A year ago, I wrote a post entitled, “People have 87 hard questions about social media marketing.” Well, I’ve just used AnswerThePublic again to discover what people are asking about this topic now. And it’s worth noting that, after removing duplicates, people only have 54 hard questions that they hope their search engine can answer. But, these questions include:
In other words, it appears that the existential crises that was facing organic Facebook marketing last year has metastasized and spread to other social media platforms this year. Many organizations may not have noticed this long-term trend because they were focused on finding a short-term answer to a different question: “What does a digital marketing strategy look like in a pandemic?”
But, Chief Marketing Officers at big brands as well as the Vice Presidents of Marketing at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need to begin their planning for 2021 and beyond by asking themselves a hard question: “Is social media marketing dead or is it tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk like the Norwegian Blue parrot in the classic Monty Python sketch?
I know that this may seem like a silly question. So, the best way to give you a serious answer is to tackle the three other hard questions that people are also asking about social media marketing and then demonstrate whether or not it is resting, stunned, or probably pining for the fjords.
Does social media marketing work?
There is a significant amount of evidence that social media marketing works – but some of that evidence is counter-intuitive and controversial.
For example, an article in The New York Times entitled, “What to Expect From Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on Election Day,” by Mike Isaac, Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi shared these facts: “Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were misused by Russians to inflame American voters with divisive messages before the 2016 presidential election. The companies have spent the past four years trying to ensure that this November isn’t a repeat. They have spent billions of dollars improving their sites’ security, policies and processes. In recent months, with fears rising that violence may break out after the election, the companies have taken numerous steps to clamp down on falsehoods and highlight accurate and verified information.”
Ironically, these steps demonstrate that social media marketing does work – and it takes a concerted effort to try to stop Russian web brigades from using it. In other words, Russia’s troll army thinks social media marketing works even if a growing number of CMOs and VPs of Marketing believe that it doesn’t.
So, what do low-level Russian trolls know that vast majority of high-ranking marketing executives don’t? Workers in the troll factory understand that social media marketing works, but it doesn’t work the way many corporate executives think it does.
Far too many social media marketing campaigns use the hypodermic needle model of communication, which is also known as the Lasswell model of communication.
This model of communication was developed by Professor Harold Lasswell during World War II. He was Chief of the Experimental Division for the Study of War Time Communications at the Library of Congress of all places. And President Franklin D. Roosevelt had asked Lasswell how propaganda worked.
Although Lasswell’s model is regarded as “one of the earliest and most influential communication models,” it assumed that mass media had direct, immediate, and powerful effects on a mass audience. And it ignored a study of the 1940 U.S. Presidential election by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet that found a two-step flow of communication. The first step, from media sources to opinion leaders, is a transfer of information, but the second step, from opinion leaders to their followers, also involves the spread of interpersonal influence.
In the second edition of my book, YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day, which was published in November 2011, I used this two-step flow model to explain the role that opinion leaders play on YouTube. Since then, I’ve used this two-step flow model to illustrate why you need ideas worth spreading or content worth sharing to take advantage of how social media marketing works.
Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any CMOs or VPs of marketing who have read my book. So, I’m not shocked, shocked to find that the vast majority of marketing executives are still trying to “push” corporate propaganda through social media directly at their target audiences in the 21st Century just as their predecessors tried to do though mass media in the 20th Century.
So, social media marketing works. It just doesn’t work the same way mass media marketing worked.
Is social media marketing effective?
This brings us to the second hard question: “Is social media marketing effective?”
Well, it can be. And I’m not talking about using troll armies, sock puppets, and social bots to launch orchestrated, large-scale, disinformation campaigns. I talking about creating, co-creating, or curating “sharable content” to launch brand-building and performance marketing campaigns.
Why do you need sharable content? Well, according to the YouTube creator playbook for brands, “With the rise of social media platforms, sharing has become one of the most important ways to find and develop an audience. While you can’t guarantee any video will go viral, you can make it more shareable by using some proven tactics.”
And many of these tactics are spelled out in Dr. Karen Nelson-Field’s book, Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing, which was published in October 2013. Using original research from around 1,000 videos, nine individual studies, five different data sets, and more than two years of work by a large team of researchers from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, Viral Marketing offers solid advice on the nebulous business of video sharing.
