Very often, I will be in a discussion with a client where they espouse the virtues of social media. They’ll suggest that social media is simply about people “liking” their brand.

I tend to bristle at the idea that social media has a single face – a single purpose. Especially when that purpose is as a relatively unproductive subscription-based profile better know as a Facebook Page, Snapchat ID or an Instagram profile.

The best way to look at social media is via the “best fit” purposes by which we might use various social media channels, of which there are five.

1. Social Media as a Subscription / Customer Service Channel

Liking / following these channels allows existing consumers to be kept up to date with the activities of a brand (although only a small percentage of people ever see the updates of said brand). This is where social channels attract the most attention – having “likes” and “follows”.

The ability for people to “like” a profile has taken on an almost supernatural power amongst novice marketers, as if the act of liking somehow guarantees reach, brand recognition and even uplift in “brand love”.
Sadly, the opposite is true.

The heaviest consumers of a brand – the people who are already buying the brand as much as they possibly can be – are the ones who are most likely the followers of your branded profile. It’s the people who are rusted on who are the ones liking, not the people who are the most important: your next, newest consumer.

Interestingly, only some of these channels – namely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – tend to attract the vanity metric seeking marketers. Ask most marketers how many people subscribe to their YouTube Channel, or how many emails they have collected in their database, and the answer is often far less clearcut, an indication of how arbitrary most of these figures are.

Therefore, the way in which these channels should be used as is later in the path to purchase – as a means of upselling, reminding or as a customer service tool.

In summary: Use your Facebook / Twitter feeds as a customer service / upsell tool, not a reach builder.

2. Social media as a content channel

Probably the best, most common use of social media is as a low cost, high quality content distribution channel.

For many years, marketers and their colleagues in the IT department argued in favour of hosting their own websites, their own video streaming services and their own empires of wires.

However, social media channels such as YouTube proved that the best tools are free or nearly free. Using social media channels as a content distribution service is by far the best way to ensure your content is seen in the highest quality, on the right device, in the right format. Internal, bespoke content systems are generally vastly inferior, as they are almost constantly out of date, of poor quality and hideously expensive. Further, most of them are not search optimised as well as social networks, so your content doesn’t have the same opportunity of being discovered by consumers.

In summary: Use social media channels such as YouTube / Vimeo / Tumblr / others as world’s best practice content hosting /distribution services.

3. Social Media as an Advertising Platform

Social media is largely monetised via advertising, and in the era of increasing ad-blockers, social media is an extremely powerful way of advertising to consumers.

Reach is more important than frequency. It’s like a leaky bucket: every brand leaks consumers, brands that grow are characterised simply by their ability to acquire quicker than they leak. Marketing is quite straight forward: keep filling the bucket quicker than it empties.

Social media advertising is one of the best and cheapest ways of working towards this – with a variety of optimised ad formats, highly targeted advertising (on the likes of Facebook and Google platforms), and rich media options such as videos and HTML5.

The only reason why social media channels aren’t totally overwhelmed with advertising dollars is that most media agencies can’t earn equivalent rebates / revenues from booking ads on many social media sites, so they prefer other media. This isn’t good for clients.

In summary: Use social media channels as a strong part of your media buying mix.

4. Social media as an analytics platform

Social media channels allow you a good level of analytics on a per post or per profile level. While not generally as good as web-concentrated services such as Google Analytics, many social networks as such Facebook and YouTube provide an excellent level of analytics, delving deeply into content analytics, per-post analytics and profile / page analytics. You can see what has worked and what hasn’t.

YouTube in particular has extremely powerful video analytics services, allowing realtime video tracking, drop-offs, and various other ways to understand and optimise content.

In summary: Use social media as a content-based analytics platform to examine how popular / engaging your content is.

5. Social media as a consumer data source

One of the strongest and most enduring assets that Facebook has is the quality of user data. It’s very difficult to “lie” to Facebook about our activities, in the same way it’s very easy to “lie” to most other online services, for example when we sign up to a new service and claim to live in “Afghanistan” because we couldn’t be bothered scrolling past the first country to appear in the pop-up menu.

Given that most people upload their real names, their date of birth and many other true pieces of data (let alone the copious amounts that Facebook collects about us via ambient means), the ability to harvest and analyse this data is a particularly powerful marketing tool.

Whether by uploading email / phone / contact details and generating a “Lookalike” market for further communication, or by advertising to an incredibly tiny and specific market of people, or by simply analysing social sign-on data for trends and insights about our consumers, social networks such as Facebook and Linkedin, are a wonderful and deep source of data about our consumers.

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