More than a decade has passed since social media debuted in the marketer’s toolkit. Say the name Myspace these days and you’re likely to hear snickers. But, the social platform that enjoyed a meteoric rise and flameout in the mid-2000s was a critical opening act. Myspace served as many marketers’ first foray into social media: a test and learn opportunity to determine if these emerging platforms were an effective way to reach consumers. A dozen years later, we’re still experimenting in this ever-changing space, but social media has undoubtedly earned a place at the head table.
By 2008, Myspace had given way to Facebook, which has maintained a dominant position ever since. The evolution of Facebook highlights one of social media’s key shifts: the decreasing importance of organic reach and the rise of paid visibility. In the early years of Facebook, brands raced to acquire fans and push out content. As affinity groups surged past a million, marketers could count on six-figure audiences seeing their content. But, Facebook was playing a savvy long-game. Shortly after the company went public, they introduced the concept of promoted posts. Companies who had grown accustomed to reaching their many fans through the click of a button would now have to put dollars behind their posts in order for the content to be viewed by a wide audience.
While some viewed Facebook’s shift as a frustrating bait-and-switch, the evolution to a paid amplification model presented many advantages. Paid amplification allows social media marketers to reach an audience beyond their fans and followers. In the early years, marketers used social media to engage with super fans that had opted to follow the brand. While there’s value in communicating to your loyal consumers, companies looking to expand their base found this limiting. Today, companies use social media’s sophisticated targeting tools to introduce their products and services to audiences that can be as broad or as narrow as they choose. To the extent that your online activities give social platforms a picture of who you are, marketers can deliver content they believe is of value to you.
Social media has moved well beyond just Facebook, with Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat among the many platforms to consider. Despite a natural tendency to establish a presence each time a new social platform debuts, not every opportunity is right for every brand. Just as traditional advertisers weigh the value of television versus print versus online, social marketers should consider each platform’s unique strengths to see if those attributes are a fit for their brand. Pinterest and Instagram, for example, are fertile territory for brands with a wealth of visual content, but those with limited photo galleries may find greater effectiveness elsewhere. Companies now create robust social media channel plans that define the role that each social platform plays in the overall marketing strategy.
Once viewed as a niche tactic, social media has evolved into a valued integrated marketing discipline. Effective social media strategies should be closely coordinated with a company’s media buying plan, while amplifying the look and tone of other marketing activations. While the current menu offers seemingly endless options, the next industry-changing social platform is likely not far from debut.
Written by Dan Skinner, Brand Communications Manager at Conagra Brands
Edited by Timbra Dye, Medill IMC Class Of 2017