Social reality: Get with it or get out

WME CEO and founder, Nick Bell
By WME CEO and founder, Nick Bell | 19 December 2016

‘The art of marketing is lost.’ ‘Social media is great at bigging itself up, not great at bigging brands up.’ I’ve been hit with these kind of comment regularly in 2016. It seems that that airwaves coming from social media doubters such as Mark Ritson have increased substantially during the year. It hasn’t been helped by reports that Facebook has grossly exaggerated its online video viewing figures and that Twitter could become the BlackBerry of the social media world.

Throw enough mud at a wall and eventually some of it will stick. To be completely fair, social media has been inexplicably throwing mud at its own wall recently. I’m going to chalk that down to bad aim (some duff moves from different senior figures and uncontrolled media). As someone who has created and sold a social media agency, built up a raft of digital businesses, and continually pushed social media as a viable digital marketing option, fending off the doubters gets tiring.

This is not about defending social media. Instead, it’s about trying to get the industry to understand its place and not be so quick to jump to conclusions based on data used in strange ways. Spin the figures any way you want, they are what they are and I’m not here to dispute them. What needs to be made clear is how social media actually works and what brands should expect from it.

Understanding social media’s true impact and its benefits is crucial to being able to fit it properly into your digital marketing strategy. This is where it is of the utmost importance to leave the emotion behind and concentrate on what the data tells you and what the traditional strengths of social are. Social media, like anything digital, evolves rapidly. Applying ideas and methods from even a year ago is not effective. The market has changed.

It is unarguable that the engagement rates on social media are dropping. According to a report by Forresters, per follower engagement for a brand is sitting at 2.3%, about half of what it was in 2014. But think about this. The same study shows that follower counts for top brands have skyrocketed — top brands now have more than double the average followers on Facebook than compared to 2014. On Instagram, it’s five times higher. Furthermore, brands are posting lots more content to compete with each other.

Straight away the competition is a lot tougher, and consumers are becoming more wary of brand content. Immediately there is a massive challenge to produce and share content that will actually be noticed by consumers. Even if they don’t directly engage with it (like it, click on it, heart it or whatever else), they will likely still notice it. The immediacy of social media incorrectly makes brands assume that the results return with the same immediacy. They don’t.

It’s about actually being realistic about what a social media win is today. It is not just an advertisement. If you are thinking of social media like that, you may as well just go and buy an ad somewhere.

Your aim is to create brand proof. Give consumers a reason to allow you a few seconds of their time. If they don’t react straight away, that’s not a loss. They gave you their attention, even briefly. That is the hardest part successfully completed. Just ask Amazon or Mr Porter how many times people visit their sites without purchasing something. Here are some shopping cart abandonment rates to digest.

If you win those vital few seconds, you’re in with a better shot of winning a few more seconds next time. Then a visit to your website. Finally a purchase. The consumer is growing used to your brand and message, they are feeling a connection. Connections don’t happen straight away. This is why I tell all of our clients that the content is so important — create helpful content, not sales content. The old idea of a content longtail from websites applies here, but it is a consumer longtail.

Content for social is not quick and easy. That’s a misnomer. It’s just as challenging as creating any other media if not more so. Brands need to be able to track the engagement they are creating on social. But if you harness the potential you can generate huge amounts of business. Those 50 people on the bus, all on their smartphones — look at what is engaging them, and produce something better.

By WME CEO and founder, Nick Bell

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