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How To Make Social Media Work When 90% Of It Is Broken

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The whole idea that we have of social media is completely out of date. Most of the marketers I interview, most of the marketers who approach me, most of the brands out there, are working out of playbooks that are so far obsolete they might as well be writing their tweets on a Commodore 64.

Everything has shifted. The boundaries have changed, and the way we communicate online has taken a massive hit, in the zeitgeist and in the practicalities of every day use. And the broadcast model that we’ve built so much infrastructure on? It’s completely messed up.

What is the broadcast model? It’s shouting from the rooftops.

That’s what most brands and most influencers are still doing. They’re making posts and blasting them onto a public stream for exposure, to increasingly diminishing returns and pointless vanity metrics (honestly, GTFO with your “impressions” m8) and it’s basically shouting into the void.

The broadcast model is predicated on a non-algorithmic system that displays the content you share to some “audience” in a chronological order, and pushes them to engage as they scroll. That’s been broken for a long time now. Every platform with a public broadcast feed has turned it into an algorithm that barely shows a post to the people you’re chasing.

But even bey0nd the algorithm, the passivity of the broadcast model is anathema to the behaviours and consumption habits of people today, who live in a world of informed choice and curation and have no need for you to be shouting at them all day long with your badly branded Richard Branson quote images built on a free Canva account that your boss is too cheap to pay for.

You’re not getting traction on these posts. If you look at your numbers in the cold light of reason, if you ask whether or not the numbers have an impact on any important metric in your business, you’re going to have to admit that the answer is…no. No, those numbers are pointless ant they’re wasting your time.

So what’s the alternative? There are 3 ways to use social right now.

…and basically only three. In my experience — which is a good 16 years of using and posting and creating content and selling things on social media — only these three are going to move the needle in any kind of meaningful way.

1. Collaborating

The first thing you’ve been getting wrong is this. Your readers and watchers are not some passive audience. The audience is the wrong paradigm. Audiences are a captive bunch of people sitting in an amphitheatre in ancient waiting to see Oedipus make a pass at his Mum, so captivated by the only form of entertainment they know (and the fact that the iPhone hadn’t been invented) to get up and walk out.

Your viewers and readers are not that. Your audience are incredibly engaged, or incredibly disengaged. Your audience are content creators. Your audience are living, breathing reflections of their own brands and their own voices and their own ways of working and consuming and sharing.

Your mission is not to display content in front of them. It’s to find a way to build a collaboration with them that can encourage them to take meaningful actions, to help them create content and engage with their own social circles, to help them extend your brand and to take on elements of theirs.

2. Messaging

You know what these folks want? They want privacy, communication and responsiveness. There is a reason that Instagram DMs are a massive channel, and it’s because that’s what people are using the platform for. Messaging has become such a huge part of the way younger gens use these platforms that socially, they’ve developed hierarchies of DMs that rank them in order of personal connection and importance.

I had a conversation on the weekend with an absolutely killer young content creator, early 20’s, who explained that for her generation, a Facebook DM is a brand / group chat level communication channel. Text messages via iMessage are the level up.

She categorised DMs as the equivalent of email. And that’s what they are. But email is an incredibly powerful marketing channel, and if they see DMs as being valuable but layered, you can and should be focusing on owning one of those layers.

3. Advertising

Yep. That’s the last channel. Because efficient and powerful social media advertising still works, and it always will, as long as you are doing it in a creative, user focused, non-spam, responsive way. If you’re chucking ads at people who don’t care, you’re wasting your time and theirs.

If you’re creating campaigns that are inspired and based on collaboration and and collaborative content, you’ll be playing the long game.

The broadcast model used to work. We had a good run. It’s over.

Working with Flare, we have a marketing budget that would have been massively focused on social media content creation and curation on the broadcast model, back in 2013. But the world has changed. And these days, I don’t spend any time in my week making fancy social media graphics.

Instead, looking into Q1 next year, I’m solely focused on how I can push the collaborative and messaging channels for B2C comms, and right now, I’m advertising on social channels to support vertical campaign pushes.

The old model just doesn’t represent a sustainable or useful strategy. That’s the tea. We have to give up and move on.

I live in Sydney. And I write. jon@jonwestenberg.com

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