The digital marketing landscape moves quickly, so fast that it's hard for anyone to keep up. Trust me, I write about the latest social media and digital marketing news every day, and even then, there are still plenty of surprises.
And amidst all this noise there are some elements that require regular reiteration or clarification from time to time.
Often, when brands are trying to navigate the shifting social waters, they're looking for answers that are not always clear cut - almost everything in social media marketing, or all marketing more generally, is relative to your specific brand and audience, so there's usually not a perfect 'one size fits all' answer or solution for your query.
Amplifying this further, there are some operators who seek to capitalize on this knowledge gap and promote themselves or their products to people based on falsehoods or half-truths. It's quite possible that many don't even intend to do this, it's just that the metrics and tools we use to measure social success are always evolving, which can make it hard to focus on the right points.
But, fundamentally, there are some things that don't change. You make products or provide services, and you want to sell them to as many people as possible to build your business. Away from all the buzzwords and trends, this is the core element - do this, and you'll succeed.
Here are some other digital marketing truths to keep in mind as you go about your social and digital marketing process.
1. Quality is a Relative Term
But you know what's not cheap? BuzzFeed. The company's valued at around $1.5 billion and is just outside the Alexa listing of the top 150 most visited websites in the world. Last year alone, BuzzFeed generated almost $170 million in revenue, which was actually down on expectation - all while publishing 'cheap', nasty content that many advisors and experts would warn you away from.
Have you ever heard of or seen a YouTube video from Toy Freaks?
All of their videos are like this - about three minutes long, home-made, low production values and barely tangible plot lines or themes. Terrible, right? Who watches this junk?
As it turns out, a lot of people - on average Toy Freaks' videos are peaking in the hundreds of millions of views, of which they're uploading new content almost daily. Their videos are watched, on average, 4.5 million times per day, which, based on estimated YouTube ad revenue, would be earning them around $2.5 million per annum.
You may think such content is low quality or rude - even offensive in some cases - but there's one thing that both Toy Freaks and BuzzFeed are doing better than most. They deliver content that's popular with their respective audiences.
This is one element of the debate around content 'quality' that often gets overlooked, or at least under-emphasized - quality is an objective term. What your audience likes and responds could be downright horrendous to anyone else, including the experts.
But who cares?
The point here is that you shouldn't be intimidated by content or restricted to a certain type of post, or even quality, when looking to maximize your marketing message as it's all relative to what your audience responds to. Yes, maybe you'll generate more engagement if you spend a couple of grand on a new product promo created by professionals, but you also might have done just as well putting on a mask and live-streaming yourself sitting in your car in the car park at Walmart.
Determining your content focus and approach can be hard, and the more logical route is to stick with the traditional marketing approach, but these examples show that going out on a limb and honing in on specific niche audiences or interests can also deliver big results, when done right.
You can use Facebook's Audience Insights to get more of an idea of the types of interests that are most common amongst your audience. Nathan Kontny outlines some of the valuable ideas he gleaned about his audience by analyzing their Twitter profiles using Followerwonk in this post.
Social media data opens up a range of both research and outreach opportunities for your messaging.
Don't be afraid to try something outside the normal approach.
2. Vanity Metrics Mean Nothing in Isolation
This is one aspect that many experts fail to highlight - in fact a lot are openly benefiting from it. Vanity stats, in isolation, are worthless.
Without a defined strategic objective or purpose, vanity numbers - like followers, Likes, impressions - they mean nothing without further context. Yet advisors and 'experts' are still going into meetings with clients and selling them on the importance of such figures, cashing in on the knowledge gap with brands who are so scared that they're going to be left behind if they don't work out this 'social thing'. You need to be focused on the objectives that align with the end goal for each of your campaigns - and that end goal is not to simply to build an audience.
Wide scale broadcasting in itself can be beneficial, but broadcasts that don't inspire subsequent actions are simply echoes in the abyss. It doesn't matter if your brand has a million followers if not one of them is going on to buy your products.
