What's Your Problem? Overcoming Short-Termism in Social Media

What's Your Problem? Overcoming Short-Termism in Social Media

We’re in the midst of a crisis. A measurement crisis.

This won’t come as a revelation to you. Peter Field recently called the industry to arms with his IPA report ‘Selling Creativity Short’.

In short, there’s been a sharp rise in the evaluation of campaigns over six months or less. This is more conclusive data than ever that we’re well and truly in the era of short-termism. And in social media circles, this phenomenon is even more pronounced. More than any other area within marketing and advertising, we naturally work in hours and days rather than months and years. We compare engagement rates, post by post. We look at what’s trending at this very moment in time. We check live analytics dashboards showing visitors on the site right now.

The rules of the game are stacked in that way. Platforms default to analysing short time periods. Social media is innately biased towards short-termism. That comes with clear advantages. It allows us to be more nimble, agile and responsive. If you’re a David (not a Goliath), this is crucial.

Equally, it comes bundled with a serious flaw. When we evaluate our success with short term metrics, we necessarily incentivise short term strategies. We chase short term spikes over long term growth. That’s understandable, because of our bias towards the present. We give stronger weight to rewards that arrive in the short-term, as opposed to the long-term.

This isn’t to say, of course, that a short-term mindset is always bad. Sometimes, you really do need to solve a problem in a smaller time frame. That’s fine, but it’s crucial to maintain a balance. We know that long term brand building is more important, really. In the era of the overcrowded news feed and the fleeting encounters which occur within it, establishing a powerful mental image of your brand amongst consumers becomes more imperative than ever.

But we don’t measure this in any meaningful way. And because we don’t measure it, we don’t value it. If we don’t value it, we don’t do it.

So how do we fix it?

Preaching about how we need to prioritise longer term metrics isn’t going to lead to any meaningful change. The answer lies in how we fundamentally approach social media strategy. Dig a little deeper, and I think you’ll find that social media strategy often suffers from a lack of focus on solving business problems.

The first step in any effective strategy is clearly defining the problem you need to solve. A solution without a problem is useless. Seems obvious, but many brands seem to be skipping this important step. Alan Watts once wrote that “If a problem can be solved at all, to understand it and to know what to do about it are the same thing.” This makes total sense to me.

We’ve been working with a famous luxury hotel, steeped in history. Their problem was simple, yet provocative - their customer base was gradually dying off. We therefore needed to shift the demographic of their average customer towards a significantly younger audience. Our strategy almost wrote itself - we went all-in on Instagram, with the goal of making the hotel more accessible. We worked closely with influencers and built a presence that spoke directly to young people. Clear problem, clear solution.

Oatly have also perfected this recently. Here’s their problem: baristas are the gatekeepers between them and their target audience. Their solution was simple. They spoke directly to baristas, human to human. Again, a clear problem with a clear solution.

Spend some time defining the problem in an evidence based and compelling way, and not only will the strategy make itself clear, but we can begin to battle short termism. If we’re solving a real business problem with our social media (hint: ‘we need more brand awareness’ isn’t a real business problem), and we work out how to measure our progress towards solving this, then we overcome short-termism. Short spikes in engagement become less important, and our progress towards solving the underlying issue becomes our guiding principle. That’s where we need to get to. Solving real business problems with social media strategy.

This is how we approach it at Born Social. We work with Davids (not Goliaths), meaning we have to be tightly focused on solving real business problems and demonstrating our value. Efficiency runs through everything we do. The first step we’ll take with a new client will always be to spend plenty of time defining the problem. Only when we’ve got a really tight grasp on that, can we arrive at a meaningful social objective. That could be a demographic shift, a perception change, a need to educate. The strategy stems from there. We then define our audience, draw on relevant insights (check out our Social Survey to help with your insight generation) which inform our actions, and finish by attaching a set of KPIs, which tell us the extent to which we are solving the business problem over time.

This is our solution to short-termism in social media. Make sure you’re solving a real business problem, and measure the effectiveness of your strategy against it. Simple enough, right?

Callum McCahon, Strategy Director, Born Social @bebornsocial

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