With the top networks cracking down on loathed or loved tactics, and time called on organic reach, is this really the end for social media content marketing?
Well, that’s how it could seem if you read the latest figures and predictions - not least, those published in BuzzSumo’s recent Content Trends Report 2018.
Among the report’s many sobering findings was that social sharing has been cut in half since 2015 based on a sample of 100 million posts published in 2017.
A notable casualty is social media virality: that post of the week simply no longer has the shelf life it used to. This is a not particularly surprising side effect of the long decline of organic reach on social media.
In that regard, the coup de grace to social content marketing was supposedly administered on January 12. That was when Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s latest algorithm change. In order to improve the quality of time spent on the network, Zuck & Co. are prioritizing “posts that spark conversation and meaningful interactions between people.”
And what about Cambridge Analytica, and the Facebook API change it prompted, I hear you ask? Ironically, these particular headlines are the least relevant to this discussion. If you were dependent on third-party apps of that ilk then consider your comeuppance arrived. The conventional social media management SaaS tools out there are almost entirely unaffected.
So is this really the end?
BuzzSumo doesn’t think so - as not to steal their thunder, I recommend you download their excellent report. Here’s a taste of the actions they recommend you take to beat the decline in organic reach:
- Be clear on objectives for content and social media marketing
- Find subtopics and own them before others do
- Encourage user-generated content
In additions to those steps, here are a few organic reach trends touched on by BuzzSumo and others recently- and how to adapt to them.
Drop the clickbait
A month before it’s headline-grabbing algorithm change, Facebook posted an announcement called “Fighting Engagement Bait”. Essentially, they announced that they would lower the News Feed rank of posts deemed to manipulate users into engaging with them.
Facebook defines engagement bait as “spammy posts on Facebook that goad [users] into interacting with likes, shares, comments, and other actions.”
They offered this example of a page prompt: “LIKE this if you’re an Aries!”, “tag a friend who…” or “like for X, love for X, etc.”
This followed their previous May 2017 crackdown on clickbait, in the aftermath of which Buzzsumo noted a steep decline in the shares of clickbait articles (down to an average of 200,000 from an average of 1,000,000 plus in some cases).
Facebook came down hard on clickbait last year
And, wait...fewer listicles?!
There are x reasons why content writers like me hate the sound of that.
And I stubbornly claim some scepticism based on my own experience. People love order, which is why even numbered email subject lines cast a special kind of voodoo. It actually took quite some effort for me not to slap a number on this article.
Nevertheless, BuzzSumo’s report details the decline of BuzzFeed’s trademark listicles on both Facebook and Twitter: From 2013 to 2015, BuzzFeed listicles could amass more than two million shares. In the latter half of 2017, only one gained more than 500,000.
So what now?
It won’t be much consolation to hear that we simply need to be both better and smarter with our content.
But that has been a demonstrable fact of life for some time now.
The simple fact that the most successful blogs are now long form (at least a thousand words) speaks to this. Granted, SEO plays a part, with the longer word counts often designed to secure higher rankings in Google.
But SEO alone doesn’t explain why long-form articles out-performed short ones by 40% in one Marketing Experiments test. Another study found that posts with more than 1,500 words gained 68.1% more tweets and 22.6% more Facebook likes.
It boils down to substance. Basically, you have to invest the effort to reap the ROI. It is better to post less often––but with quality content––than to simply keep posting out of fear that the socialsphere will forget you.
Remember that these days on social media, “quality content” is most likely to be equated with “video content”. In fact, one in four respondents to one survey say they lose interest in any brand that doesn’t post video content.
The good news is that higher quality content will also invite more comments, shares and interactions---making those precisely the kind of posts that Facebook says “spark conversation and meaningful interactions between people.”
That said, a consistent posting cadence remains best practice, so consider curating quality content from influencers or partner brands in lieu of subpar in-house filler material.
Cough up the cash
Organic social media reach may not be dead by a long shot, but it can no longer cut it alone. For brands advertising on social, your go-to network should still be Facebook.
Facebook ads have higher ROI and cheaper prices than TV advertising, Snapchat, YouTube, and many other channels. And when you find your stride, it is relatively easy to scale your efforts---something you simply can’t do with organic reach.
Instagram advertising too continues to grow in strength. There are now a massive 700 million monthly users now---with the encouraging stat that a third of the most viewed stories have been published by businesses.
Organic is still great for building relationships with established fans. But when an organic post does demonstrate some pulling power, it’s time to consider putting some spend behind it.
Distribution, distribution, distribution
As the viral and organic free-for-all winds down, marketers need to turn to other distribution channels, some of which are freer than others.
Social media employee advocacy is one. It’s a concept that came into and fell out of vogue several years ago but could now have its second wind. Harnessing employees’ social reach is a powerful tactic if the right processes are in place---after all, company posts have 521% greater reach on average when shared by an employee.
Then there is influencer marketing, an enormous topic of its own, but also a tactic that brands of any size can benefit from. I go more in-depth in my previous article Social media influencers: not just for the brand big guns.
Keep calm and publish on
At this juncture content marketers need to keep calm and carry on...but a bit differently than before.
The motives of Facebook and Twitter – who cracked down on bulk tweeting recently – may be the subject of debate, but the upshot is ultimately a positive one.
The bigger, grimmer Putin-tinted factors driving Facebook’s new rules aside, social media marketing was due for a clean-up. We’ll all breathe a sigh of relief to see some forms of clickbait relegated to the dustheap. And in line with the statement from Zuck himself, hopefully we’ll reintroduce the “meaningful” into our interactions.