I'll give you an example - recently, on Social Media Today, we had a big spike in Facebook reach.
Awesome right, that means I'm doing the right things - time to pass on the good news to my bosses and alert them to my excellent work. Right?
Not really. You see, I know that this spike was not specifically caused by anything I've done. I also know that this spike was caused by something that will actually provide us little benefit overall.
The spike was cause by people commenting on and re-sharing this post in the midst of the current election hype:
As you can see, this was posted in 2012, but it still gets regularly circulated and gathers shares and comments - and, for obvious reasons, it gained a whole lot of momentum recently.
But here's the thing - that post doesn't link back to our website, so we're not getting referral traffic from it. There is, of course, the potential Facebook reach boost - more people engaging with and interacting with our content is going to help our overall Facebook performance (which is likely why it was posted in the first place), but the real, tangible benefits of that post for our key performance indicators are not overly high.
In base metric terms, we look great - I look great, in particular, because our Facebook Page is performing well, and a less scrupulous social media manager might try to sell that as a good news story. But you want to know the real numbers that matter to me?
In amongst all the data points and stats and figures I can get from Facebook, the one thing I really want to see moving is this:
And even then, I need to dig further into the data to determine exactly what those stats mean - Facebook lists 'Post Clicks' as anytime anyone has clicked on a post at all, not just URL clicks.
Your focal point may be different, your objective may be different dependent on each campaign and program you run on social, but it's important to recognize that most of these figures, in isolation, don't mean anything. It's what they mean in terms of how much business they're subsequently facilitating that actually matter.
A basic formula that can help you establish more accountable, measurable social media marketing metrics is this:
"We want to increase (a) because it will (b) which will lead to (c) - and we'll measure (c) by (d)"
Likes and engagement can provide a form of social proof, but it's how those numbers impact on the next stage actions that are important.
3. Engagement > Audience Size
I was reading the details of a large-scale company's social media ambassador program recently when I noticed something that stood out.
The one key requirement this company had for their potential ambassadors was that they needed to have a social media following of more than 30,000.
I've read similar stories from the entertainment sector, modeling agencies, for example, who won't even consider hiring models who don't have at least 10,000 followers on Instagram. And while I understand the principle - higher audience means higher reach - it's, again, often a false promise. And incentivizing vanity metrics in this way also leads to more people cheating the system, which further de-values it as a relevant metric.
This is exactly the case in the first company's program I've noted above - on reading the people they subsequently appointed as ambassadors, at least one of them has definitely purchased followers. How do I know? Here's their Twitter Counter follower chart which I looked at as part of research for another post some time back.
How do you gain, and lose, and gain again, thousands of followers in a matter of days by natural means?
And as noted, that modeling requirement - which is most definitely a real thing - is inspiring many to look at buying followers. I've been asked by several people whether they should spend to inflate their followings and how they might go about it. And it makes sense - if your livelihood is dependent on boosting that number, and you can do so in a cheap and easy way, why wouldn't you?
This underlines the need for more diligent practices in influencer selection - audience size, alone, is not a valuable enough measure. Klout score can help, though even that only goes so far (and can also be bought). What you really need is to conduct a thorough investigation of their social profiles in order to determine their actual level of engagement and influence.
Tools like Twitonomy can help - it will show you stats like the average re-tweets that user generates, along with favorites and replies.
Mentionmapp can also help - it provides a graphical representation of who a user commonly interacts with, and who they interact with, which can help you determine if that user has reach to the people you want to get in front of.
But the best way to do this is to examine their social profiles yourself and determine what their engagement levels are like, and who they're engaging with. If they're an 'influencer' but they're getting no engagement on their posts, safe to say they're not as influential as their follower count alone might suggest.
Social media marketing is still in its relative infancy, and we're still learning all the ins and outs of exactly how everything works. But these misinterpretations come up time and time again. It's important to look a little deeper in order to determine what metrics are relevant to you and your business, and how they fit into the context of your wider planning.