When to Get on (and When to Get off) the Social Media Train
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When to Get on (and When to Get off) the Social Media Train

If you’ve ever fallen prey to the little red notification bubble staring at you from the corner of your social media apps, join the club. The notion that social media holds a conspicuous power over its users is to many in the industry an uncontroversial one and should resonate with most business owners and social media managers.

Social media is, after all, not only a reliable bane of one’s existence but a useful brand messaging platform, a potential source of revenue, and a fertile ground for testing new marketing concepts and messages.

Things can turn sour, however, if an errant review or a lifetime of unwokeness suddenly comes back to bite you in unsavory places. The old adage that any publicity is good publicity doesn’t always hold up in the gladiatorial arenas of social media.

This is why it’s crucial to be aware of what social media is good for and what it is not; when to get on and when to get off the social media train.

There is a time and place for everything.

Since 2014, corporate spending on social media advertising is set to triple by the end of 2021 and account for as much as 20 percent of total marketing budgets. Bloggers and academics alike expect this trend to continue and emphasize the importance of placing strategy behind these budgets to ensure the success of social media campaigns.

But implementation is one thing and return on investment is entirely another.

No less than the importance of a sound social media strategy, this content strategist would argue, is the importance of one’s approach to disembarking from a social media platform in order to pursue an audience elsewhere, either because they weren’t where you thought they were to begin with or times change, circumstances shift and who am I kidding — people are a fickle breed.

Social media success tends to be episodic, typically short-lived, based on the whims of your audience. If your profession is adjacent in any way to social media, feel free to put “adaptable in unpredictable and unfavorable situations” at the top of your dating profile. Take care as always to be discerning when considering a transfer of organizational energy from one online platform to another.

That said, don’t forget to be bold, and don’t be afraid to make that shift, intuitive or otherwise, to chase down quality leads away from the herd.

2 reasons to consider avoiding social media (for now).

2 reasons to consider avoiding social media (for now)

1. The algorithmic turn

The integration of social media into our lives has injected philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s notion of simulation — that consumer choices are, in actuality, illusory constructs — with bovine-strength growth hormones. What do we mean by this? The choices we seemingly make on our journey through our social network are, to put it simply, not our own.

Especially when it comes to habitual doomscrolling and our mindless voyeurism through social media, the clicks and swipes we make are increasingly preordained by algorithms designed specifically to curate the digital space around us.

“Far from neutral purveyors of predictions,” as Jeremy Morris, Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin puts it, “recommendation systems measure and manufacture audiences to provide targeted suggestions for popular cultural goods and exert a logistical power that shapes the way audiences discover, use and experience cultural content.”

Our choices, so to speak, are not part of some glorious exercise of free will on the idyllic information superhighway of 1990s bliss. Quite the opposite.

Social media users are, according to MIT professor William Uricchio, continually subjected to this phenomenon he termed “the algorithmic turn,” as they Plinko their way from one online social networking interaction to another.

The “algorithmic interventions” Uricchio described back in 2011, “between the viewing subject and the object viewed” have become the very means by which our online experience, and more specifically social media experience, is curated by the designers of these networks as a way of funneling our gaze toward revenue-producing products and calls to action.

Facebook has made no fewer than 34 changes to the newsfeed algorithm since 2016; everything from prioritizing live video to banning advertisements from fake news sites, each designed to maximize profits for a company already worth a third of a trillion dollars at the end of 2015.

Many of these changes arrived on the scene unexpectedly for small businesses that were less agile than larger companies that could keep pace with the flow of new information. In some cases, engagement fell through the floor before social media managers were able to make adjustments to restore engagement to where it was prior to the change.

On January 11, 2018, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced on his timeline that a series of edits to the newsfeed algorithm would “chang[e] the goal…to [help users] have more meaningful social interactions.” This shift would populate feeds with content produced by family members and friends, forcing businesses with high performing organic posts to find another way, namely through paid posts, to reach their audience. By prioritizing promoted content for businesses and nonprofits, Facebook forced companies and organizations operating on shoestring marketing budgets to question more broadly the ROI of social media.

And so, the utility of social media for businesses remains a topic of discussion, with as many unanswered questions as those yet to be asked. Which platform(s) should you focus your energy on? Who is your target audience? Where are they? What are your goals? How do you measure ROI? What type of engagement is meaningful to your business? What type of content should you produce?

The dizziness you’re feeling is totally normal and a great segue to the second reason you should consider pumping the brakes on your social media campaigns.

2. Social media fatigue

As early as 2011, studies began to show a propensity among online users to lose interest in social media after prolonged exposure. Goasduff and Pettey coined the phenomenon “social media fatigue” and hit a momentary panic button, forcing some to question the long-term efficacy of social media as advertising platforms.

Clearly, based on spend alone, social media advertising is here to stay. But that doesn’t discount the very real consequences of social media fatigue exacerbated in recent years by growing online privacy concerns.

