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Why should you care about social media’s impact?

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Why read this? : We review social media’s impact on how brands interact with customers. Learn how it fits into what customers want online. Plus, our thoughts on what the 4 biggest platforms have to offer. Read this to learn how to maximise social media’s impact on your brand. 

As the old saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. And many things have ‘gone’ living through these weeks of lockdown. Things we’ve all missed.

For example, shopping trips that don’t involve scouring the shelves for pasta and hand wash. The noise and bustle of pubs and restaurants. And having friends round for drinks and dinner.

But as restrictions start to ease and the “real” world comes back, where does that leave the online world? You know, the place where we’ve all spent the most time over the past few months.

Social media's impact

In particular, where does it leave social media and its impact on your business?

Yes, that noisy, chaotic, exciting, frustrating problem child of your marketing plan. Because let’s face it, social media hasn’t distanced itself at all during this pandemic crisis.

It’s right there in front of you, every single day.

People are clearly spending more time online while stuck at home.

How do we know this?

Because every Tom, Dick and Harry keeps posting about how digital marketing and e-Commerce are booming. How social media is your opportunity to grow your brand with millions of customers just waiting to buy. Just sign up for this newsletter / webinar / course, and all the secrets of online success could be yours. 

Phhhhht. We don’t think so.  

Digital marketing was already booming

Because you know what? Digital marketing and e-commerce were already booming. And had been for ages. It was only the older generation of marketers who weren’t up to speed on what digital has to offer. Savvy digital decathlete marketers were already using these new channels to connect with customers and boost brands. 

Yes, Covid-19 has created a unique set of circumstances that’s pushed more people online. But it’s really only accelerated a trend which was already there. The average Australian was already spending 6 hours a week on social media back in 2018 according to a Roy Morgan report. And that’s just the average. Women aged 14-24 were at almost 14 hours a week, just on social media. That’s 2 hours EVERY day.

So marketers should care about social media’s impact. It’s where their customers spend a lot of their time.

As per our digital media guide, social media is a 2-way interaction. It’s an incoming source of customer feedback when they contact you. And a way to send outgoing communications directly to customers. This 2-way interactivity is a big part of social media’s impact. Traditional channels like advertising and sales promotion really only let you communicate 1-way.

Social media’s impact for customers

But you should also think about the benefit social media gives your target audience. And so, by association, the role your brand should play in their social media world.

That’s usually about content and experiences. You create something customers can enjoy and get value from. Enjoyable and valuable content raises your brand’s social media impact. It makes customers welcome your brand into their social media world.

Is your brand's social media a welcome guest?

It’s clearly vital to think about your target audience before you plan what you want social media’s impact to be on your business. Think about the context in which your audience sees social media content. Think about where and when you see social media content. Most social media content is consumed on mobile devices and in small snack-sized chunks.

A 30-second video, A few lines of text. An image.

It’s consumed when people are waiting for the coffee to brew. Sitting on the bus. In between meetings or on lunch breaks. Watching TV. And yes, even on the toilet.

It might exist on a screen for your brand. But for each person who sees it, real life is going on around them when they see it.

Social media happens in real life

Your social media content planning should start with the idea that it’s real people interacting with your content as they lead their real lives.

So, back in 2015, this video from US comedienne Jena Kingsley was doing the rounds of those who worked in social media. It’s pretty spot on. 

What if all those things we think of as “normal” online behaviour were brought into real life?

It’s a fun way to show how these ‘normal’ behaviours online seem insane from a “real life” perspective. It’s a lot of fun. We “like” what she did there. Thumbs up. Smiley face. 

Here’s the thing though. A few years on, and all those ‘cringe-y’ behaviours still happen all the time online. And think about it with a business hat on, and the picture gets even worse. 

Look how intrusive it is in real life when a brand advert on social appears on your feed without any warning. And they ‘poke’ you into paying attention (and yes, we know nobody has ‘poked’ someone online since the noughties, but still …).

Yet that’s what many brands still do on social. Advertising that says look at me, look at me, look at me. While you try to watch your aunt’s cat video on Facebook. Or check out that cool graphic designer you follow on Instagram. Or read the article from that guy who actually knows what he’s talking about on LinkedIn. (There’s no such guy, we’re just kidding).

Social media is full of intrusive junk that nobody wants or needs. But millions, billions is spent putting it out there. So, for brands, what is social media’s impact, really?

What do people actually want online? 

Well, knowing what people actually want online is a good start. And luckily, there’s research that’s been done into this very topic. TNS do a great digital life study which shows there are 6 main online needs :- 

  • information
  • entertainment
  • social connections
  • communicate with others
  • shopping
  • productivity (think online banking or creating documents, images, videos etc.).

Social connections are one of the 6 core online behaviours. That’s great.

But where does your brand fit in? Let’s look at some of the major social channels and see how they do against these needs.

Facebook 

Facebook can do all the above except maybe productivity (social media isn’t generally a great place for productivity). 

Its main role for real (non-marketing) people though is a place for social connections. 

But let’s face it, Facebook isn’t what it was. 

It’s like one of those TV shows you enjoyed the first few seasons of. But it started to go a bit stale around Season 4. It seems like it’s running out of ideas and trying a bit too hard.

Facebook icon pin buttons

And now you feel a bit stuck with it because you invested all that time in it before and don’t want to write it off. (A great example of sunk cost from behavioural science).

We’re looking at you Dexter, The Walking Dead and Ray Donovan. That’s what Facebook feels like. 

Facebook has clearly positioned itself as an advertising channel. It plays to the media part of social media for brands and advertisers.

