Social media. This could mean a million and one things depending on who you speak to, but the one thing that it cannot seem to escape is controversy. Whether it’s accountability in the wake of the Capitol riots, disruption to traditional media outlets or addressing the safety of younger users, social media has been a magnet for criticism and interrogation. However, the controversy surrounding social media in the past few years has done nothing to curtail its growth. With TikTok hitting 1 billion monthly active users, Twitch revenue crossing $2bn and Meta claiming ownership of four of the top six apps globally, it’s safe to say that the broad category we’ve labelled as ‘social media’ is only continuing to expand. eMarketer reports a continued increase in time spent online in 2021, with no decline in usage reported for any of the major social platforms.
In fact, we have seen new entrants to the field grow at an unprecedented pace. This should come as no surprise. Successful players in the space are recognising that whatever we do online, it’s more engaging when you add a layer of human interaction. The smartest advertisers are the ones who are recognising that fact and taking advantage of the new opportunities presented. So, in planning your social media investment, what do you need to do?
Let’s not talk about social media: Forget the concept of ‘social media’ as a portion of your ‘digital’ budget, and plan around your consumer. The ways that people interact with an influencer on Twitch, or share movie trailers and video essays on YouTube, could not be more different. It’s time to think about consumer mindsets. Are you looking for deep engagement in a lean-forward environment with users that are in the mindset to discover new things? Turn to Twitter or Facebook feeds. Are you looking to build brand recall with users who are in the mood for TV-style lean-back entertainment? Check out Snapchat Discover or YouTube. Consider what mental state you want your consumers in (and please, let’s stop repurposing the same TVC for both YouTube bumpers and Facebook lead-gen ads).
Look to holistic measurement: Given the overwhelming narrative of digital measurability, we’ve come to expect that we can map every dollar of spend to the bottom line. Tools like store visitation and offline conversions claim to bridge the gap between digital and physical presence. Realistically, most of these solutions are indicative at best, with quite significant blind spots. Taking this data as fact can lead marketers down the wrong path entirely. So what’s the solution? Look to marketing mix modelling, which has long been one of the best ways to measure the impact of media on revenue, and brand lift studies, which are an essential tool in understanding the building of a brand. What they have in common is the ability to view social media as part of a greater whole and its impact on a digital generation.
Build beyond the platform: While it is tempting to believe that the big tech players know best, the reality is that there are a number of bright start-ups and established businesses who have found ways to improve on what the Pages and Zuckerbergs of the world have built. It’s worth exploring some of the options that companies like Smartly.io, 4C, Skai and others have to offer. In a lot of cases, these companies will provide specialised solutions that can help to massively improve performance or provide a different perspective. One great example of this is attention measurement as a replacement for video views – 2-second and 3-second video views have long been one of the most controversial metrics in digital media. Attention measurement bridges that gap by looking at factors outside of just continuous view time to understand just how much impact your video advertising is having. This is a great example of a step that digital media needs to be taking in order to build robust yet flexible measurement frameworks.
In short, while social media may be drawing the wrong kind of attention in some circles, its growth has not been dampened at all. In fact, doors have even opened for new entrants in what many assumed to be a saturated market, and the digital platforms that we have labelled as social media have grown to take over more and more of our day-to-day lives. Good digital marketers will be finding ways to leverage the measurement capabilities of social platforms in order to drive solid return on investment. Great digital marketers will recognise that social media as a concept is too all-encompassing to be useful – it is integrated into every aspect of our lives, deserving much more of our attention than just a simple label.