Social & Content in 2018: Why we shouldn’t all be following Wetherspoons

As Facebook send contradictory signals about social content, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: it’s what you do, not where you do it, that matters.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently announced significant changes to the platform’s newsfeed algorithm.

In January, Mark Zuckerberg announced a change in the newsfeed algorithm which left digital marketers quaking in their boots: he pledged to change

the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

Let’s break this down:

  • The algorithm which determines the hierarchy of posts on a user’s newsfeed will now prioritise actions that are more active — like commenting on a post or sharing it — over passive engagement: merely clicking on or “liking” posts.
  • What this means in practice is users will be shown less branded content and posts from businesses in their feeds, while personal posts by family and friends will take precedence.
  • The inevitable consequence of which is brands reporting an increase in expenditure on “boosted” posts to ensure their reach.

It’s worth thinking about the way this paywall approach differs from (Facebook-owned) Instagram’s attitude to businesses and branded content. Last month, the platform expanded the in-app shopping feature that it has been trialling in the US to include 8 more countries, the UK among them. This is the latest in a string of tools recently introduced that enable brands to instantly and effortlessly commercialise their posts by linking featured products directly to their ecommerce sites.

As Instagram comes more and more to function as a digital sales catalogue of sepia-filtered products, the disparity between it and Facebook grows increasingly pronounced for brands. Despite Zuckerberg’s assurance that a commitment to “meaningful social interaction” is behind the changes to Facebook’s feed, in reality the algorithm is pushing brands away from organic reach and towards their ad products. Meanwhile, Instagram appears to encourage the exact opposite, facilitating brands’ building of a native following. (At least, for now.)

Shifts like these in the social media landscape can contribute to anxiety among brands and businesses. Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of Wetherspoons pub chain, recently caused a publicity storm with his declaration that Wetherspoons would henceforth opt out of all social media platforms, focusing their attention instead on their website, magazine and customer service. He blamed the move on the perils of excessive social media usage — coinciding the statement with the Cambridge Analytica scandal — although it didn’t take long for people to wonder if the real reason is simple: social marketing investment for Wetherspoons isn’t bringing the returns.

Tim Martin, founder and chairman of Wetherspoons, recently announced his brand’s abandonment of social media channels.

But is ditching social media really the answer to brands’ struggles with digital strategy?

The fact is that now, in 2018, social media has matured beyond a single line on the budget. Switching off social in 2018 is like a brand in the 80s turning off “advertising”, and what audiences there are — and how they behave — on Instagram is not the same as on Facebook. Or on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, or Snapchat, for that matter.

What brands need to do is understand their audience, understand their behaviours, and develop a media and content approach that makes the most of these opportunities for that brand.

So while Mark Ritson, writing for Marketing Week, commends Martin on a shrewd business move, he simultaneously debunks the idea that most brands can do without their social media accounts: “a very smart, very switched-on leader has … concluded that social media does not fit. By the same token there are a lot of brands out there that take the same look at an entirely different customer base, product, brand and set of objectives and conclude that Twitter or Instagram is the perfect tactic for them.”

At Flying Object we specialise in the kind of branded content that audiences simply can’t resist sharing and interacting with. We try to create the kind of “meaningful social interactions” Mark Zuckerberg talks about, developed strategically with a distribution model in mind that’s right for the brand and their customers.

Take our work with RuPaul’s Drag Race: many fans of the show had already viewed the season online, ahead of the UK TV broadcast. We were tasked with getting fans to share the show with their wider networks. Our campaign and content got fans so excited, they used the comments of the posts to tag their friends directly.

Meanwhile, in our #MoreThanARefugee campaign, we leveraged the power of influencers, who have their own meaningful connection to audiences, to natively and engagingly communicate the campaign’s message. Content from the campaign has been watched over 19m times.

By putting content and experiences that have real value in front of your customers you can work with, not against, newsfeed algorithms that privilege comments, shares and discussion. So our message is: worry less about algorithm changes, and think more about how to really engage the people your brand wants to reach. (And if you’d like some help on that, give us a shout).