Social media, what is it good for?

As you can probably tell, I took the title for this blog straight from a song called War by Edwin Starr (which you are welcome to listen to while you read this post). While I do not believe social media is good for ‘absolutely nothing’ as Starr suggests regarding war, the usage of ‘good’ in this instance is something I would like to dissect. For what exactly is ‘good’?

In the words of Peter Singer, ‘good’ would be classified as the greatest benefit to society in which we are able to contribute. But as a marketer or business owner, ‘good’ is entirely dependent on what strategy or objective is in place when it comes to delivering customer value, and the channel or platform’s ability to achieve that.

Over the weekend I have been reading various articles suggested by the RMIT university syllabus – relating to digital strategy, social media strategy and the ways in which business and consumers interact with online platforms. And honestly, it’s clear to see, through my own research and the university readings, that there is a thought trend among industry veterans that differs from those starting out in digital careers (newsflash: digital may be big, but it isn’t everything). Whether this is an inability to adapt to the new generation or simply wisdom, I am inclined to believe the dinosaurs. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

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When it comes to the average social media user, most would think that getting the highest number of likes and thereby exposure, is what social media is good for. Seeing the numbers tick over, the little ping on your phone indicating a notification can be intoxicating – it can make us feel as though we are really doing something important. Now, don’t get me wrong, exposure is great, but as we all know, 100,000 views does not necessarily translate into an equal number of sales, or even consumer attention a day later, making this myopic definition of ‘good’ fall rather flat.

It isn’t the numbers we should be paying attention to (unless we’re looking to become employed by YouTube), but rather, questioning, are they the right numbers? Is this the right strategy? And, could we be reaching the right numbers (our true segment) through a different avenue? For such a labour intensive undertaking, you don’t want to be marketing blind. Indeed, according to Erin Williamson from Yellow, ‘all businesses agree that the most frustrating aspect of social media is constantly thinking of new content and making those constant changes’.

Like any marketing channel, social media isn’t inherently ‘good’ or even better than any other (and in some ways, it may even be damaging or unethical, but we’ll get to that later). It should also be understood that there are a multitude of social media platforms which all perform differently and no matter what marketing tools you are using, your content still needs to be worthy of attention. According to Kaplan & Haenlein (2010), these platforms can be categorised as collaborative projects (such as Wikipedia), blogs (such as what you are reading now), content communities (such as YouTube), social networking sites (such as Facebook), virtual game worlds (such as Fortnite, League of Legends and other online games) and virtual social worlds (such as Second Life or Habbo Hotel). Whether a brand gains the attention of the consumer is entirely dependent on how intelligently they have researched how to reach their target and how inventive they are at implementing their strategy. The way you reach a consumer playing Fortnite would be a completely different set of tasks and goals compared with Facebook.

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So, enough waffling, we all know we need to be strategically creative to succeed in marketing and in business. Let’s look at some stats. In Australia, the Yellow Social Media Report 2018 (split into two parts) has come up with some insights for both consumer and business behaviour alike. For consumers, the most popular platform is Facebook (79 percent), followed by YouTube (53 percent) and Instagram (39 percent) – Twitter (19 percent and falling) appears to be going down the gurgler, but I doubt anyone is surprised by that. Additionally, perhaps the most important learning for business is that 68 percent of consumers read online reviews prior to making a purchase. I know I personally am apprehensive about making a purchase online if there aren’t any reviews available to use as a benchmark for my decision and I doubt I’m the only one. There is a reason why websites that allow you to compare your options such as TripAdvisor, Zomato and Skyscanner have become so popular.

The images in this blog post weren’t chosen by accident either, according to the Sensis Social Media Report, a whopping 81 percent prefer to use their smart device (rather than laptop or desktop) to access content, and of the 96 percent who use social media primarily at home, 84 percent are viewing posts in the lounge room more than any other area. Outside of the home, social media is accessed mostly at work or on public transport. This means that businesses need to continually focus on improving their integrated marketing communication to work in a variety of different formats and at different times of the day, as dictated by their target market – if you can seamlessly translate your website into a functional mobile app or scalable iPad design with relevant content geared towards the time in which it is viewed, Australians will thank you for it.

There is no doubt the numbers are big, which is why social media marketing can be so enticing for business, particularly SMEs or start-ups with small monetary budgets (yet surplus human capital). However, when something appears too good to be true, it usually is.

