Social Business Strategy – The Law of the Squeezing Social Media Networks
What happened in 2014 in the field of digital marketing can best be compared with the Law of Bernoulli.
This law is very simple to understand: put your foot on a water hose and turn on the tap. What happens next, in my imagination, is a bubble of water that appears in the hose, just like in the Tom & Jerry cartoons from my childhood. On one side of the bubble, the pressure is higher. And on the other side, at the far end, only a little bit of water comes out. Take your foot of the water hose, and “voilà”, there is again plenty of water. Agreed, Bernoulli’s law is more complex than that, but this is supposed to be Bernoulli’s law “for dummies”.
In 2014, we’ve seen that Facebook started putting both feet firmly on our social media water hoses. Where we used to enjoy delicious free organic reach for our content, with “Facebook Zero” that organic reach came to a standstill. If we want to reach our Facebook friends as a brand, an hose them down with our updates, we’ll have to pay “please-get-your-foot-of-the-water-hose”-money to Facebook.
What is less known is that not only Facebook is doing this. Other titans like Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn are taking steps in this direction.
Why do they do that? Obviously it comes down to money.
But it’s about more than just money …
Data tsunamis can’t get through water hoses
When someone steps on such a water hose, in my cartoon-imagination, a gigantic water bubble is formed, which can burst any moment. This bubble represents the gigantic data-pressure that we all together create every day.
We’re Instagramming, Facebooking, Blogging, Pinning and Google+’ing until we drop.
According to IBM, we produce a sloppy 2.5 Exabyte per day. Such Exabyte’s are hard to picture. It corresponds to the entire Netflix catalog, streamed 8,000 times, every day. And in 2015, we’ve entered the year of the “Zettabyte” says Cisco. Such Zettabyte may sound like the latest mosquito ointment, but a Zettabyte corresponds to the same Netflix streaming 250 billion DVD movies per year over the Internet.
At a certain point it is impossible for people to even consume all that content. Mark Schaeffer, a content marketing guru from the US, even talks about a “content shock.”
For brands, today it has become really difficult or even impossible to catch the attention of buyers. Unless you have a lot of money of course. Then you have the budget to create the best content, and you can additionally throw in a lot of money to get your content seen. But for small brands, it has become ‘darn difficult’.
You can compare it to trying to drink from a water hydrant. Pleasant for consumers, but painful for brands.
You realize that such a huge amount of content can not possibly be unleashed on your social feed or search results without a proper filter. Sounds normal you think, and I agree with you: it is normal today.
But in 2014 we saw something new. Many of these social networks have made significant changes that herald something completely different. The best-known measures in 2014 were Facebook with their “Facebook Zero“, “click-bait headlines” and “like-gating”, Google with Hummingbird & Panda (updates to their search algorithms), and Twitter announced to start filtering on … Relevance .
Yes, relevance, with a capital ‘R’.
Why do they do that? All these players protect themselves more and more, by banning junk from your news feed. Only qualitative and relevant content is still passes. This way Facebook end-users keep using their network and preferably as much time as possible per day. And that’s on its turn is good for ad revenue of Facebook.
LinkedIn also is doing similar things, albeit in a different way. Filtering your news feed with “Pulse” is something they already do for quite some time. But in 2014, LinkedIn has opened their “thought leadership” platform to everyone. Thereby creating a new information tsunami toward their professional users.
If you want your brand messages to still get through those filters, you have limited options. On Facebook, this means you have to pay to get into the news feed, and at all other major social networks and Google you need to significantly boost the quality of your content.
The problem with this is that only those with deep pockets still get sufficient reach on these networks. And whenever Google or Facebook want, they increase their pricing.
Until the day you no longer want or can afford to pay.
Predictive networks pose new challenges to brands
Google Now tries to predict what you need. Today, Google Now is ingrained in Android, Google’s mobile operating system. But also more and more embedded in other services from Google. It tells you when to leave to be on time for your appointment. It tells you where you get the best deals, and it keeps you in real-time updated about the latest news of your favorite sports teams.
Predictive search it is called. With this, search results also become more contextually relevant and personal. Before you know it, predictive search will be embedded in other smart devices. Today it is already in refrigerators, mirrors and thermostats. Tomorrow it will be embedded in neural implants with cloud-based artificial intelligence (OK, maybe not tomorrow, but certainly the day after tomorrow ;-) ).
In any case, this predictive search trend has started and is unstoppable. Social networks try to predict what updates from your friends you will like, or which updates of paying companies you might like. Also they will evolve further down this predictive trend.
Such an environment provides enormous new challenges for brands:
- What can you do to optimize the performance of your content in such a “predictive” environment?
- How to reach your target audience in an era of data-tsunamis?
- And how will a customer find your content when everyone goes for the best content quality?
Your competition for online attention is not only coming from your direct competition. It is everything and everyone. That includes pictures from cats, the news, and updates from families and friends.
Without deep pockets, with lots of small water hoses
“If you can’t beat them, join them” is a common expression. But, and this is a good thing, what social networks can’t stop is that users interact on social networks. It’s their “raison d’être” as they say in French. It’s their lifeblood, the reason why they exist.
When people connect with others who have similar interests, similar relationships or similar background, then something amazing happens: they trust each other. And when people trust their peers, they will be more inclined to believe and respond to stories that are shared.
To continue the comparison with water hoses, as a company we should try to put many small water hoses between our employees and our customers. This kind of little water tubes cannot be squeezed. These little water tubes represent the personal social media connections between employees and customers, prospects and peers. Employees then share relevant and useful information, listen to customers, and help where needed.
This is what is called Social Business. IBM, Dell, Cisco, Adobe and some others are frontrunners when it comes to execution on a social business strategy. They are leaders because these companies can invest above average. If you want to know how they do that, and what smaller companies can learn, I’ve written a blog post about this subject.
Fortunately, smaller companies can obviously observe, and learn from the cultural and technological experiments of these companies.
Sophisticated customer insight is king
The road to social business is through your employees, that much is clear. But employees should be enabled to do this. Classically ‘enabling’ runs through training programs, gamification, incentives and clear objectives.
I continue to believe that understanding customers is the key to a social business strategy. Marketers must use sophisticated means to gain insight into customers. They need to organize themselves so that with this information a permanent cycle of content creation, interaction, measurement and optimization can be created. With this, they continuously formulate the best answers to customer questions, which employees distribute and amplify.
When Google or Facebook or whoever further tinker with their algorithms, marketers who understand and act upon this wisdom should not be worried. Their brand messages will remain to be found .
This, dear blog reader, are what I consider the digital marketers of the future.
That’s it for this one. Let me know in the comment box, if you agree or disagree. What do you want to add?
Tom De Baere
Image Credits: RyanMcGuire, license: CC0 (Public domain)