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Navigating the Evolving Social Media Landscape

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Social media has changed the way we interact with friends, families, consumers, and brands. The nuances of digital communication continue to evolve every day, like a language that expands as it discovers new value, use, and meaning. We sat down with Emma Zumsen, GALE’s Director of Integrated Strategy, to gather her reflections on navigating the rapidly evolving social media landscape.

With the sheer number of social media platforms out there, how should a brand decide where to invest their social media efforts?
Every brand should go through a consideration cycle before deciding on platforms. Brands should think about three things: 1) budget, 2) creative and copy resources, and 3) goals. Consider whether your goal is to drive engagement, sales, awareness, create a customer service platform or some combination thereof. Identifying goals, budget, and resources allows brands to best evaluate and select the platform that fits their needs.

For example, brands with a limited budget who want to drive sales should look to Facebook vs Instagram as it has proven to be more effective in driving sales on a smaller promotional budget than Instagram. Snapchat is a poor choice for brands without a lot of creative resources because it requires a more consistent and immediate content creation to build a healthy and effective presence.

Generally speaking, Facebook is the best platform for brands wanting to sell product. Instagram is the best choice for building awareness and driving engagement around lifestyle content, although it can be more difficult to grow and engage audiences without media spend.

How important is social media reporting?
Taking on a strong reporting approach is one of the most important things a brand can do if they’re serious about social media. Having access to numbers helps you make the best use of your time and spend on a platform. Many brands neglect this.

Brands get overwhelmed by the sheer number data points Facebook provides and focus their attention on things like comments, shares, and engagement rates. To benefit from these figures, brands need to identify a set of core KPIs, define the formula used for each and track them on a consistent basis. These core KPIs should align directly with their overall social goals. For example, if engagement is the goal then engagement rate and engaged users are two good metrics to track.

A data capture on a monthly basis helps brands optimize content and posting times, identify influencers they might want to partner with, and leverage data to drive greater results. Many brands overlook this because reporting tools have historically been expensive. I encourage smaller brands to engage a reporting service like what we offer at GALE or prioritize starting some kind of basic data capture in-house using the basics available from most platforms as they begin the investment in social media.

How do you identify which social media platforms are right for your specific audience demographic?
As you define your brand persona, align it with the most recent available platform statistics to help guide your decision. Most social platforms will put out a report on their active users on a yearly basis. These reports usually come out in the fall, although there isn’t a set calendar platforms adhere to. There are also a lot of reporting tools like Gizmo, Brandwatch, L2, and Radian 6 that release their size and demographic numbers several times a year.

At a basic level, brands trying to reach the younger end of the Millennial spectrum audience should look at Snapchat. Brands looking for a higher household income and people who spend their time online more intentionally should look at Facebook where there tends to be an older audience and more refined targeting capacities.

Should brands divide their social media efforts between a variety of different platforms or focus on being great at one?
Brands that are just starting out should focus on one or two platforms and figure out how to master them. It’s easier to do one or two things well than six things well — especially with limited resources. Once you’ve mastered one or two platforms you can take those learnings and iterate and optimize them across different channels.

It’s fairly rare for a brand to be present across all six platforms and find it valuable. That really only makes sense for brands with sizable budgets and the ability to bring on social media teams in-house.

There are a small number of brands who value the branding and marketing experiment social media innovation represents and champion trial of new platforms or platform capabilities. These innovative brands are often tapped to serve as beta testers for the platforms themselves and will run test campaigns to see what happens. These brands generally have large enough audiences that platforms can derive meaningful learnings from their results.

Are there any platforms you have your eyes on right now as likely to rise?
At the moment, no. We have a pretty solid group of platforms. I think what’s more likely to happen is that we see a bubble burst. For a social media platform to grow as quickly as Snapchat or Instagram did, a ton of venture capital funding is required. Venture capitalists are becoming wary of investing in social platforms without having a provable model of income. Twitter is a great example of this — they’ve struggled to make their platform profitable. They’re great as a news source but are struggling to prove the conversion potential which is a primary goal for most brands looking to invest in paid social activity.

Before we see a new boom, the current platforms have to prove themselves. But that’s just a statement about the US market. What’s also likely is that US brands look to international markets and see if any of the social media platforms unique to Europe, Africa, and Asia can be made relevant to the US market.

How do you gauge whether a new platform on the scene has the potential to “stick”?
The potential to stick is about being different, better and usable. A platform has to be unique, offer something different and do whatever that is better than the competitors can. It also has to prove people actually want it (ie the volume of active users) and usability. If a platform is confusing and requires a lot of user education, it will take much longer to earn a place in a user’s social media routine — if they do at all. After that, it’s just a question of waiting and seeing. It’s difficult to predict exactly what combined factors make something catch on long-term. There’s always an element of randomness to it. Which, honestly, is part of the fun.

Emma Zumsen
Integrated Strategy