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The Golden Goose of Social Media, and Other Modern Fairy Stories

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Advertising Week

By Karlie McCulloch, Lead Agent, Social Pictures

Once upon a time it was possible to imagine a world without social – but not today. It plays such a vital part in our lives, and has felt like an unstoppable force for the past decade. But what is the real power of social media for advertisers in 2016? Do reports of Twitter’s troubles indicate that the bubble is on the verge of a burst? And what about that thorny issue of ROI? Does social have the ability to deliver real quantifiable returns for brands in the future?

It’s true to say that social media is still as much a part of consumer’s daily lives as ever before – from Millennials to Silver Surfers, we all constantly indulge in the pleasures of a retweet, an Instagram upload, or the casual Facebook stalk.

These days, the usefulness of social media no longer needs explaining from a consumer stand point – but the way in which we use it is ever-transforming.

The much-documented recent decline in Twitter users, when twinned with news of Instagram’s users steadily increasing, and with daily usage and engagement commanding some impressive statistics, indicates that the future of social lies in expression rather than organization, creativity over life admin. After all, emojis mean the same thing in every language.

And the way in which brands are – and should be – using social is shape-shifting too.  Today, the focus for many brands has moved from ‘Let’s build a community’, to ‘Let’s just aim to get seen by the right people’.

The advent of algorithms has dramatically increased the number of hoops that advertisers have to jump through and putting budget behind social campaigns is now an essential element to success. So it’s more important than ever that what you are creating is worth seeing.

Improvements in analytics have also drastically changed the state of play. While we used to measure online brand impact predominantly through click throughs and likes, today we have many more complex and sophisticated tools in our armoury. For instance, king of punchy cultural content Buzzfeed only receives two per cent of its impressions on the actual site. Encouraging click through is no longer a priority – it’s all about getting that content out there in the wider (online) world.

Add to the mix the rise of ad blockers, and the fact that Apple has launched its own preventative software for the new iOS9 update, and it is clear that taking a scattergun branded content in the hopes that someone relevant might see it.

Instead, brands need to earn space on consumers’ feeds, rather than bustling in with their cheque books. Content must be tailored, and, in a lot of cases, scaled down for smaller, more niche, audiences, in order to create meaningful engagement.

In the Wild West days of social it felt truly innovative – social media was the fabled Golden Goose who just kept laying those sparkling nuggets.  Brands could stand shoulder to shoulder with their (potential) customers and talk directly to them like never before.  Today, we need to bring back that energy and find a new way of engaging.

One mistake that advertisers still make, when looking to influencers to help with this new way of engaging their audience, is to focus on numbers and reach. Working with people and platforms who have a genuine affinity with your brand is an all round more effective way of working, even if that means you will be reaching a smaller audience. It’s expensive to work with someone who doesn’t like you.

The good news is that this ‘numbers, numbers, numbers’ attitude is on the decline. As far as influencers are concerned, we’re seeing shifts in the way that marketers are thinking. A rise in editorial and content departments means that they’re looking at what is produced much closer than ever before and making more informed, smarter choices on the people they collaborate with.

Successful social media feeds are no longer just media outlets to tag onto; their creators are being used as consultants. Not only can they reach an engaged audience, they know how to tailor content to the very same people on various different platforms.

The big take-out from all of this? And the one brands need to take heed of, in order to succeed in the social space in future? Get serious about social. Stop shouting and make conversations. Social media is no longer a space of trial and error, and we’re seeing a rise in brands pulling budget towards learning from artists’ experiences, rather than enforcing their own.

So what lies in store for the artists themselves? These Golden Geese of social inevitably follow the same journey: starting at a place of unbridled creativity they gain an audience purely through the power of their content. Traditionally, this becomes gradually diluted by brand infiltration and the pressure to stay fresh – or just, you know, brag about their wonderful life. However, the latest trend in content is a sharp increase in the quality. Flat whites, food envy, and pensive shots into the middle distance still exist, but they’re being challenged by online exhibitions from people such as Sandro Giodano, and edgy street photography by Charlie Kwai and Olly Lang.

So what is the moral of this modern day fairytale? Does social have a future for brands? Yes, if they want it to reach niche audiences of engaged consumers. Yes, if they want to create quality, targeted content that people want to look at. Yes, if they want to build trust and authenticity – and if they truly deserve it. However, if they are looking for social to lay a daily supply of big, fat, golden eggs, then maybe not.

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