Originally published on Linkedin
In the past several years, consumer and brands’ expectations of social media companies have changed in many ways. Most notably to this media professional was seeing how major social platforms were called out or held accountable for the ways they failed to moderate or ban hate speech. Facebook in particular — and to some extent Instagram, which is owned by Facebook — was put on blast for this issue in July 2020 and faced a massive monthlong boycott and ongoing pressure to #stophateforprofit. During the boycott, several midsized and global brands pulled their advertising dollars, declaring the platform’s actions didn’t align with their company values. But, for the countless small businesses that rely on online sales to pay rent, bills had to come before their beliefs, so they had to proceed with advertising as usual, whether they liked it or not. In the end, while the incident chipped away at the platform’s reputation, Facebook’s bottom line was not heavily affected by the boycott, reporting a 10% YoY revenue increase.
Many large companies with big followings, such as Ben & Jerry’s, continued to put pressure on Facebook throughout the year. By December 2020, Facebook finally got the message and shifted its “race-blind” algorithm to change how it flags and removes hate speech by focusing on the most damaging content first and prioritizing from there. Additionally, they updated their policy to catch more implicit posts that allude to hate speech. But there’s still much work to be done.
The Facebook we know today, with all its headlines, lawsuits and negative press, feels lightyears away from the Facebook many of us came to know and used as a marketing platform 10 to 15 years ago. No longer is it just a simple place for people to reconnect with childhood friends and share funny status updates, pictures of their dogs or inspirational quotes — now, users have come to experience that content intertwined with highly charged commentary, falsehoods or propaganda. Engaging on Facebook today, whether as a brand or a general consumer, has both its risks and benefits. But the tool has become completely ingrained within our culture and marketing strategies — its reach and potential benefits to a brand is undeniable.
Given shifts in Facebook’s reputation, you may be asking yourself whether that platform or any others should still be part of your marketing channel mix. So we put together three key questions to consider to help determine whether a platform is still appropriate for your brand and worth your advertising dollars.
1. Is your audience still there?
At GYK, we take an audience-first approach to our media strategy. Meaning we prioritize our audience and their needs first and foremost, then use those insights to impact what platforms we recommend our clients use. In short: We want to be where our people are. For example, we’ve shifted to putting more ads on Instagram over Facebook for some clients whose target audience spends more time on Instagram and vice-versa. According to Social Media Today, Facebook has added to its user count, but those users are less engaged than in the past. These are the type of insights we keep our eye on and take into account when making recommendations.
A way to measure if your audience is still there is by simply looking at your brand’s engagement rates — what percentage of followers are interacting with your posts — and comparing it to the industry benchmark. How do they hold up in comparison? Engagement rate varies greatly depending on audience size and post type, however, using more general benchmarks like at least a 2% to 5% engagement rate is key. It could be that your content strategy needs to pivot, but it also could indicate your core demographic has migrated to other platforms. For example, teens (ages 13 to 17) are steadily leaving Facebook, with 71% using the platform as of 2015 and only 51% using it today. In the case of Gen Z, however, we know that just because they’re leaving Facebook doesn’t mean they’re leaving social media; in fact, they’re 59% more likely to connect with brands on social than older generations. By digging into the numbers and doing the research to understand exactly where your audience is and where they’re most engaged, you’ll set your brand up for success.
2. Is the experience working for your audience?
This question can be answered by simply listening to what people are saying about their experience on the channel and taking that into account when building a media strategy. We’ve always closely listened to our audience on these platforms, but in the current climate, it’s now an even deeper two-way conversation. This is so important because if their experience on the channel isn’t favorable, their experience with the brand may become hindered. So, if our customers are saying the experience isn’t living up to what they want, it’s our responsibility to listen and either focus elsewhere or make tweaks to what we’re doing on that channel to improve the experience. Additionally, every update and change to platforms starts a new conversation around “is this still working?” Although sometimes repetitive, assessing if and how your audience is affected by an update will allow you to keep an accurate pulse on their feelings for that platform. That said, amid all the changes and updates to Facebook in recent years, it still drives one of the lowest overall costs per off-site conversion (CPAs) across our clients, proving its effectiveness can still extend beyond the platform for the right brand. It’s hard to let go when your ROI is 5x what it should be.
Ultimately, a wide and broad decision can very rarely be the answer. Instead, it’s imperative the platform works for the user first and foremost, and then it can work for the brand — but not the other way around.
3. What is this platform doing to evolve?
It’s no secret people are paying more attention to social implications that arise from these channels now more than ever. Having conversations with platform reps, albeit difficult at times, to better understand the goals to improve their community’s ongoing user experience is imperative in providing comprehensive client recommendations. Equally important is to keep a finger on the pulse of hot topics by constantly reviewing social network news and tapping into Brandwatch to dig into audience sentiment. We have the mindset that our content and activations should cater to our audience and their needs, not the needs of the platform. Lastly, we firmly believe the platforms we invest in also need to uphold the values most important to us at GYK. Most recently, that’s meant being appeased by Facebook’s pledge to several key actions to address hate speech, fearmongering and diversity.
The most important aspect of understanding a platform’s evolution is to understand that you must constantly assess their actions. It’s not a one-and-done evaluation. You must consistently evaluate the platforms being used to ensure you’re selecting ones that align and evolve in the same direction as your brand, and fit the personality of your company and customers.
As comfortable as we become with certain tools, social media marketing will always be the “wild west” — and the brave brands that deploy the most thoughtful and effective channel strategy and stories to engage their audiences will reap the benefits. So, as we move into 2021, continuing to ask these questions when evaluating your social media strategy will be imperative to a brand’s continued success. Listen to your audience, understand “where” they are on social media and evaluate if and how the channels are evolving to the consumers’ needs — then adjust accordingly.