There is no room for a ‘jack of all trades’ now that social media is all grown-up
Shira Jeczmien, founder and CEO of SCREENSHOT Media, believes social media has matured - and that many of you missed that moment. Beware of thinking the same rules are applicable across the platforms.
Why do we talk about social media as a single platform with one elusive set of rules that brands need to understand? TV, out-of-home, and even radio are all distinct channels requiring specific skills, yet marketers often apply blanket behavior across social media – despite evidence that this approach doesn’t work.
Nearly 20 years after social media began to take over all our lives, it is still frequently an afterthought for brands. This is a strange attitude because it is where most people – especially Gen Z audiences – spend their time and interact with brands. More than half of Gen Zers spend an average of four hours a day on social media, with a whopping 38% spending even more than that.
But social media remains a dumping ground for brand content. How often do you see hero content used for a TV or YouTube campaign being cut for socials with no thought given to platform optimization? Sidenote: audiences rarely engage with high-fi ad content on socials. Don’t believe me? Ignore the view count and check the engagement rate on any of those hero brand assets your favorite brands are dropping on their socials.
Taking an all-in-one approach risks alienating your audience or, more likely, failing to reach them in the first place. Getting it right requires an understanding of each platform on a granular level. Perhaps a few years ago, you could be a social media jack-of-all-trades, but that won’t cut it any more. Today, there are huge advantages to specialization – and only the brands that understand this will be the ones to reach new, younger audiences.
The most effective approach is to look at each platform and, understand them in their own right, and use experts to produce native content that is optimized for that platform. And brands should be looking to agencies with platform-specific teams if they want to be serious about winning on socials.
TikTok is a good way to illustrate this point. It is tempting for a brand to create TikTok-first content and then cross-post that content to other platforms with outwardly similar user experiences, such as Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels, Snapchat’s recently launched Spotlight and YouTube Shorts. They might look the same: all are 9:16, usually 60 seconds or under, and most favor UGC, lo-fi content with creators at the forefront. But assuming that content that has performed well on TikTok will perform well on other platforms would hugely miss the point. Platforms push out content differently, and audiences go to the platform for different reasons.
Some surprising results emerge if you analyze each platform individually. For example, a survey of 6,000 18-24-year-olds by SCREENSHOT Media, the next-generation media company I founded, reveals that YouTube Shorts are more popular than TikTok for consuming short-form content. Most of us would probably assume it would be TikTok. Meanwhile, 34% watch content through Facebook Reels, a surprisingly high proportion for a platform many think is predominantly used by ‘right-wing boomers’. It means that brands looking to speak to Gen Z can hardly afford to ignore Facebook in their social strategy, and perhaps YouTube should be more prominent in their thoughts.
If you put a lot of budget into socials, UGC and content marketing, having experts on each social media platform makes sense. In other words, you want people creating content for your brand sitting on that platform daily.
This goes beyond paying attention to the regular app and algorithm updates released by the platforms. It is about the constant platform pushes your brand or agency should be aware of, the small changes that no one writes about but you pick up on if you are immersed in the platform daily. Recent examples include the rising significance of music in how algorithms decide to push out content, the huge appetite for comedic content and the growing importance of on-platform editing. Understanding these nuances can help brands produce content that reaches and engages their target audiences.
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To be clear, brands should not have to create unique content for each platform. Who has the time or budget to do that? Instead, it’s about understanding the needs and wants of your audiences on the platforms they are spending time on. Awareness of that allows brand content to be optimized and run effectively on each platform.
The finer paint brushes can make a world of difference rather than broad brush strokes. Understanding those nuances requires platform experts rather than generalists. The days of the social media jack-of-all-trades are over.