Individuals and the brands that want their attention often have competing interests online. According to researchers at Texas Christian University, this disconnect is a common contributor to social media fatigue. “Consumers want things like discounts and reviews,” the report states, “while brands want to use social media to provide information about new products and get opinions about products and services.”

Apart from interpersonal interactions between businesses and users of social media, the report cites oversaturation and “the pressure of maintaining a presence on yet another platform” as likely culprits in social media fatigue.

The issue of online privacy is another major cause of social media fatigue and has the added ingredient in many cases of security fatigue. A National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report in 2018 found that a majority of computer users attributed security fatigue, or the “weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security,” to their risky online behavior.

Social media fatigue has a compounding effect, exacerbating cases of security fatigue. According to the TCU study, researchers “would expect those with higher privacy concerns to also have social media fatigue.” There are also major concerns about data collection by social media sites and a lack of transparency around what they do with that collected information.

But social media fatigue isn’t all bad news for business owners. Researchers at the University of Texas and LSU found in 2018 that fatigue related to social media usage rarely led to full-scale disengagement from social platforms. “Consumers’ conscious decision to remain involved in social media,” they said, “reflects their belief that continued use provides outcomes that are more positive than discontinuance of use.”

The elephant in the room is ROI.

The elephant in the room is ROI

Beyond the influence of algorithms and fatigue on your audience’s online behavior, perhaps the greatest challenge for social media managers and business owners to overcome is measuring return on investment (ROI) associated with social media campaigns.

Unpacking all the issues surrounding social media ROI would fill volumes. So, it is unnecessary to go into every detail around the topic of ROI. For our purposes, having a grasp of the key factors influencing ROI for social is important to knowing when a social venture is worth the risk or not.

Here are some important boxes to check when determining the approximate ROI of a social campaign:

  • Reach
  • Engagement
  • Traffic
  • Leads
  • Conversions
  • Revenue

For each of these metrics, it is important to choose your KPIs wisely. Reach, for instance, can be measured in multiple ways — not all of them germane to your bottom line. Likewise, some forms of engagement are better bellwethers of performance than others, showing the impact of a post on social media.

The substance here, of course, is finding the combination of metrics that works best for your use of social media. There is no silver bullet method when it comes to measuring ROI for social media. That said, when you have determined the most relevant metrics, it’s important to take time with the information in front of you not only to calculate your ROI, but also to assess whether a social media campaign is the right course going forward.

Know when to step on the train and when it’s your stop.

3 tips for getting on and getting off the social media train.

3 tips for getting on and getting off the social media train

When social media is the right thing to do:

  1. You know your audience. One of the most difficult thing for businesses to do online is cultivate a devoted following and keep them engaged. If there is no guessing who your audience is and where they’re at, by all means, fire away.
  2. You know your voice. Establishing a compelling voice on your chosen social media platform is as important as establishing your brand voice, overall. If you’re a true master of your domain and haven’t over-saturated your feed with promotional content, what are you waiting for? Your audience is waiting to hear from you.
  3. Your revenue comes from social. If you’re one of those rare birds (increasingly less rare these days) who regularly transacts through social media, have at it. Finding that right formula for attracting sales through social is never easy, and I’ll venture a guess you’re in the all-of-the-above category as far as having a command of both your audience and your brand voice.

When social media is the wrong thing to do:

  1. Your audience isn’t there. Nearly everyone has a social media account these days. But that doesn’t mean they’re the type that engages with marketing through social media. Sometimes a more traditional approach (print, TV, radio, search marketing) is the way to go, and sometimes even account-based marketing is the preferred route.
  2. You’re not social savvy. Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with every flavor of the week. Or at this point, the decade? Plenty of businesses can survive without a particularly robust presence on social platforms.
  3. You’re on the wrong platform. Don’t be bashful. Plenty of businesses dive headlong into social media without knowing their LinkedIns from their Quoras from their Odnoklassnikis (it’s a thing). The dirty open secret of social media for businesses is you probably don’t need to be everywhere. If you haven’t found your platform yet, don’t worry. It’s better to abstain from social campaigning than campaign to an empty room.

Still wondering where your business lies on the social media spectrum?

Get in touch with one of our experts to see how a content boost from ClearVoice could improve your social ROI. Talk to us.

Is #socialmedia the way to go? Here’s a tip: not always. As important as being social is to today’s businesses, learn how equally important it is to know when to take that conversation off of social. Click To Tweet

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David Sax

About David

David Sax is an experienced content strategist, researcher, copywriter, ghostwriter, and aspiring pizzaiolo whose unicorn status stems from a nontraditional background in academia. His research and writing interests include B2B and B2C marketing strategy, technological innovation, and 19th Century peace movements. He loves to curl up by the fire with a good wifi connection and a JSTOR password.

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