The Social Squeeze

“From surprise algorithm upsets to the shifting popularity of platforms, everything can warp in an instant, and good marketers are not only aware of that, they’re prepared for it.”
– Danica Kombol, CEO, Everywhere Agency

Mention social media and watch what kind of response you get. Start talking about algorithms and metrics and it’s a whole different conversation. Truthfully, the discussions depend on your audience.

The thing about social media is that it keeps changing. Just when marketers think they’ve concocted the perfect strategy for cutting through the clutter and creating a memorable experience in 1.7 seconds, everything turns. That’s especially true when it comes to updates in algorithms and features, which can alter user behavior and buyer habits.

The key to maintaining any type of sanity on social begins with understanding and respecting its power. Start with users. Today, many social programs are witnessing steady growth in user numbers. Take Instagram, which since 2014 has experienced year-over-year increases of no less than 100 million in monthly active users. Between September 2017 and June 2018, that number jumped by 200 million. At Instagram, the number of monthly active users is hovering around 1 billion, while LinkedIn posted 590 million users (260 million of whom are active on a monthly basis) and Twitter with 326 million monthly active users.

Next, you have to know what your customers want from their social experience. That means strategy. According to Sprout Social’s “Sprout Index,” 80 percent of social marketers say their game plan revolves around increasing engagement. The study, which queried more than 2,000 social marketers and 1,200 consumers, broke down their approaches to structure, goals and content.

For example, posts with links to more information are the most preferred type of social media content, with 30 percent stating that’s the content they like to see most. In addition, 18 percent preferred graphics and images, while 17 percent liked videos, the study found.

But some social thought leaders like Scott East say you have to temper your approach to engagement. While engaging with your audience matters, it’s not the only measure of success. “We recommend looking at engagement in different ways,” says East, CEO and co-founder of MSIGHTS, which provides cloud-based marketing data integration services to some of the world’s most sophisticated global advertisers.

For example, while engagement with a brand’s social posts is a way to measure the initial connection and gauge interest level for different content, you must complement with engagement on the brand’s site-side content to measure pull through. “Ultimately, you want to drive people to your website to build a direct relationship,” says East, who also co-wrote “The Cuttlefish Marketer: The Five Essential Traits of the Modern Marketer.”

Algorithms, metrics, oh my!
If you truly understand social media, you know that content is only one part of the equation. You can post all of the content you want, but people must engage with it for it to matter.

That’s where properly evaluating how your algorithms and metrics come in. An algorithm is how social media platforms filter, rank and organize the content people see based on a specific set of criteria, while metrics is the use of data to gauge the impact of activity on a brand’s revenue.

Simply put, each social media network has a unique set of technical elements, intricate logic and usage analytics that make up the algorithm that delivers content to its users. These algorithms are managed by software engineers, data scientists, content strategists, and others.

“Your data shows you what’s actually resonating, what to stop wasting time on, and how you can be more intentional in reaching your audience,” says Danica Kombol, CEO of the Everywhere Agency, an influencer marketing firm that helps brands build content-driven campaigns and strategies.

Kombol says that marketers must track what consumers are doing (and how they respond) with content. That makes metrics the bread and butter of your strategy. “Creative counts when you can prove your results and the metrics allow us to show, in real time, how consumers are reacting. Keep in mind that algorithms are often adjusted in response to the habits and wants of the user, so take the change as an opportunity to meet them where they are.”

Since the year is just starting to kick in, Kombol says that there have been no early bombshells in the way of social algorithms. But still, with social media innovators like Instagram and Facebook, you can expect some challenges this year, especially as they continue to identify their value to consumers.

“Anyone skilled in social media marketing knows to embrace the changing nature of the platforms,” Kombol says. “From surprise algorithm upsets to the shifting popularity of platforms, everything can warp in an instant, and good marketers are not only aware of that, they’re prepared for it.”

Two years ago, Kombol admits to losing on a friendly bet on Snapchat. Convinced that Instagram would never be able to keep up with Snapshot, she was wrong. That’s why keeping a close eye on how social works with every medium in the channel is critical.

Her advice: Research, read, project and prepare. Pay close attention to updates, listen to the conversations happening on social media between real users, and establish a responsive and dynamic, cross-platform strategy that can adapt to sudden changes. Invest in high quality content—outsource it to designers and creators, if needed—and know your brand voice through and through.

“The brands that survive on social have solid gold creative presences that evolve in meaningful, intentional ways with the needs and wants of their followers top-of-mind,” Kombol says. “They’re also conversational and accessible. Be prepared. Be creative. Be available.”

What’s the best advice for understanding social algorithms, metrics and why they matter? Perhaps East sums it up best: “Social media provides marketers incredible opportunities because of the tactic’s unique ability to target, curate messaging and utilize detailed metrics and data for analysis. As part of your marketing mix, social has the ability to connect with prospects and customers in a more personal way.”

Understanding the process helps keep your brand from being squeezed out.

8 ways to use social media algorithms to your advantage
  1. Create content that encourages interaction: Ask a question, which encourages participation.
  2. Tag relevant people: If you share an article, tag the author and/or publication. If you’re sharing a piece of content that you know a certain user will like, tag them. If you share a case study, tag the customer or client.
  3. Know your buyer personas and share targeted content: Use a social media calendar to plan content for each of your audiences. The more your content relates to a specific group, the more likely they are to engage.
  4. Make sure your profile is credible: Every section of your profile should be filled out and up to date.
  5. Build a relevant network: When your network is relevant to your industry, your content has a better chance of appearing in feeds and being shared by followers or connections.
  6. Use the 80/20 content approach: About 80 percent of your content should be native/owned.
  7. Utilize analytics: Analytics will tell you what kinds of content are performing well with your audience so you can replicate successful posts and identify optimal posting times.
  8. Engage, engage, engage: Higher engagement leads to stronger presence in feeds.

Source: Prosper for Purpose (