Marketing, PR & Advertising and Technology

The war for your time and what it means for brands on social media

October 28, 2015
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We’ve reached an interesting milestone in the life of social media — call it “peak user.”

The latest numbers from the Pew Research Center find that three quarters of U.S. adults are on at least one social network. Of those, 52 percent use two or more social media sites.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have seen most of the growth they’re likely going to see in attracting users who are entirely new to the concept of social media. Pew recently found 71 percent of U.S. internet users are on social media, including 56 percent of all senior citizens. The next frontier for growth lies in the amount and quality of time their existing user base spends on the sites.

This is one of the driving forces behind the much-decried decline of organic reach for Facebook content over the past year. Similarly, this is why Facebook and Twitter reward users who upload video content “natively” to their platform (instead of linking to videos hosted on YouTube).

As these platforms wage war for our attention, they need the entire user experience to be relevant — even the advertising. To this end, social media sites (particularly Facebook) are quietly steering brands to produce better content targeted at more relevant audiences and penalizing those that don’t comply.

This has manifested itself in several ways:

  • Sales-y posts that include links in the text of the post or that advertise discounts or prices will reach fewer people.
  • Posts that include an image for the sake of including an image will reach fewer people.
  • “Like-gating” (the practice of offering an incentive such as a coupon, discount, sample, or contest entry for liking a Facebook page) has been banned.
  • Contests that lack “context” (e.g., offering prizes for short-term gains in likes/follows/shares with no expectation of a long-term relationship) will reach fewer people.

Perhaps the most compelling tool nudging brands to improve the quality and relevance of their content are the “quality scores” most social platforms now factor in to digital ads. First widely implemented by Google AdWords, quality scores force users who target audiences that are too broad (i.e., not interested) to pay more for their advertising (low engagement = low quality score = higher prices per click/impression).

This is actually a boon to digital marketers, because it makes the case we’ve been pleading for years: It’s not about the total number of eyeballs any longer; it’s about finding exactly the right eyeballs at the zero moment of truth.

The most important thing a brand can do is realize that its audience is finite and provide value specifically for that audience. This is scary because it means forsaking the majority of the public — but the hard truth is that you never had a shot at them anyway. As ubiquitous as Coca-Cola is, only a certain percentage of the public will ever pay to drink it. Coke’s resources are best spent speaking only to those people to keep them loyal and encourage them to buy more, not trying to convert everyone who drinks carbonated beverages.

When a brand embraces this truth, the prescription for success becomes relatively simple:

1. Know your audience
2. Provide value to that audience
3. Focus on engagement metrics (interactions, conversions) over vanity metrics (likes)

The real power lies in thinking big by thinking small.

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