetize the platforms and to do that, they need businesses to be there. So both have created their own sites to help businesses see the value of and be effective on social platforms. See Twitter for Business and Facebook for Business for more information.

So, this is not the end of Twitter and Facebook for business. It’s just a juncture at which brands need to finally think more strategically about if and how they use social platforms. Here are some key things to think about for your own business, large or small.

  • What are your objectives? You should not have social accounts for your business just because it’s a trend. Do you want to build awareness, convert leads to sales, drive donations, engage customers and other publics? If social is an appropriate channel for your organizational objectives, then go forward and plan content that will meet the objective.
  • What is your industry or product category? Maybe social is perfect for you and maybe not. Maybe there are other social sites — such as the more-visual Instagram and Pinterest — that make more sense for you than Twitter and Facebook. Premium brands and nonprofits engaged in popular issues do well on social.
  • How does social fit into your media mix? Social media is not a magic bullet of free mass communication. Audiences are smaller. Content must be relevant and engaging. Even then, it won’t reach everyone. So consider how social fits into other communication tactics and strategies and integrate and supplement. Mention social channels in old-tech tactics and offer links on social posts to a main page or microsite.
  • Be patient and set realistic goals. The impact of social media is not immediate or direct. Attitudes and actions of target publics are not knee-jerk reactions, but responses that are groomed over time and across the whole media mix.
  • Have a strategy. Sit down and consider who your audience is and what type of content they want and when they want it. Gather information, photos, videos and plan a weekly distribution strategy.
  • Measure. There are lots of free analytics and some really helpful paid services for measurement. Use them to see if you are meeting those realistic objectives. Just as you would not claim success without data, don’t call Twitter and Facebook useless until you have persistent data to back it up. But before then, use the analytics to adjust strategy — see which posts are most popular, see who is responding, note best days and times to post.
  • Remember, it’s social. It’s about being part of a conversation, not being a broadcaster. It’s more about sentiment than size. In other words, the depth of loyalty and positive attitude and engagement among a core group and not the number of people you reach.

Facebook and Twitter might be called useless by some brands. It might be because social isn’t a fit for their organization. Or it might be that those calling the social platforms useless just didn’t know how to use them properly. We should be neither lemmings nor luddites on the value of social media for business. As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle. And like all communication technology that came before it, social media is best considered a supplement to and not a replacement of current communications efforts. 

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