Thinking beyond social media

This past week Facebook had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Actually, they had 7 of them – in a row. For those of you familiar with the children’s book about Alexander’s bad day, I think it’s safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg would have been happy if the worst  thing he had done was an accidental phone call to Australia. A damaging New York Times investigative piece was published earlier in the week, accusing top executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of “Delay, Deny and Deflect” in response to knowledge of how the platform was being used by foreign account managers to distribute content meant to influence US national elections. The stock price took one sucker punch after another throughout the week.

The company of course still continues to make money hand over fist in advertising revenue, as businesses scramble to connect with the 2.2 billion users globally, all data profiled for their picking.

Is it a day of reckoning for them? Not likely, but it certainly signals their maturity, having hit a point where they are unlikely to sustain the previous pattern of growth. Some people will of course switch to Instagram, and many already have, particularly millennials, but that platform too will suffer the same folly in time. Both after all, are governed by the same owners driving the algorithms.

Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. And that’s saying something as a marketer. I love how these platforms have connected family and friends. I have an appreciation for the opportunities they have offered to business to connect with customers. But I have a distaste for how they have robbed a generation of genuine connection and conversation while fostering mental health issues through addictive behavior. And I have an equal distaste for how the platforms have been used to manipulate the delivery of journalism and truth.

So where to from here?

These platforms will continue on for sure, but the audience over time will likely fragment into other platforms and direct messaging applications. LinkedIn is likely to skirt much of the fuss, which will allow it to continue to be a great B2B tool for sharing content and publishing posts. Twitter doesn’t use algorithms in regulating content delivery, so depending on the audience built there and how engaging you are with them, it is still a direct platform of sorts. But it’s a firehose of content. Pinterest has its own unique world and google like search within the platform, which isolate it from the algorithm angst that Facebook suffers. Youtube is its own animal – powerful if you’re already there, but a struggle if you’re just starting. And algorithms definitely govern content discovery to favour paid customers.

Direct messaging platforms such as Messenger and WhatsApp deliver personalized alternatives. But I don’t think for a moment that once companies like Facebook become more successful at monetizing direct messaging for businesses reaching consumers, that the same thing won’t happen. Once a few too many businesses direct message us with stuff we weren’t engaged with them about already, the gig will be up. I give it 12-18 months for marketers to screw it up. Until then, direct messaging offers great opportunity.

Honestly, it all keeps coming back to owning your own channel and content. Where you can nurture an audience and tell your own truth. A blog, podcast or enewsletter with subscribers. And then add to that where you are able, “earned media” – where a platform of record and reputation with a large distribution, writes or broadcasts about you, or allows you to publish your own content as a contributor – which is what I call “embedded media.”

Is social media going away? Hardly. But we’d be foolish to place all our communication needs in its basket.

Mary Charleson

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