In a very short period of time, social media has completely changed the landscape of communications in the modern world. It has impacted every facet of our social, professional, and political lives. It has been such a shock to the system that many folks in Silicon Valley who helped to spearhead our socially connected world are now spending increasing time and energy on trying to grapple with some of the unintended consequences of social media’s impact. Free speech, censorship, tech addiction, political manipulation, and choke points for national security are just a few of the hot button issues. I don’t think people like Mark Zuckerberg ever thought they would be confronting these run-away issues when they created their early chat and bulletin board platforms.
While those running these programs try to navigate this complex environment, the rest of us are busy trying to figure out what opportunities this landscape offers us. How can we best benefit from and leverage these platforms for our businesses? In some way, social media and platforms like YouTube have torn down traditional barriers to entry and dramatically lowered the necessary capital investments needed to mount effective marketing campaigns. In other ways, the fast and continuously evolving nature of these platforms makes it exceedingly difficult to know how and where to invest advertising money and marketing efforts.
Do you create a blog? Or video content? Should you throw your dice at Facebook or Instagram or Tik-Tok? What game changing social media app will appear tomorrow and how will it change the game? What technology and applications will achieve mass adoption, for at least a few precious minutes?
While there is much to be considered, I’d like to focus on two important aspects that set social media apart from virtually every other form of marketing and advertising.
Analytics. Never before have marketers and companies been able to track and analyze the real-time analytics of their branding efforts in such an accurate and granular way. Social media platforms offer us an incredible view of who is engaging with our marketing content. We can break down viewers ranging from traditional demographics to much more detailed psychometrics. On top of that, much of this ability comes to us very cheaply and in some cases for free.
Traditionally, a company could spend thousands of dollars on pieces of content to publish on a television network or radio station that offered only wide-net demographic information about their viewership. This meant companies were heavily incentivized to create content (and brands) which was appealing en masse.
Of course, there is still, and always will be, value in this approach. Casting a wide net and trying to appeal to the masses is hardly ever a bad idea. However, certain products, brands, and services really benefit from creating much more targeted niche messaging in their brand development. This can be done now with the detailed analytic information available in the digital space and at a fraction of the cost.
A start-up today that is savvy with its analytics and brand can engage in a virtually DIY marketing campaign rivaling some of the most expensive campaigns from the most prominent companies. This is all thanks to social media platform simplicity and integrated digital analytics.
Fractured Reality. One of the things social media has done – this is in-part a bi-product of the analytics outlined above – is that it has shattered our shared reality. When our information sources were homogenized and characterized as “wide-net, mass appeal” broadcasts, our engagement was shared across a large community of consumers. We may have had different opinions, but we were all basically operating from a single reality. Coke was better than Pepsi or Pepsi was better than Coke but Pepsi and Coke were sodas, and if you went to a movie theater or a restaurant you had your choice.
Today, on the other hand, thanks in large part to the nature of social media, we now live in a world inundated with manipulated information, conspiracy theories, “experts” promoting every possible viewpoint, and we are locked into our personally tailored echo chambers.
As a marketer, it’s essential to understand that your target audience is insulated in their own world. We must then create content that is conscious of this to be effective. If we attempt to create more traditional content with a wide net; it will diffuse and spread thin as it penetrates multiple echo chambers. It can, therefore, be more effective (particularly for smaller companies with tighter budgets) to cultivate more specific marketing content targeting more specific echo chambers.
An excellent example of this can be found in the gun industry. If you are not a gun owner, you may have never even seen an ad for ammunition or guns on social media. But the second you buy a gun, a box of ammo, or read a review of the latest optic, suddenly it’s like your entire digital experience turns into a dystopian future where guns are the only thing worth spending your money on. Out of nowhere you will begin seeing content from media publications heavily bent towards one worldview and despite never having thought of it before, suddenly you don’t think you can make it another day without a GPS wristwatch and a basement full of dried food. This is not an accident. This is because gun culture represents a powerful Venn diagram of very specific consumer groups designated by psychometrics and spending habits and that are very susceptible to specific industry messaging.
Conclusion. This digital/social space is changing daily. Flexibility and keeping your thumb on the pulse are essential. But two things that we know are baked into this environment are robust analytics and the fractured reality created by algorithmically driven echo chambers. As marketers, we can exponentially increase our effectiveness and ROI by learning how to disseminate our analytical data and by learning about psychometrics. We then can utilize specific tools to turn that data into meaningful brand content eliciting constant engagement from the targeted audiences.
For big companies with enormous budgets, the traditional wide-net approach can still generate huge returns. For smaller companies, with more limited budgets, taking advantage of the hyper focused nature of social media can be completely transformational. Your business or client’s business’ ability to grow and grab more market share may live within your ability to penetrate personal echo chambers, one at a time.