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Jared Hamilton
From: Jared Hamilton
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JD Rucker

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Putting to Rest the Concept of “Organic” Social Media

OrganicThere was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.

Okay, so that’s not really original. Any opportunity to plug in a line from Gladiator, I’ll take it. Despite the overly serious tone of the quote, it plays well with the dream that was social media. The idea of having a set of free venues through which businesses could interact with consumers and the consumers could interact back presented itself as a grand concept to be desired and cherished. Unfortunately, the dream is dead. Success on modern social media requires one of two things: serious fame or cash invested.

Unless you’re Justin Bieber, your brand needs money in order to be relevant on sites like Facebook. There’s no other way to look at it. Even Twitter gets exponentially more useful when a little money is applied to it. LinkedIn, YouTube, and possibly Pinterest and Instagram are all heading down the road of pay-to-play if you really want to find success.

It’s not the evil plan of social media sites come through to their end game. In fact, most of the social sites outside of YouTube went in with the hopes of not having to apply advertising as a primary source of revenue, at least not in the formats they’re presenting themselves in today. “Advertising” was a dirty word in social media startup circles just four or five years ago. Today, they’ve accepted that their dreams of making money through networking and data are simply no long realistic. As their dreams died, so did ours.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the cost of playing the game right is, for now, extremely low when compared to the potential results. For a fraction of the cost of Google Adwords or display advertising, campaigns can be set up through social media that bring in similar results. In some cases, depending on the goals and campaigns, the results can actually be better despite the lower spend. Let’s take a look at the recent past, the way it works today, and the near future:

It All Blew Up

For better or for worse, the people muscled out the businesses. On Facebook, for example, the feedback from users was that they simply weren’t interested in seeing as many posts from pages as from profiles. They might like the show Game of Thrones and they might not mind occasionally seeing updates posted on their news feed, but for the most part they go to Facebook to see videos of little nephew Timmy sliding into 3rd base. Facebook obliged recently (and really, for a long time they’ve been creeping in this direction) and made it less likely that posts from pages were visible in news feeds.

There’s a silver lining to this, though. While users were not as accepting of posts in their news feeds from pages that showed up organically, they’ve demonstrated a tolerance for sponsored posts. In essence, they know instinctively that they have these services for free and that Facebook is a business. As long as they have some sense of control over what they’re presented, they don’t mind ads on Facebook any more than they mind television commercials. They tolerate them. At least on Facebook, they have the ability to let Facebook know which posts they don’t want to see on their news feeds.

Social media blew up. It got too big for brands, at least from an organic perspective. On Facebook and Twitter in particular, the feeds are too cluttered with personal posts to allow the business posts to come through naturally. That’s okay. We should be paying. If anything, this makes it to where the aggressive businesses can take advantage of the exceptionally low cost of entry without being muscled out by popular pages with their organic reach.

Today

Now that we know that organic reach is dead, we can move forward with the benefits of this. Facebook has done a terrible job at educating businesses about their advertising powers and Twitter has done even worse. Google+ – don’t get me started there. This is bad for them. It’s great for us. It’s great for companies that are starting to take advantage of it.

There are caveats, most notably that the ad types used to bring people to the table and try advertising are the worst ones. On Facebook, the “Boost” and “Promote Your Page” buttons are the easiest to get you started and the worst at achieving results.

Data. That’s the power of social media. Unfortunately, both of the basic types of advertising have trouble thinking about scratching the surface of the data components. This isn’t the place to go into details about how the data works, but suffice to say that it’s extremely powerful when used appropriately.

That’s today. Get involved and use the data that you have as well as the data that Facebook has. With that understood, what will the future look like?

Shifting Towards Mobile First

Everything is shifting to mobile.

Everything is shifting to mobile.

Everything is shifting to mobile.

It cannot be overstated and it doesn’t matter where you put the emphasis. Mobile will eclipse desktop soon for nearly all forms of internet browsing. It already does with social media. This is why, no matter what you think about social media, you must make sure that your digital marketing strategy focuses on mobile first and allows the desktop experience to happen as a secondary course. That’s not to say that desktops are dying or that they don’t need to be considered. They simply need to reside in a mobile world as if they’re big mobile devices without the touchscreen. Heck, there are plenty of desktops and laptops that already do have touchscreens.

As social media continues to evolve and mobile grows in eyeball share, so too do the advertising strategies need to match appropriately.

Social media is no longer organic, at least not for businesses. To move ahead, you have to either use social media from a defensive posture or go full force with the advertising component. The in-between strategies will do nothing more than waste time and energy.

Erik Cornelius
Your point is extremely valid, as long as the social media platforms allow small businesses to play on even footing with the big boys. (Even if you're part of a big dealer network, you're still controlling your ad spend at a local level, and therefore spending like a small business.) We're seeing some positive moves in this direction. For instance, after initially only allowing big businesses to run video ads, Facebook rolled out its "video views" objective a couple weeks ago, opening up the ad platform even further to small businesses. As long as the relative amount of social media ad inventory is large when compared to the number of companies trying to participate, this space will remain affordable. In a couple years, however, we'll all have to be ready for the next big thing, or pay social media CPCs equivalent to AdWords CPCs.
Philip Zelinger
Organic search has indeed been minimized by Facebook for their own monetary reasons as well as customer preference to limit overt business intrusions into their online social life. However, pay to play is not the only way for businesses to insert themselves into the social media conversations that are the market. Applications provided by forward thinking vendors sponsored by auto dealer clients that provide relevant content and consumer centric added values like contests have been developed in cooperation with the Facebook team to reside entirely within their environment. They are proving to be a great way to stay in front of past, pending and future customers using Facebook as a part of their daily life. Of course they must seamlessly adjust to all formats - most importantly mobile - but that is true of all online media if they wish to follow their customers. After all, what are friends for!
Erik Cornelius
One important thing in all of this is to consider which consumers you are attracting with your online engagement. Posting on Facebook is a great way to augment what you're doing elsewhere, but cannot just be aimed at attracting the maximum number of fans, likes or comments. Sharing a video of the Little League team that your dealership sponsors - GREAT. It builds community engagement and shows your dealership as a thought leader. Sharing a video of Miley Cyrus gyrating around a [insert car model here]... Well, that'll get a lot of attention, but how does it cast your dealership? Contests seem to be much the same. Executed well, they can foster true engagement and attract true, potential buyers. Often the key factor is making sure that the contest requires a high enough barrier to entry to reward real potential customers, not just bring in everyone. For instance, doing something that gets real potential buyers into a dealership like a test drive contest. This requires the person to drive down to the dealership and take an action. Few casual participants will take the time.
Philip Zelinger
Perhaps the simplest point to make in support of this post is that Social Media is built on the same principles that drive all media and the free marketplace that they serve. Human nature is a constant that must be considered and the fact that people like to do business with people they like is a cornerstone for all marketing efforts. Content and the message matters in all media so any attempts to participate in an online discussion in Facebook must be relevant and interesting to the consumer vs. a self serving sales message. Driving people to a dealer's Facebook page will have no value if the experience isn't informative, entertaining or at least more important to your "friends" than the dealer.
Erik Cornelius
Well said, sir!

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