“We see social media, primarily, as a paid channel at this point.”
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point. This has little to do with Facebook throttling content and forcing brands to pay to boost their content (more on that here: Facebook And A New Era In Paid Media), or paying for premium real estate in the Twitter feed for more people to see a brand’s call to action. It also, has little to do with Pinterest‘s recently announced advancements in monetization (more on that here: AdWeek – Pinterest Opens Up to Brands With New Ways to Plan Posts and Buy Ads). All of these channels have a right to generate revenue. They are not social causes or non-profits. These are businesses, and they are businesses that want to do well. If the service is free for users, the revenue has to come from somewhere. That “somewhere” is the data, targeting and advertising capabilities.
Don’t get too caught up in this.
It’s defeatist to think that the myriad of digital channels are simply that: a paid media space. While brands do have to pay to create levels of awareness, it’s high time that they look at these channels and paid media entities, put that thought to the side, accept it and deep dive into what’s next. So, you’ve paid to create awareness on a channel that has a growing and engaged audience, what’s your brand narrative in this space really all about?
How do you leverage a paid channel and turn it into a earned platform?
That’s the real question. Return on investment is only a myth, when the sole marketing benchmarks revolve around this notion that everything is now paid and the platform is like the casino (it takes in the dollars… And it never loses). For years, the brand sentiment used to be that you needed to have your homebase (a website… an app… an eCommerce platform), and that you can drive traffic from these large, digital and social spaces (or “outposts” as Chris Brogan called them) back to your homebase (see: Chris Brogan – Using Outposts in Your Media Strategy from 2008). The early days of social media was so exciting for brands, because the impressions and presence was free. Anybody could open up an account on a social media platform, and anybody could create messages (as many and as often as wanted). With that, the firehose became unbearable. Consumers who followed or friended a brand become so inundated, that they wanted to unfollow or could not even remember why they connected to the brand in the first place. This created a huge issue. If consumers become disengaged, because their experiences are mired in half-baked content that adds little-to-no value to their experience, they will fatigue. They will leave.
So, what’s a brand to do?
In the mid-nineties, when I first got involved in the search engine space, we used to try to explain to brands that consumers don’t want to navigate through a complex website. We would drop the “every page is a homepage line” in a world where landing pages, onsite optimization and multivariate testing was a dream that was still off in the digital marketing distance. Today, that sentiment needs to be reinvoked, unless brands want to cement this notion that social media is only a paid media platform (which, it is not). So, how is this done? Don’t just invest in paying for placement and boosting it, in the hopes that you can lure consumers to your owned properties.
There needs be a significant effort to double-down on these social media channels. Brands need to:
- Invest in pages and profiles as if they were the website.
- Be diligent with updating the content in a dynamic fashion.
- Not duplicate what they’re doing everywhere else.
- Have a unique brand narrative for each channel.
- Make that brand narrative function by creating utility for customers and potential customers.
- Understand the culture of the channel.
- Not just try to just sell on it.
- Become a part of the culture.
- Provide the type of experience within it (whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest) that extends both the brand’s needs in a congruous fashion with why people stay so connected on these channels.
This is not hyperbole.
Thinking that a brand can have one destination to rule them all is now antiquated. Thinking that any destination must be owned is now antiquated as well. There needs to be a significant investment into these pages and experiences well beyond a paid model. The Web has become very porous, and it’s getting more and more porous as days progress. Every day, there are new channels that come online and new hardware to connect to it (think tablets… think watches).
There is a way.
Social media is a paid channel, only if that’s all your brand is capable of doing within the channel. This is why there is so much debate over what’s a channel and what’s a platform. For most brands that are focused on paying to be present and interrupting the social experience, these are only advertising channels. For other brands (and, hopefully, all brands in the future), if you focus on being unique and valuable in these spaces, they will (quickly) evolve into a powerful platform. A brand that performs at this level, will start to quickly realize that as they nurture and work in these spaces, they wind up having multiple platforms with multiple ways to connect and share with audiences. Ultimately, the best brands will be able to zoom out and see a fortified network of communications and marketing spaces that extends into some very dynamic spaces. This kind of networked and unified strategy will lock brands into a place where they can have real relationships through real interactions with real people, instead of interruptions and bullying-like advertising tactics to get a consumer to leave one environment for another.
This is less about paid media spaces and much more about the type of brand you want to be.