A few years ago, social media was simple. On Twitter, we posted what we were doing. On Facebook, we posted with whom we were doing that. On YouTube, we posted the videos and some of us posted a picture on Instagram. If we wanted to see what our friends were up to, we would just have to go to one of those places. We could go straight to our friends’ pages, but most of us just went to our ‘timelines’. The overview of what had happened on that specific social network. We’d not just see the updates from that one friend, but from all friends. All we had to do is scroll through. Very convenient.
These days everything is different.
Though we still use the networks above, there is so much more we can choose from. We turn to Snapchat for quick connections and funny photos. We are on Messenger, WhatsApp or another messaging app more than on any other platform.
The “Timeline” as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore
If we go to the social networks, the experience is different as well. Because they have grown so much, both in users as in content, we can’t see all the updates anymore. We before we would see all updates from all our friends, now we miss most of what is there. For many people, including myself, this can be annoying, but there is a good reason for it. We blame the social networks. But we forget to blame the real guilty party: us marketers.
We did it. We are the ones that ruined Social Media.
We saw an opportunity and grabbed it. Without thinking about the consequences.
Marketers saw that social media was a place where people were having conversations. They (we) saw that it was a place where people shared valuable information.
Marketers saw it as the perfect place to interrupt.
There were many warning signs. But a big group of marketers still started using Social Media the way they were used to work: as a billboard. Shouting out their messages, trying to grab the attention. When that didn’t work, marketers moved to being more ‘relevant’. They moved to trying to be part of the conversation. Talking about the topics people were talking about (“newsjacking” we called it, interfering would be a better word). And when that didn’t work anymore we started to create ‘viral content’. Which translates to irrelevant content that people would share. Just for that bit of attention. In the meantime, the social networks were ‘fighting’ on the other side. They were trying to solve two things:
- How to make sure people would stay and come back. Even though their timelines were sometimes flooded with irrelevant updates. Most of them from brands
- How to make money
They came up with one solution for both problems: change the algorithm of the timeline. In the last few years, all social networks have changed an essential element on their platform: the timeline. With Instagram a few weeks ago being the last of the ‘traditional’ social networks. They all changed their algorithm in a way that it is no longer about the timeline, but about relevance. Instead of seeing a stream of messaging, where you could scroll back in time to see what you’ve missed, it is now about relevancy. You see the ‘most relevant’ updates. According to the social network that is. Now, the more you interact with someone, the more you will see them on our timelines. Brands now have a problem. Their updates won’t show up as often anymore in the timelines. Because it isn’t relevant enough. Because they don’t get enough interaction and because they don’t pay enough. The only ‘real’ chance brands have now is advertising. That will get you in the ‘timeline’ (which in essence isn’t a timeline anymore). But if it will do much for you remains to be seen. After all, you do need to be relevant.
A new challenge
Brand marketers face a new challenge: how to get the most out of social media. To actually be successful, they need to be relevant and they need to get more interaction going. But before marketers start creating content, they should first step back. Think about what helps their target audience. Then create a strategy. A strategy that is not based on interruption. A strategy that won’t ruin Social Networks even more. That strategy could be that you don’t use Social Media as the platform to be on. But as the platform to understand your audience.
Let’s not ruin anything else and think first, please.