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Brand Engagement on Social Media Has Never Mattered Less

Facebook has reportedly been rewarding video on its platform recently.  This means social media posts that include video are granted better reach on the platform.  In turn, social media experts have rushed to proclaim brands should be using video to drive better engagement.

It sounds like good advice (who doesn’t want more reach?) but I can’t think of a more incongruent reason to use video than an attempt to satisfy whatever Facebook supposedly wants.

If you decide to use video in your marketing, do it because you’ve tested it at your organization, you are repurposing it across many channels, and most important of all, it produces results for you.

Yet the cries for fostering more brand engagement persist and it’s rapidly becoming a no-win situation for marketing.  In fact, engagement on social media has never mattered less for a brand.

Why?  Because the social sites are depressing brand organic reach – and even if you pay for exposure, the cost is rising. This is especially true for brands that try to promote external links. 

Social Media Sites Discourage External Links

Social media sites dislike external links because it takes people away from the platform which disrupts the advertising business model.  Facebook wants you to use video because it keeps people engaged on the site for longer periods of time.

This is good for the platforms (but bad for brands) because if brands will pay to promote videos, this will create an opportunity for the platform – any platform – to raise prices for social ads.  The same thing goes for those little photos with quotes or statistics – but no links – that are so popular today.

As these so-called content snacks zip around the social web, the marketing brain is squirting dopamine with every like and share, but it’s not moving the needle for your business.

No one on a mobile device is clicking “like” and then leaving Facebook to go search Google for your web page.  In the off chance that they do, their “visit” is probably still wrapped in a Facebook skin designed to bring them back to the platform after that brief hiatus.

Social Media ROI

The Impact on Social Media ROI

Social media marketers have struggled for years to demonstrate ROI, and few have cracked that code yet.  Even if you are dumping money into it, it’s just going to get harder as the eMarketer chart nearby suggests.

While I’m picking on Facebook in this post, its applicable to other major sites too.  For example, I have had similar observations about LinkedIn – as have many other marketers. Twitter is also cranking down the filters, and just like Facebook did, it’s doing it a little bit at a time.  You don’t know what you’ve got until you have to pay for it.

You don’t know what you’ve got until you have to pay for it.

Hacks for Branded Social Media Accounts

Typically, when I write a post like this, I catch flack that says the whole world is on social media and you have to go where the audience exists.  I don’t disagree in principle, I just think the reality of social media today is in dire need of tempering, especially with respect to the rising cost and decreasing benefits.

Social media is just one of dozens of options available. There are other ways to reach an audience that are harder to do initially, but more stable in the long run, including building an audience of your own.

For example, how many people are on Facebook?  Two billion?

There are an estimated 3.5 billion searches every day on Google.  And if you look at the traffic to your digital properties, you’ll see that vast majority come from organic search.  This is targeted traffic as search is an explicit expression of need.

That said, there are still a few things you can do to get more value out of sharing links from your branded social media accounts, including the following:

1) Social media is a process, not a campaign.

Think of social media marketing is a process, not a campaign.  Campaigns begin and end while communication, by contrast, is continuous.  You have to show up consistently over time and give people a reason to like, follow or otherwise engage your brand.  This starts by answering a simple question: what is the compelling reason why anyone should seek out your brand on social media?

This thinking applies to all of marketing. Don’t start with a campaign. Build repeatable systems and sustainable processes.  Then you build a machine in which can layer in campaigns as needed, and when appropriate.

2) Rent-to-own the social media audience.

Whether organic or paid, you’ve got to have a rent-to-own engine in place if you want to get measurable value out of social media. In other words, how are you getting a little bit of the social media audience you are renting to become part of the audience you own?  If you don’t design a systematic process around this, you’ll dabble away time, money and possibly both, and wind up with have nothing to show for it except likes.

3) Share on the native platform.

No company wants its customers to go through a third-party to use its product because when this happens, the company doesn’t own the experience.  If you sell a product through Amazon, you don’t own the customer relationship…Amazon does!  Similarly, social media platforms tend to favor content that’s published through their native platform.  If what you want to share on social media is really worth sharing, then it’s also worth the trouble to log into the platform.


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4) Sharing less really is more.

For a long time, social media experts have recommended sharing lots of content, especially on Twitter.  The classic recommendation was to re-write tweets and share the same link over and over.  This worked when social media sites displayed content chronologically but none of the major sites do that anymore.

Today, most of the sites show your status updates to a small sample, and if generates engagement, they’ll share it with a few more.  This means sharing the same link more than once, or even sharing multiple links to different content, dilutes the distribution. Brand pages should experiment with sharing less and sharing more deliberately.

5) Tag people and brands cited.

If you cite people or brands in your content, tell them as much when you post a link to social media by tagging the associated accounts.  Maybe they’ll share it, maybe they won’t, but almost everyone has an ego that prompts them to have a look, whether they’ll admit it or not.

That interaction will help visibility, and if you are sincere about the effort, this is a good way to build relationships through content marketing.

If you can’t fit all the citation in an update, on Twitter, for example, a good method is to reply to your own tweet and cc: those accounts. The one caveat I’d offer is to be considerate and thoughtful about when, where and how often you tag people or brands.

6) Advertise the best performing content after it runs its organic lifecycle.

If you have a post that does get some traction, consider that a good indication it’s worth promoting for greater reach.  If people are engaging and sharing content organically, then that’s like a little focus group suggesting it will perform well with some paid distribution behind it.  If you have very little organic social activity, then use your web analytics to determine the best performing.  However, do this after the organic reach has run its course.

7) Activate your employees.

If they don’t let you in the front door, go through the side.  If social media sites are restricting branded posts, your employees and their social media activities are a way to work around the obstacles.

There are lots of tools dedicated to enabling this process. However, I’d suggest creating the program first, experimenting to make it work with what you have now, and then think about tools.

You can’t make employees share, and getting them to do it is a lot harder than it sounds.  If you’re a senior leader in marketing, a good way to get started is leading by example.

* * *

There’s old saying that suggests, things really don’t change that much, only the way we look at them changes.  What looks like it worked yesterday on social media, may not look so attractive today, and it will probably be even less so tomorrow.

It’s more complicated when we factor in what works for one organization, may not work for another. Whatever choices you make, make them because you’ve experimented and found it works for your brand as opposed to working for the platform.


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Photo credit: Pixabay (CC0 1.0

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