If you’ve been paying attention to culture and society for the past few years, you know that there is a growing movement — mainly comprised of the young — that is becoming increasingly aware and vocal about important issues having to do with race, culture, gender, and lingering social inequality. Those who consider themselves especially awakened or conscious about these subjects are colloquially known amongst their peers as “woke.”
Social issues and matters of identity politics are most hotly debated — often uncivilly — on social media platforms where an increasing number of people, particularly younger demographics, are getting their news and discussing the subjects of the day.
While many of us are exhausted from all the discussions on social media surrounding politics and political correctness, the #StayWoke movement — love it or hate — shows that people are thinking more critically about everyday, long unquestioned realities and social constructs.
Interestingly, the fuel behind much of this widespread “wokeness” and heated discussion is social media. While some blame social media for the breakdown of civil discourse and democracy, it can’t be denied that social has helped bring awareness to issues that were not previously addressed by the mainstream media. Perhaps, the best example is the recent #MeToo hashtag. Social media discourse has not only led to debates, but to the resignations and firings of prominent figures and revolutions that have toppled repressive regimes.
Perhaps less interesting, but nonetheless important for brands and marketers is the disruption of the communication space and the democratization of media content creation, which is the engine behind societal changes and grassroots movements.
All the way back in 2010, Eric Schmidt said that we create more information every two days than has been created in the entire history of the human race until 2003. The amount of data and content we create on a daily basis is mind boggling. We are living through the greatest shift in communication in history since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. And, we are the first generation whose entire lives will be documented, which means what we say and do on social media will forever be on the record. Your great grandkids will read all of your tweets — even the mean ones you send to Jimmy Kimmel at 4 am.
There has never been as much content published daily as there is now and the competition is fierce. And, social media has completely changed the game. On these platforms, brands do not simply compete with one another for the attention of consumers.They also compete with viral cat videos, friends’ photos of last weekend, your nephew’s baby pictures, and breaking news.
In the current media environment, we are drowning in a sea of content. Consumers are no longer a captive audience the way they once were on TV (pre-DVR) and radio. They often miss or deliberately block your advertisements. The only way to break through the noise is to frequently and consistently provide value, create content worth paying attention to, and actively engage with the audience. Paying to boosts posts on social media has also become the norm, especially on Facebook. Today, more than advertising or content, the key to success is interacting with your target audience on the platforms that have their attention.
One-way broadcast communication is increasingly less effective and the importance of facilitating two-way communication with an audience is growing with every passing year. Companies who don’t devote sufficient time and resources to engagement are losing their share of the attention graph as well as the market. Brands that don’t wake up and realize that they are no longer advertisers who sell products, but media companies will soon become irrelevant.
As brands begin to focus more of their energy and budget on social media, many of them are making one crucial mistake that continues to undermine their efforts: They’re treating the new platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn as if they are one-way broadcasts. They’re bringing an old-world traditional media mentality to social media, pushing out their messages without understanding these platforms and their nuances on their own terms. This shows that most businesses don’t fully appreciate the broader shifts that are occurring in social communication.
Social media is NOT an extension of your sales pitch or simply a distribution platform for your content. It’s much more than that. It’s a medium where brands can have meaningful interactions with their customers and build relationships. While many brands have woken up to this new reality, many more are still not getting it.
Many businesses are missing enormous opportunities and leaving money on the table by not doubling down on social media. Others are doing social media all wrong. Comfortable sticking to what they know, many businesses remain hooked on their addiction to spending inordinate amounts of money on billboards that no one sees, because consumers are too busy looking at their phones. They blow the bulk of their marketing budgets on flyers and magazine ads that most people throw out or skip. And, they blow most of their digital marketing spend on banner ads that have an average click-through rate of only 0.05%!
Meanwhile, these same brand managers and advertising executives have the temerity to raise their eyebrows and smugly ask: “So, what’s the ROI of social media?” Too many companies are still not taking this underpriced and effective marketing channel seriously, delegating it to interns or family members who lack sufficient knowledge of or experience with social media marketing. And, they don’t think it’s a good use of their time or money to create content or engage with their target audience on these platforms.
As maddening as it is for all of my fellow social media marketers to watch this, we are powerless to prevent this slow-motion trainwreck from happening. Unfortunately, most brands will not wake up until it’s too late. Even as big brands lose market share and retail stores around the country go out of business, companies are still slow to make changes. The brands who are spending time on social media, learning how to use it, testing and learning, and engaging directly with their audience are winning and in the long run, they will win the day.
Moving beyond content
Content is still king, but more effort must be invested in two-way engagement if companies want to win attention and remain relevant in a 2018 world.
We are oversaturated with content. It’s never been so noisy. And, unless you were a first mover on the new platforms when early adopters took advantage and nabbed nice chunks of real estate, you will now have a tough time getting noticed and creating a presence.
There are simply too many options. Our attention spans are divided by a plethora of devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktop) and platforms (Snapchat, Instagram, blogs, Medium etc.).
To get people to care about you, it’s important to put out relevant, quality content that touches on current trends and other topics of interest to your audience. However, creating good content is not enough anymore.
The Internet and the social platforms where most of us now live are so crowded that most of the content you share will get lost in the noise no matter how good it is. Not to mention, platforms like Facebook have killed nearly all organic reach. Hacking distribution or taking pains to ensure that the content actually gets seen and interacted with is tricky and more important than ever.
2 ways to hack distribution:
Influencers and collaborations
Influencers, particularly micro-influencers are still tremendous resources of underpriced attention who have a strong impact on what consumers purchase. These influencers have most of the attention and influence on social media platforms where your audience hangs out. By partnering with them, you will be able to siphon their attention and direct it toward your brand. Of course, you should only partner with influencers who make sense for your brand and for whom you can add value as well.
You can achieve this by offering influencers free product and/or monetary compensation in exchange for a mention, a photo or video of them using the product, or a guest blog post. For a relatively small spend (average is about $193 for Instagram micro-influencers), you can gain hundreds of impressions, likes, comments, new followers, and last but not least — leads and sales.
Stay out of the way
These influencers know their audience best. They got to where they are, because they are good at creating content that will elicit a positive response. Therefore, give them creative control and allow them to create the content. Understand that they will have to be subtle in their mention of your brand, lest they come off as too pushy and lose their credibility. If you connect particularly well to one influencer and their audience, consider a long-term partnership in which the influencer becomes a brand ambassador.
Engage, engage, engage
Although it may sound obvious, you would be surprised by how many brands — even small businesses and startups fail to simply respond to comments on social media. Acknowledge and encourage your fans! Reward their loyalty and positive feedback. Respond to your audience’s questions or complaints. Reach out to people tweeting about your space and offer them help without asking for the sale. Send a direct message or a personalized piece of content to prospects, loyal customers, and influencers. Talk, converse, and be human. In other words, be social!
Technology has fundamentally altered how we communicate and disrupted the entire way we message and connect with our audiences. If you think your self-serving piece of content i.e. ads, humble brags about about your accomplishments, and mercilessly PR-ing yourself is going to get attention in a world with more options and decreasing attention spans, you’re really not understanding what is happening. You’re not woke. You’re asleep at the wheel and you’re in for a crash.
Notice the shift going on around you. The way you’ve been playing the game until now is not the way you’re going to succeed over the next decade. Don’t simply focus on the culture wars on social media. Look at how it is impacting how we communicate and how we get our news. Pay attention to who and what has the eyes and ears of your target audience. And, work hard to build authentic relationships with them built on trust. Not only will it pay off, but you can’t afford to market any other way.