“We have officially entered the EXTRACTION phase for social media”, according to Michael Stelzner, from Social Media Examiner. It’s yet to be seen if this phase of social media platforms will sunset as they parallel the oil and gas industry – driven by profits while extracting riches from users, but it’s a curious visual for what’s happening.
Social Media Marketing World is a conference in San Diego I attend annually. It’s a great place to network with global industry leaders, learn about trends, changes and what to expect in the coming year. This posts shares some insight from Michael Stelzner’s opening keynote, along with some of my own additional thoughts.
This year he acknowledged two big trends: Social media has been driving LESS traffic to websites over time, and it has been doing LESS to improve sales for many companies. To illustrate, he noted 87% of people said social media efforts drove traffic to their website in 2019, but that number had dropped to 75% in 2022. While 72% said social media helped drive sales in 2019, only 56% agreed in 2022. Granted, these are still positive numbers overall, but the trend is what was concerning.
He put forth a theory called the S-Curve, the brainchild of Chris Dixon, to explain how the relationship between platforms and users changes over time. Initially it’s all about growth, and as growth of users flattens out, it becomes all about EXTRACTION of value from users over time.
If we consider Facebook just as one example, we can see the evolution from launch in 2004 as a social site, to adding the newsfeed in 2006, pages, social ads and insights in 2007, the like button in 2009, acquiring Messenger in 2011, and Instagram in 2012 before going public. Between 2012 and 2018 it was still about growth, but also extracting value for shareholders through the ad revenue model. In 2018 they shifted the algorithm from relevant content to meaningful social interactions. Traffic declined sharply because Facebook changed the rules that brought traffic from the feed to outside sites. Now in 2022, they have dropped the reference to “news feed” and are just calling it “the feed”, which signals they have likely hit to top of the S-Curve. It’s no longer about attracting users. It’s about extracting value from data over time.
But here’s the curious thing, pretty much ALL platforms are reaching the plateau of the curve, with the possible exception of TikTok, but even they blew through adolescence and into adulthood this past year. Our tactics need to adapt when platforms hit the plateau. And that is now happening at scale.
In 2018 people came to Facebook for two primary reasons: to connect with family and friends, and to read content linking out to websites which informed them about what was happening in the world. Since 2018, the focus has shifted to groups and discussions – meaningful interactions focus.
So what should we do if it’s known an outside link will have minimum reach? Facebook may be far into the extraction phase, but there are still A LOT of people on the platform. 2.9 billion to be exact. And with penetration numbers across all demographic age groups solidly in their favor, the platform is still worthy of our attention.
But we need to rethink how we do organic content. Fan growth and followers are now a dead metric. Yes, you read that correctly.
Those numbers provide social proof, but that’s about it, since the algorithm restricts who sees your stuff, without paying for audience targeting. But there are a couple signals from Facebook revealing what people will see more of in terms of top posts in 2022:
Text based posts
Text only posts, often posing a question, placed in large type on a colored or graphically designed background. Testing has shown this type of post gets lots of interaction and engagement (especially questions), distribution and organic reach. This is a different kind of marketing, almost old school branding and top of mind awareness. You can put your website as a link in the comments and it doesn’t seem to impact the numbers. But even if people never click, they see your company and top of mind awareness over time.
Video, published natively receives more exposure in the feed, and usually more comments, interactions and shares. One trick seems to be to publish on a personal page first, then republish on a page (not shared from the personal page) to get maximum organic reach. Native video is definitely favored in the feed. Having text captions is a good option, since some people watch video in public places with the audio off. YouTube video links are very 2018. Facebook’s algorithm will limit their reach.
The shift to video isn’t just a Facebook thing though. We’re seeing it being highlighted across all platforms. Instagram made radical changes to favor video, starting with Reels in 2020 and IG video in 2021, which replaced IGTV. Instagram has signaled further changes are coming with words “we will rethink what IG is in 2022” and “Instagram is no longer a photo sharing platform”. Early indications are a shift to favor both video and entertainment. But the likely most massive change will be a shift to organically serving entertaining content shared to those beyond your followers. There are signals the algorithm will shift to finding you an audience (like YouTube does now) which you’ll earn with valued content, soon to be defined as entertaining content. You won’t be relying on followers. That’s a radical change, and what you see on IG will likely flow over to FB.
Follower counts will be out. And being able to write, talk or perform to attract an audience will be in. This will favor video and audio creators, as well as writers.
Does your head hurt yet? Feeling a little shaky on this rented ground as it shifts?
It’s one of the reasons I’ve always stressed the value in being able to connect directly with your audience, and not being hostage to an outside platform. Or at the very least diversifying across platforms so you are not exposed to big changes.
By hitting the top of the S-Curve with an objective to abstract value, the focus has shifted. Everything is moving back to content it would seem.
But this is also where creators come back into play, and the growth of the creator economy within Web 3.0 which will feature the decentralized structure of the blockchain. We’re already seeing early signs with creator coins, NFT projects with utility and communities behind them, and a financial model that shares with creators, rather than extracting from the top, for the exclusive benefit a centralized company. If you want to dive deeper, check out my post “NFTs, crypto, blockchain & the Metaverse: what marketers need to know.”
The next few years will be interesting as the mature top of the curve and extraction continues on platforms we’ve come to know (and sometimes love) while a new model emerges – which frankly will challenge platforms like Facebook. It’s likely we won’t recognize the internet as we know it a decade from now.
Is it any wonder that Zuckerberg is trying to own mindshare by rebranding as META, for the metaverse? Oh, and NFTs will be coming to Instagram sooner than later. That was announced at SXSW, but that’s a topic for another post…