Working with startups and companies as we do, we see a great [too] many that seek to promote before being ready: Running AdWords with a terrible website, sponsoring events while lacking Google Analytics, or starting YouTube videos without a landing page to convert interest.
Since the dawn of the internet, engaging forms of media, as basic as blog posts or forums, have given us a glimpse into where to find interested and participating audiences; but in this early-2021 era of questioning social media, I fear we’re going to lose sight of the benefits of connected media, as we raise ire at the bad. So, let’s take a step back from the social media controversies, and explore some of the underlying fundamentals that everyone should appreciate as they’re starting to spend money.
What to Know About Social Media Before Advertising
First, a few key facts that lay out what matters, no matter the debate that weighs on us:
- Advertising has always leveraged platforms that can gather massive audiences together and from data draws better directions to advertise. While that was once newspaper, magazine, radio, and then TV. It worked just as social media does now; today however, it is all about social media (hold on to that thought, we’re going to revisit it)
- Unlike print or TV ads, “traditional media,” social media connect viewers and users in real-time. This has massive implications for brands and retailers to outperform with direct marketing. It used to be insurmountable for companies to reach specific customers, at scale, without collaboration from partners throughout the supply chain. Social media changes that.
- Advertising thanks to social media can be very accurate and specific. This is not just the holy grail of advertising, this is actually the holy grail of the consumer – only seeing what they want, when they want it.
What is Social Media?
Social media is NOT traditional media. Distinguishing social media from TV and print, as I’ve been doing, begs that clarification. Is social media, Twitter and Instagram alone? Let’s clarify.
Traditional media is an authority determining what is communicated.
A publisher. An editor. A producer. Someone, people, are reiterating or communicating what is being conveyed, on behalf of everyone else.
A news anchor says it. The journalist writes it. A musician creates it. A screenwriter proposes it.
AND THEN, someone else edits, someone else approves, and then THEY broadcast it.
That is NOT social media.
Social media is just a technology. It’s code. It’s a site.
Social media is the fundamental equivalent of the paper, Television, or FM radio waves upon which communication occurs.
Social media is not a company, it’s you. Social media is me.
Social media is everyone, everywhere; 7,800,000,000 people saying whatever they want.
While that was once newspaper, magazine, radio, and then TV. It worked just as social media does now; today however, it is all about social media.
This is why today, advertising, we must first understand before we spend.
Social media is essentially everything online. And social media is not only a more effective way to promote, it’s also how we know where and what is likely more engaging and popular.
That can be a confusing statement so let’s break it down.
Most think of “Social Media” in the context of sites or apps that readily come to mind: Facebook, TikTok, or Twitter. That is “social media” but when I say social media is effectively everything online, what we’re referring to is what distinguishes traditional media from social media, and how the internet itself is fundamentally just social media.
Traditional media refers to communication at consumers. Given that, there is always measured voice in the process: that editor, anchor, producer, publisher, or even, philosophically, an intended design; a brand – newspaper is edited, advertisements are designed, music is produced or even if live and directly at you, it’s still an intentional experience, radio is hosted… you get the idea.
Social media isn’t this “internet thing” on some websites. Social media refers to two-way communication directly from the creator of the content. You and I create content and can socialize. This very site is social media. We all create the content.
Confusing all, some social media is more accurately called a Social Network (hence the movie about Facebook by the same name) but social media is present just about everywhere online.
This site is social media, so too is my personal site; people there can post whatever they want in reply to my posts – articles and comments.
Blow your mind even more? Social media isn’t only this internet thing, because even traditional forms of media have social media experiences — a letter to the editor or community Q&A in the paper, the am talk show on the radio with people calling in; such experiences are “social media.”
So why should companies know how social media works before advertising?
Social media is not only a more effective way to promote, it’s also how we know where and what is likely more engaging and popular.
What that meant is clearly two things:
- The internet has experimented with display ads (banners), paid posts, and search ads, and while search ads (AdWords) are very effective and efficient, they aren’t the best at creating awareness. By far, the best way of advertising to generate awareness, and do so efficiently to get targeted leads? Social media.
- It’s how we know where and what is engaging and popular. “Engagement” is a key term in appreciating this. Advertising of any form, audience attention, is best where audience is engaged. How do we determine engagement? We can see it. We can measure it. We can track it and leverage it.
Unpack those two further, in reverse, so the points are well appreciated. Number two first.
Quora, a favorite of mine, gets a ton of engagement. My site gets great engagement, an article there averages for me 30 comments. Some tweets get a lot of engagement. Reddit posts about Gamestop get a lot of engagement, apparently.
Now, compare those scenarios to a site where there is no engagement. Consider a post with no engagement vs. one with engagement. Which of the considerations would you prefer? Where would you prefer to advertise?
A dead a site, a site with no engagement, is a leading indicator that the site has little volume, maybe that it doesn’t know what it’s doing online, or that people don’t care. Is that your ideal place to Advertise??
Here’s the big gotcha… Google. Google’s search engine might be one of the places that come to mind to refute my point that essentially everything online is social media. Yes? We’re not commenting or even sharing search results. That said… Google knows this about engagement too. One of the major contributors to how it ranks results is… engagement.
Now, Google measures that in a lot of ways and we’re not going to get into SEO nor how the algorithms work here, the point is, that social engagement signals to search engines that a site is popular and meaningful. Social media informs what to promote and social media influences key words and popular searches.
Everything online, is essentially social media.
And if you’re not aware of how that works and what to do about it, you’re just throwing advertising budgets at placements tactically, and not leveraging how the internet *knows* how and where to advertise effectively.
This is why my number one point above works.
That point is saying literally, that not only is social media how you understand better how to create engagement and how/where to advertise more effectively, but that sites predominantly social media tend to be a better use of your ad dollars because those sites have both the engagement and the data (first hand), to optimize your ad spend.
Boosting content on social media or targeting to audiences on social media, is usually far more effective than banner ads thrown about, because you can be precise about what is said to whom. Such sites are more effective because of that subtle and usually miscommunicated distinction between social media and social network.
An Aside: The Controversy
Apple’s Tim Cook, this past week, made headlines saying, “We can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better, and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.”
“But collecting and selling all that data comes at great cost, as Cook highlights. “The end result of all of this is that you are no longer the customer,” said Cook. “You are the product.”
A concern I have with the assertion implied in his comments, is that he’s saying that this is new: “You are no longer the customer, you are the product.” That a fact as old as, older than, the internet. That’s true of every single website. It’s true of News, Podcasting, Radio, and anything that hosting advertising.
My personal site is social media but it’s not a social network. Reddit is a social network and social media. This site is social media and a network.
The difference, that a Social Network is a platform for people to connect, is how that form of social media is capable of being more effective than other sites, at delivering value for your advertising. The experience on most sites is content, with social media. The experience on traditional media is usually just content, occasionally with social media. But the experience on a social network, a site like this, is people, with content.
And who do you prefer to reach with your advertising? The people, no?