The Wild West of Social Media Marketing

Social media is the #1 activity on the web far beyond anything else. That means consuming, creating and sharing content. Starting, maintaining and ending conversations. Joining and leaving various social networks, groups and online communities.

It’s because of this popularity and the ever-growing list of overnight billionaires, that it is also one of the most evolving and exciting industries to work in. Everyone is hustling is to get their piece of the social start-up pie.

This also creates a very volatile environment for us as marketers. We continually receive those client emails asking about a new trendy network being promoted within TechCrunch only to see that same network close up shop a few months later. In order to make sure we don’t waste our time and our clients money, let’s take a closer look at some the reasons why these networks come and go so quickly and see if there are any insights we can extract to understand the best way to direct this “what’s next” frenzy.

1 — There is no social network loyalty

If we think about the context of why people engage with social networks, it really comes down to the network of connections we want to engage with on that platform rather than the actual platform itself. This is an important distinction because the networks are there simply to enable people to connect with other people and then get out-of-the-way. As such, our loyalty always remains with our peers rather than a network brand. So our platforms of choice changes when our peers platforms change, regardless of how positive or innovative our experience on that network might actually be.

Key takeaway: It is important to understand network effects within our audience to help drive our network presence strategy and not rely on buzz feeds.

2 — In the wild west of social media some just can’t find the gold!

As society gets more technically savvy, there are more opportunities to create communities of people using those technologies. Unfortunately as technology advances, business models are still very archaic and have not evolved passed subscription or advertising based models. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest are some of the most popular networks we talk about today and their main revenue stream is all based on ad sales.

This approach works if you have a large community to support the low click-through rates (CTR) that social ads typically receive (in the 3–4% range) and figure out a way to incorporate ads without hampering the overall experience to keep your users engaged. Newer networks will typically not have the volumes of traffic needed to sustain this model so that means they will try to revert to a freemium model where they give the experience away for free for a period of time and then try to charge for access to it or try cross-sell an upgraded experience.

The challenge with a freemium model is that once you transition to a paid model to support your start-up, your users will typically jump ship. From the users perspective, why should I pay for something I was getting for free and or when another company offers a similar free service. Some networks don’t even get to this phase and rely solely on VC funding to get them to a point of profitability that never happens.

Key takeaways: We need to understand a networks business model to determine if establishing anything more than a few campaigns make sense. We also need to know how that plan will impact the overall user experience we want to be a part of, does it impair or enhance the relationships with our customers?

3 — I just don’t need another network!

When polled, most people say they are ok with their current digital lifestyle and not looking for another network to join. Twitter and Goole+ are evidence of this as both are well-known and have high awareness scores but still have low adoption rates nowhere near Facebook’s 1.26+ billion users. And when we look at how many networks an individual has joined, typically it is in the 2–5 range, we still see usage rates highly skewed towards just one or two networks. This means that your audience may have an account on every social network but only use a couple on a semi regular basis. Not very promising for new networks trying to acquire users for long-term success.

Key takeaway: Rather than trying to get users to come to you on a new platform just because you heard about it in the news, you should be where they are enhancing that existing experience.

4 — Why didn’t you accept that friend request from your grandma?

As mentioned in point 1, adoption of new social networks are primarily pushed by peer-to-peer social influence. The challenge with anything that is influence based, is that it comes in stages and depending on what stage a network is at, adoption at that time may not attract the right crowd for long-term success. As an example, the fastest growing demographicon Twitter is the 55–64 year old age bracket which is great unless Twitter is trying to acquire the highly engaged and advertiser favorite tween and teen category.

Key takeaways: It is important to understand what stage of maturity the network is at and who is actually joining and engaging in that community. You don’t want to waste time establishing an audience on a new network which is on the way out or popular with the wrong audience.

While following these guidelines will help you put out some of your what’s new and next fires, there are times that you want to be part of something just for the PR. And that is perfectively acceptable. Just make sure you manage your short and long term expectations and goals based on the takeaways above.

Originally published at on February 11, 2015.

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