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With so many consumers using these platforms, and the world becoming increasingly global, brands need to have a solid contingency plan within their social media marketing strategy for when things go pear-shaped. Diplomacy, empathy, accountability and humility has never been more important for a brand to display – a press release tomorrow morning isn’t going to solve a blow up happening on Facebook right now because one consumer found a huntsman in their bag of lettuce. What’s more, the internet never forgets – everything is published forever, which, if managed incorrectly, can be lethal for even an established brand.

With the recent congress hearing regarding Facebook’s privacy policy, ethics and social media are in an extremely delicate balance. Never before have marketers had access to such intimate details of such a wide range of consumers, but is it really fair for business to capitalise on information (or data) that was never intended to be advertised to anyone other than family or friends? There seem to be two key conflicting thoughts here – the consumer and legal bodies say ‘no’, while the businesses, scientists and researchers say ‘yes’ on the presumption that studying consumer behaviour will make the world a better place when it comes to product selection, services and future technological developments. Of course, like ‘good’, ‘better’ is a pretty vague measurement tool, and as shown above, entirely subjective. How digital giants such as Facebook and Google face off against the growing legal concerns will certainly be an interesting future to watch.

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So, what do you think? Should we all as marketers be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch etc. with a focus primarily on social media? Or should we be thinking critically about how to manage our time and resources, across various marketing platforms and channels? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

All images are royalty free and have been sourced from Pexels. All text © Hannah Dunlop 2018.

8 Comments

  1. I find the stuff you wrote about privacy in the modern day to be really interesting – I wanted to explore that further in my work this week but ran out of time. What interests me is not only the data ‘owners’ (i.e. Facebook), but also the role of the brands using this information. It’ll be interesting to see how this new dimension of consumer-brand relationships is redefined by the privacy question in the coming years!

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    1. Absolutely. I think internet privacy is something only a select few have really been actively concerned with (Anonymous etc.) until fairly recently, which is interesting when you consider just how valuable our information is (which we are so carelessly sharing) and just how easily it could fall into the wrong hands. Here’s hoping George Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t an accurate prediction of the future.

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  2. I couldn’t agree with you anymore Hannah, I do believe that social media isn’t necessarily considered good and that business shouldn’t invest their time and effort solely upon social media. They do need a contingency plan and ensure they don’t end up frantically picking up the pieces of a failed ‘Integrated Marketing Plan’. Will be interesting to see what companies do once the trend on depending on social media entirely (digitally marketing wise) takes a turn elsewhere. What will Organization’s do!

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    1. Yes, it will be very interesting! I imagine it will be some new technology which provides wide exposure. Much like how the obsession with social media now was mimicked when television was first introduced (particularly colour) and the newspaper. In a way, wide exposure platforms are the lazy marketer’s dream.

      This could be a long time coming, but I think the next big thing might have something to do with more advanced wearable technology and people becoming somewhat cyborg (human and machine – in a way it’s already happening). This would provide marketers access to our most intimate details (not just those we post on the internet), however, the ethics and legalities of such practices would be interesting to dissect as well. Not to mention how we would manage all that data!

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  3. Hi Hannah,

    With social media the privacy aspect is bang on; its funny that when I started using social media I had no real concept of how much information I was giving away and as a 13-year-old registering my MSN account seemed like no big deal. But if I had my time again I’d be so much more selective with what information I’d provide over what platforms; which in turn from a marketing point-of-view means that if I had am withholding or at some points providing outright incorrect information that its just unreliable for marketers to use in their process, kind of shitting all over the idea that its important to be across ‘all forms of social media’ . Its interesting reading this as one of your earlier blog posts and how much more you’ve delved into aspects of privacy, internet presence and social media in some of your later entries – this particular post seems very ‘rose tinted glasses’ in comparison to them.

    Interesting read and some great links in there too.

    Thanks,
    Bette
    bettewarddigitalmarketing.wordpress.com

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    1. Hey Bette! Thank you again for taking the time to read my blog and for leaving another comment. I really appreciate it and hope all is going well with your blog as well.

      That’s a very interesting point. As marketers we are taught to use the data online in order to make predictions about consumers, but what if everyone were just giving us false or rubbish information? That in itself would be rather humorous. Perhaps the day will come when the internet is just nonsense, or a complex code unable to be detected.

      Yes – I think I was still finding my feet and certainly didn’t have as much knowledge at my fingertips. As the semester has progressed I have learned a lot and have also become a lot more comfortable communicating! Living in Switzerland really took a toll on my communication skills as with the language differences my brain became a little muddled. So thank you for your kind words.

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