For example, Dr. Nelson-Field says, “Video content that draws a high-arousal positive emotional response from its audience is shared 30% more, on average, than content that draws a high-arousal negative emotional response.”
In other words, video content that triggers high-arousal positive emotional responses like hilarity, inspiration, astonishment, and exhilaration is more sharable than video content that triggers high-arousal negative emotional responses like disgust, sadness, shock, and anger.
This means that big brands and SMEs can use social media marketing more effectively than even trolls and haters. Unfortunately, the vast majority don’t.
Why not? Well, many are risk averse. So, they form committees of decision-makers that act like nobody ever got fired for approving safer video content that produces positive, but low-arousal emotional responses like amusement, calmness, surprise, and happiness.
But, the researchers from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science looked at the combined effect of arousal (high or low) and valence (positive or negative) and they found that video content that generates a high-arousal emotional response, regardless of valence, can be shared twice as much as low arousal content.
So, more big brands and SMEs should eliminate committees from their decision-making processes, or, at the very least, they should fire the most risk-adverse members on these committees.
Fortunately, there are enough examples of sharable video content that triggers high-arousal positive emotional responses to demonstrate that social media marketing can be effective even if most big brands and SMEs are underwhelmed with the results of their own efforts.
To see an example of video content that triggers hilarity, watch “The whole working-from-home thing — Apple.” Uploaded to YouTube on July 13, 2020, this video’s description says, “The Underdogs are back, navigating their new normal with lots of unknowns but one reliable constant: Apple helps unleash their creativity and productivity even when they’re working from home.” This helps to explain why this 6-minute-and-55-second long video has 28.9 million views and 181,000 engagements (Likes, Comments, and Shares).
To see an example of video content that triggers inspiration, another high-arousal positive emotional response, watch “Never Too Far Down | You Can’t Stop Us | Nike.” Uploaded to YouTube on May 23, 2020, this video’s description says, “There’s a reason we love comeback stories. Watching LeBron James, Serena Williams and Tiger Woods, we see ourselves in them – our resolve, our grit, our hope. Now, more than ever, we need these stories to remind us what we’re capable of.” That helps to explain why this 90-second long video has 118 million views and 37,700 engagements.
Nike uploaded a similar version of this 90-second long video to Twitter on the same day. Its message is: “No matter what we’re up against, we are never too far down to come back.” And this inspiring video has 38.8 million views and 178,000 engagements (Hearts, Comments, and Retweets).
And Nike uploaded a 60-second version of this video to Instagram at the same time. Its message is: “No matter what we’re up against, we are never too far down to come back. #YouCantStopUs.” And this inspirational video has 17.9 million views and 1.2 million engagements (Hearts, Comments, and Shares).
To see an example of video content that triggers astonishment, watch “Danny MacAskill’s Gymnasium.” Uploaded to YouTube by Red Bull Bike on January 7, 2020, this five-minute-and-50-second long video’s description says, “New Year, New Tricks. Scottish Trials Bike legend Danny MacAskill shows us in his new film ‘Gymnasium’ that there are other ways to make your mark in the gym. Not a regular gym-goer by his own admission, YouTube sensation Danny stars in his new film and attempts to show the world that staying in shape doesn’t have to be daunting.” And this astonishing video has 11.3 million views and 149,000 engagements.
Red Bull uploaded a 27-second long version of the video to Instagram on January 10, 2020. Its message asks, “Can we just catch the full version streaming now?” And this helps explain why it got 3.1 million views and 382,000 engagements.
Red Bull also uploaded a three-minute-and-55-second long version to Facebook on the same day. It is entitled, “Danny MacAskill Gets Warmed Up In The Gymnasium.” And this helps to explain why it got 7.5 million views and 129,000 engagements (Reactions, Comments, and Shares).
Finally, to see an example of video content that triggers exhilaration, watch “Tales of Runeterra: Freljord | ‘The Raid’.” Uploaded to YouTube on April 9, 2020, this two-minute-and-56-second long video’s description asks, “Can you defend the heart of the Freljord?” This helps to explain why this exhilarating video got 16.0 million views and 203,000 engagements.