While news about what that guy you haven’t seen since school has for dinner will still clutter up your feed, it’s mainly adverts and content now. The ones who do the best share information or entertainment content first. And then advertise off the back of it.

Information or entertainment

We watched the founder of I Fucking Love Science post this morning on Facebook about the decision to change the name to IFL Science having stubbornly refused it in the past. What she said and how she said it is a great example of how Facebook can be used to be authentic and create connections with consumers. Great information approach to online marketing. 

We’re also big fans of what Viva la Dirt League, the Kiwi gamers, do on Facebook. They create a constant stream of funny and relevant content which always makes us smile. And if they make some advertising bucks off the back of it, all power to them. Great entertainment approach to online marketing. 

Not hard sell or irrelevant content

But contrast those with what most brands clutter up Facebook with these days. It’s hard to find good information and entertainment. 

Hard sell adverts offering services we’re never going to buy. People we don’t know or don’t care about telling us how many years they worked in “x” category. SEO, Facebook advertising, e-Commerce, Copywriting, Graphic Design. The list goes on and on.

We struggle with who these types of ads are meant to appeal to. They’re a constant list of features, not benefits. All sausage and no sizzle. Why should we care? And why would we share?

Answer those questions, and you might just have a rightful place in your target audience’s Facebook feed. 

If you’re throwing money into these types of ads, we hope someone somewhere is buying. But we reckon you’re probably wasting a lot of your money. And annoying a lot of potential customers. 

Instagram

Facebook’s younger and more charming cousin, Instagram, has managed to keep itself a little more restrained on the intrusive advertising front.

That’s a good thing. 

But.

There’s the challenge of everything looking a bit the same. And / or looking a bit shallow.

This is especially true in the professional or semi-professional influencer side. 

For example, how many ways can you pose in a bikini / with gym equipment / with your pet / with that cake you made?

Brands with a regular stream of visual content work well on Instagram. We only ever use Instagram to share fun designs from the T-shirt side of the business. Fashion works well on Instagram. As does the odd creative piece that makes you think or smile. 

Instagram is useful for generating brand coverage as it has high reach without having to pay for everything as you do on Facebook. Plus, it’s a useful source to see what’s trending in your category, from your audience and your competitors. As long as you don’t expect too much depth from it, you won’t be disappointed with it as a channel. 

Twitter*

The lunatic asylum of the internet. 

Seriously, Twitter is like stumbling into the world’s most random party because everyone is talking about everything at the same time. 

It’s dominated by political and social views. If your business touches on those areas, it can be a fun place to jump in. 

It’s a great place to keep in touch with live trends and thought leaders. You can gain followers with content that’s clever or funny.

Twitter logo on a mobile phone

Twitter’s core audience is aged 18-49. Hard as it may seem to believe sometimes, it also pulls in more educated users than other social channels. If this sounds like your target audience, you should put together a Twitter marketing strategy.   

But remember, Twitter is fast-moving and chaotic. You have to be prepared for anything. There’ll always be people who’ll disagree with what you say, no matter how reasonable you sound. You want to drive follows from genuine users. And definitely, avoid schemes that involve buying followers. Those never work out well

But most ‘normal’ people treat brands and companies they see on Twitter with some wariness. The same way they stay away from that crazy drunk guy shouting at everybody on the way home. He might actually say something interesting. But there’s also the chance he’ll spew over you.

(* The name change to X came well after we wrote this. But to us, and many others, it’s still Twitter whatever Musk decides to call it). 

LinkedIn

At the other end of the social spectrum, the more polished but oh god, mostly so boring, LinkedIn

There’s something about all your ex-colleagues seeing your content that makes you slightly hold back on what you say. 

If Twitter is like a crazy tequila-fuelled party where anything goes, LinkedIn is the polar opposite. Like an awkward office party. 

Everything is polite and nobody dares fart. 

The words "Welcome to Linked In" embossed on an office glass window

If you have educational or news content about your business, that can be a good fit. But it’s a really sterile environment. And it’s a challenge to add warmth or humanity to your brand in this channel.

We ran out of time and space in this article to cover our other favourite social media channels – Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube and Reddit. However, if you want to read about those channels, check out our follow-up article where we reconnect on social media

The best advice on social media

The best advice we ever heard on creating great social media content was to ask yourself this :-

Would you be confident to present that content face to face in the customer’s house? 

Social media can seem like an unreal space. You create your content, jump into the overly complicated advertising back end and push your message into cyberspace. 

But put yourself in the shoes of the person who gets the message. If you know that person well, if it’s someone you have an existing relationship with, you have a lot of freedom. They already know you and will be open to listening to you. They’ll care about social media from you because it informs or entertains them.

If you want your message to land with humour and be more provocative, fill your boots. You can fucking love science all you want with those guys.

Conclusion - boosting your social media's impact

But if you’re a new business or putting out content to a new audience, don’t go straight for the hard sell. Ignore what those start up gurus online tell you. They’re snake oil salesmen. 

Instead, introduce yourself. Ask customers what they want. Tell them why they should care. Create content they’ll want to see and you gain their trust. Yes, your ultimate aim is to convince / sell to them. But you also want them to become loyal customers too. 

Wearing them down with a barrage of irrelevant bullshit isn’t the way to go. Like the charity tin collector or the Jehova’s Witness at the door, you’ll soon find customers will start socially distancing themselves from you. 

Check out our digital media guide which also covers social media’s impact in more detail. Or poke us on email (or via the social media links below), if you need more specific help. 

Photo credits

Feature Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Facebook Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Instagram Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Twitter Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

LinkedIn Photo by Greg Bulla on Unsplash

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