Time for Social to Grow Up

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The beauty of social media is the pace. It’s a fascinating, exciting, ever-changing place that has driven new opportunities for brands mirroring the growth in capabilities, ad units, tech options, and the channels themselves.

In what seems a blink of an eye, Facebook has launched over a dozen new ad units in the past few years, as has Twitter. Snapchat and Instagram vie for brand attention with a slew of new ad vehicles they rolled out last year. Already in 2017, we’re seeing a healthy wave of developments in beta.

For marketers, it means the strategies for success have changed more rapidly than ever before. At the most basic level, we’re moving from a free model to a paid-for model, but the reality is more complex.

In a pre-IPO world, Facebook needed users. Momentum was the game and the smart play for brands. Presence—the single most important tactic—meant being active every day. A brand in momentum was a brand Facebook would recommend to users, gaining you Fans to extend reach. An “always on” brand would win through, getting free reach to a growing audience. Brands that got it right would easily hit one million-person audiences and up, even in smaller countries such as the UK. Large proportions of that audience would see your posts, with engagement driving another 5 to 10 percent reach; the scale made it all worthwhile.

Changing the Rules

Then came the day Facebook throttled back the “free tap” and organic reach began to disappear. Today, depending on the category, organic reach is likely to be between 1 and 10 percent of Fans—with the 1 percent mark the more common result. While engagement is still a great indicator of content people like, it’s not something to aim for because it doesn’t drive reach. Engagement is no longer a valuable outcome.

In fact, for most brands today, reach is really only driven by media money, and less immediate too. More brands are trying to get in front of people than there are ad units being displayed; your audience may need to log in a few times before your post is even seen, which means a number will see your post in a few days time. A 24-hour horizon is no longer realistic.

Rule of Seven

Remember the age-old concept of marketing, a person needs to see an ad/message seven times before it breaks through? While old, it’s not outdated. Your audience will not all spot your content the first time—because of the speed with which people fly through their feeds on a smartphone. You’ve got a heartbeat to grab attention and, frankly, most brands don’t hit that sweet spot the first time. The medium may have changed, but the old truths are still valid.

A recent Warc study by Peter Field showed that long-term campaigns have greater impact on all success measures, but it’s most marked for business effects where they see double the likelihood of having an impact. Our own data-wrangling has shown that brands see marked increases in both engagement (likes/shares) and onward activity (clicks) in return for maintaining a single post and investing to get repeat viewings. In simple terms, achieving a frequency of four or more times on a single post will lift the effectiveness over one and half times. And it has the glorious side-effect of building greater reach at the same time. Facebook itself recommends brands aim for a monthly target of 75 percent reach with a frequency of at least four.

Last year, P&G stated it would no longer pay for targeted posts in Facebook. They made it clear that scale is more valuable than targeting for an FMCG (or CPG) advertiser. Spending a premium to target earlier-funnel brand activity is a losing game for a corporation such as P&G. Depending on the task and the brand, you might open up your target audience to include a wider reach.

Content That Connects

In summary, to get your brand noticed:

  1. Spend media money to get content seen, even on social media. And spend properly, to build up reach—and not just “boost” it for a day!
  2. Spend more money on production. With fewer posts, you have the opportunity to improve quality and give your audience something worthy of their attention.
  3. Finally, don’t expect immediate success—plan for content/post/ads to be seen multiple times so they cut-through and get noticed.

This adds up to a strategy that is very different from the old strategies of “always on”, “‘targeted’ is the answer”, and “this is an editorial model”. These new rules mean fewer pieces of content, given more support for a longer period of time.

The reality is that social media—Facebook in particular—has grown up. There’s now a TV-sized audience, but we’re still treating it like a start-up media. It’s not the channel, it’s us. We need to change. We need to stop pretending we’re publishers when we’re brands (often struggling to find 36.5 impactful things to talk about, let alone 365).

Focus on content that connects, then take the time and spend the budget to give it a chance to do just that.

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