After watching these examples of video content that triggers high-arousal positive emotional responses like hilarity, inspiration, astonishment, and exhilaration, I hope that you are now convinced that social media marketing can be effective – even if it often isn’t.
Is social media marketing worth it?
Which brings us to the third hard question’ “Is social media marketing worth it?” Well, that depends on how you measure your results.
For example, you should stop tracking the number of Likes (Fans) or Followers that your Facebook Page has accumulated, as I explained in an article published by Search Engine Journal in September 2019 entitled, “Two Social Media Vanity Metrics You Need to Stop Tracking.”
But, don’t just take my word for it. Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and author of The Marketing <> Analytics Intersect newsletter, says the same thing.
In the July 24, 2020, edition of his newsletter, which is entitled, “TMAI #219: Social Media 2020: Accept. Adapt. Win.” Kaushik explained that Facebook’s News Feed has been driven by algorithms that reward engagements (Likes, Comments, and Shares) since June 2014. And, not coincidentally, organic reach for most brands and businesses has shrunk to well below 1%.
Kaushik said, “This means if you are JP Morgan Chase on Facebook and have 376,832 followers, less than 3,768 will see anything you post organically. A significantly smaller number than 3,768 will engage with your post. It was 84 for their latest one – less than total customer engagements with JPMC in one minute in the smallest US branch.”
And the vast majority of brands and businesses have seen their organic reach shrink on other social media platforms which use algorithms that reward the real active engagement of users with your social media content to determine which posts appear in a user’s feed. That’s why Kaushik thinks that organic social media marketing (OSMM) is now a “vanity project” for most companies and marketers.
This long-term trend explains why the existential crises that was facing organic Facebook marketing last year has metastasized and spread to other social media platforms this year. They’ve all fallen into what Kaushik calls the Zuck Death Spiral (ZDS).
So, how should you measure your results?
Well, back in October 2011, Kaushik wrote a post in his Occam’s Razor blog entitled, “Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value.” Here’s how you calculate each of these metrics and what they mean in plain English:
And in his July 2020 newsletter article, Kaushik said, “The best social media metrics have surprisingly stood the test of time.” He added, “The first three measure your ability to achieve socialness. They are remarkably easy to measure. In fact all the numbers you need to measure the first three are publicly available.”
And according to data from Tubular Labs, which combines Comments, Shares, and Likes together and calls them Engagements, 305,000 brands and accounts have uploaded 9.8 million videos to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter so far this year. But, only 2,472 brands have uploaded 11,300 videos to these platform, which have received more than 100,000 engagements.
And just 50 of these properties and brands have uploaded 37 or more videos so far this year which have received over 100,000 engagements apiece. This includes:
So, if you’re the CMO or VP of Marketing at one of the 50 properties and brands in the list above, then social media marketing is probably worth it. So, keep doing what you’re doing.
But, if you’re a marketing executive at one of the other 305,000 brands and accounts that’s uploaded 9.8 million videos to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter so far this year, then social media marketing is probably not worth it – at least, not yet.
Is social media marketing dead?
This data-driven analysis explains why the existential crises that was facing organic Facebook marketing last year has metastasized and spread to other social media platforms this year. Far too many CMOs and Marketing VPs:
So, what are the odds that what Kaushik has called the Zuck Death Spiral (ZDS) is going to reverse itself in the foreseeable future?
Well, if I were the shop owner (Michael Palin) in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, then I’d shamelessly promote the digital marketing training for companies and executives that SEO-PR offers on social media marketing.
But, if I were Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) in The Princess Bride (1987), then I’d tell you, “It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead…. Now, mostly dead is slightly alive.” He added, “Now, all dead…well, with all dead, there’s usually only one thing that you can do…. Go through his clothes and look for loose change.”
In other words, if social media marketing is all dead, then I’d tell CMOs and VPs of Marketing take whatever loose change they find in that team’s budget and put it into Influencer Marketing or Digital Advertising.
But, if social media marketing is only mostly dead, then I’d tell you to start creating video content that triggers high-arousal positive emotional responses like hilarity, inspiration, astonishment, and exhilaration. I’d also tell you to begin using Conversation, Amplification, and Applause rates to measure the real active engagement of users with your social media pages. And I’d probably add chocolate coating, which make this go down easier.
Do I think this will work? It would take a miracle.