Social Media Trends and Advertising

Social Media wasn’t even on the radar until the late 1990’s and not hugely popular a decade ago, but it has become a part of most people’s daily lives. Blogging, online chat and Google started in the late 1990’s. Podcasting began a decade ago and Youtube didn’t start showing videos until 2005.

various social media symbols around chat bubble with building blocks insideSocial media sharing became so popular because we had these amazing tools, that were free, that let us connect to other people and communicate across boundaries, time zones, and borders. We got to dabble in rich media, share photos, talk about what we love, and connect. Those connections became profound and far reaching to the point where most of us now rely on them.

What I’ve started to notice a lot more lately, as I see filtered and targeted search results, promoted Tweets and Facebook pages become more cluttered with external “junk” is that these tools aren’t really free. That has been the case for a while now, but over the past year or so, it has become increasingly noticeable. Businesses started taking part in the conversations and many of them built their success on the low cost or free cost of leveraging the platforms. Can’t do that anymore…

social media symbols rushing toward dollar sign icon

I suppose we’ll see how well the “free alternative” start-ups like Ello do, and whether they stick to their guns about staying free, to decide if people will just move on to new technologies. We may see which of the existing services continue to be effective and which start to die off due to the avoidance of their audiences. My conversations with family and friends have pointed to some disturbing shifts in their attitudes about social media platforms. “I hate Facebook now.” “I never look at my email anymore, too much junk mail.” “I feel like Facebook is always hiding important content from me.” “Is my privacy being invaded?” “I deleted my Twitter account after someone started harassing me.” “I keep getting these promoted Tweets and I don’t like it.” The list goes on and on. So far it hasn’t shifted behavior entirely for all of them, but I am seeing those shifts start to happen.

Avoidance takes many shapes, but when money is involved, people get serious. If you are like me, you may no longer have a traditional “land line” telephone service. I was paying a monthly fee, plus nearly double that cost in taxes and fees, just to have a screening service for unwanted calls. I didn’t actually answer my home phone, in fact my answering machine told callers to “leave a message, I might be listening and pick up if I want to talk.” Otherwise, the machine took calls, most of which were from people and places that had somehow circumvented the Do Not Call Registry. It got to the point where the risk of missing legitimate contacts from people and places that I need to talk to became less important than not paying money to press the delete button from calls that became increasingly more annoying. This little tale is a tiny snapshot of what I think we might see happen to sites that are targeting us with spam, junk, clutter, and annoyance. If net neutrality gets nixed, I can only imagine it becoming much worse.

So what do businesses do now that Facebook fan page content requires they pay to be promoted? We need to be very deliberate in choosing and crafting our content. We need to remember the strength of what these networks were built on, entertaining and informing our audiences. We need to step into the shoes of our audience and share some brain space.

Take a look at the quotes above, think about your own avoidance tactics, and consider what kind of content you would avoid. How do you create a personal connection with people who may flinch away from the social media channels you are using? I think we are well past the time when we could ask ourselves if we should have allowed those channels to change how they support themselves. The changes are there and people will either adapt to them and accept the changes, or avoid them and look for alternatives.

The businesses that are doing a great job of effectively using social media, creating content that gets shared, ask some important questions. Who are we really trying to reach? What is the furthest someone would drive to buy our product or service? Where do our best customers, our repeat customers, live? What are our “best fit” customers’ interests? What would they share with their friends? What do we want them to do once they see our ad? How can we add value to our name, not just our product or service? What content can we share that people would not only tolerate seeing, but be willing to like and link?

Because social media platforms are about having conversations, businesses that use them well also pay attention to the channels and respond back when customers reach out to them. Many of them do charity work or provide free services or advice through these outlets. They put their customer service efforts and customer interactions out in the wild for all to see. If they are great at customer service, it shows and it lasts (and the opposite is true as well.)

They also choose the right platform for the right purpose. Twitter is great for sending out a lot of frequent messages that are only intended to last for seconds. Most of Twitter’s audience is mobile and younger. Posting 1-10 times a day is not only a good idea, it is expected. That is not the case with something like Facebook or a blog, where your message is intended to last longer. People don’t tolerate a lot of frequent “clutter” in their readers or on their Facebook walls.

Quality versus quantity is becoming much more important now that content is being treated like a product by service providers. It isn’t enough for a lot of people to like your Facebook page or to have a lot of fans if you aren’t investing money too.

A big shift in using social media effectively as a business, due to changes made by the providers themselves, is spending money on it. We need to be willing to pay for the providers to feature our content. Sure, content can still be found via organic search and search engine optimization of online content is still useful, but don’t expect content to just show up for everyone using search or social media once it is published.

Sites like YouTube and Facebook are becoming increasingly focused on bringing people into their sites and featuring themselves. It is how they pay for the bandwidth, servers, and services they provide. In the past it used to feel like they were these big altruistic service providers gaining nothing for themselves but the joy of featuring your cat pictures and funny videos. Now, it is increasingly true that the people who invest are the ones who benefit.

Only time will tell whether this is in the best interests of social media services and those who made them so popular. Even though its reach is broad and millions of people worldwide still use social media, the various platforms are seeing noticeable shifts in users in the past couple of years. Some of the shifts are due to changes in demographics, but some are due to external influences such as privacy concerns, changing technologies, government interest in online data, changes in laws and the increasing use of social media for advertising. It is important that businesses and individuals learn to adapt, to stay informed, manage metrics, and do research. It is also important that we continue to share our opinions, our likes and our dislikes, and help shape policies.