For the longest time, marketers have had the wrong expectations from social media.
I’ve spent years, both on the agency side and the client side, hearing about the need to “educate”, “drive engagement”, “sell”, “build awareness”, “drive traffic” and other such goals. All devised with the intention of “moving the needle”.
To be fair, I’ve been part of the problem, pitching these expectations to clients. And at this point, I’m willing to go out a limb and suggest that I’ve been mistaken.
When marketers write an integrated communications brief, we do it with an end goal in mind:
- Increase usage by x points over the course of the year
- Sell y units by the end of the quarter
- Convince z people to sign up for the programme
- And so on.
The error we make is the assumption that (organic) social media can have an outsized impact on these ROI/revenue-driven goals the way that paid media does.
Why is this assumption an error?
As of 30 June 2016, India’s Internet-going audience was estimated at about 462M users. This is roughly 37% of India’s population.
Here are the reach figures for the top 3 social networks in India.
- Facebook: 161M (Source: Facebook Ads Manager)
- LinkedIn: 35M (Source: Statista.com)
- Twitter: 23.2M (Source: Statista.com)
- Instagram: 16M (Source: Napoleoncat.com)
It’s fair to assume that everyone with a LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram profile is also on Facebook. So, the size of India’s social media population is 161M. This works out to 35% of India’s Internet population and 13% of India’s overall population.
We also know that, courtesy algorithms, current Facebook organic reach for pages with over 50,000 followers is at a mere 1%. Or even less for pages with high fan following. This article dated June 2016 pegs it at 2% and declining fast, towards zero. Facebook will also cut organic reach for posts that they deem too promotional.
So, here’s best case scenario for a brand with 18M fans on Facebook, assuming no further decline in reach:
The absolute maximum reach a single Facebook post can get is 1% of 18M = 0.18M = 0.000144% of India’s population. Assume that a brand creates 5 organic posts a day, each of which reaches a different audience (which we know is not true), you get to about 0.9M people a day. Or a mere 0.00072% of India’s population.
With figures like this, there is absolutely no way organic social media content can move the needle on ROI/revenue goals at scale for large brands.
So what should the end goal of social media be?
Let’s remind ourselves that social media is not a place people visit to shop. They’re here to kill time. To be distracted. To be entertained. To see what’s going on in the world at large. To share stuff that helps them build the image they want for themselves.
It’s true. People share things that help them appear interesting, knowledgeable, opinionated, concerned, trendy, cool, fashionable, successful, happy, and so on. Things that they subconsciously believe will raise their esteem in the eyes of their networks. Every analysis I’ve ever read points out different things that people share, and different reasons. The common thread uniting them all: the not-so-latent need for everyone to be seen in a very positive light by their peers.
This is where we marketers have a chance. Because, among all the other things people post to boost their image, are the products and services they use; the useful products and services they want to tell their networks about; and the brands they feel suit the image they want to create for themselves.
If we can create content that builds both brands – ours, and the user’s – we have found a recipe for social sharing, a recipe for starting positive conversations about our brand.
A recipe for brand love and advocacy.
Which, of course, has a knock-on effect on sales and revenue.
And that, grasshopper, is what we should orient our social media towards.