In 2006, social media was building steam in the United States. With the rise of Facebook’s popularity, the launch of Twitter, and the surge of influence from social news sites like Digg, social media looked to be a great breeding ground for marketers to make their mark.
And make their marks they did. Digg was an incredibly powerful platform to drive traffic and pageviews to reasonably good content. Initially, the network really had the cream of the Internet crop on its frontpage, and the “Digg effect” would take websites down just like that. Visitors flocked to the homepage of Digg to learn what was good and new online, and the traffic impact brought the entire web infrastructure down.
At first, marketers who were effective at pushing content to the front page both understood what constituted good content to a diverse and global audience, and what didn’t, and many would advise clients how to do well on Digg and how to create good content that was truly Diggworthy. However, when more and more people heard about the impact Digg could have on site traffic, especially because it could potentially raise awareness of these unknown brands to potentially thousands or even millions of people, clients flocked to all types of marketers so that the homepage could be “gamed,” bringing junk content to Digg’s homepage because these powerful submitters simply could.
That’s when everything went downhill. Digg’s staff made a tremendous amount of algorithmic changes to penalize top users typically assumed to be hired for money to game the front page and get their client’s content featured there. Marketers and legitimate top users got banned. Without the true community that helped build Digg, it died. It’s now, to me, nothing more than an RSS reader (and a good one in case you don’t like Feedly for whatever reason).
What can we learn from the rise and fall of Digg, which eventually sold to Betaworks for a mere $500k after being offered $35mm by Yahoo and having a $164mm valuation?
The short answer is that nothing truly lasts.
When you got in this space early, you were a “social media expert.” In time, there were hundreds of social media experts. Then, thousands. People who didn’t even own computers until 2008 became experts after reading a book or two on social media. I know this because I wrote one.
Today, in 2014, people are still “social media experts.” They’re posting some valuable content primarily to Facebook and Twitter because they know how to use the basics of these networks like any new user and they think it will raise awareness. I recently worked with a high profile hospitality brand that hired an extremely reputable US-based firm. After a mere 12 weeks, the brand realized this agency was simply posting to social media with no strategy. (My guess: they hired some intern to do all the posting and the partners took 90% of the client’s cash.) The hospitality company wanted to fire that brand and retain one that had some rhyme and reason to their social media marketing. Good call. (It’s harder to do today, though, as you’ll read below.)
See, the thing is, in 2008, posting only to Twitter and Facebook would actually grab attention of the eyeballs using those networks. But we’re in 2014 now. This methodology of broadcasting is ineffective. You and the other 50 million businesses are doing the same exact thing. Has anyone realized how tired people are of marketing messages in their FB feeds? (Facebook’s algorithm addressed this last year.) Has anyone realized that marketed tweets barely get visibility these days? I have over 42k real Twitter followers and even my good updates get no visibility. It’s nothing short of pathetic.
But this is how it is. You can’t broadcast anymore like that. The audience is exhausted. There’s way too much noise and not enough signal. Even if your marketing campaign is brilliant, it’s unlikely to get as many eyeballs today as it would have been 6 years ago, even though the number of social media users of today have grown exponentially from the number when social media was just gaining momentum. (Early adopter syndrome works quite like that.)
Plus, why have the impossible one-to-many relationship? That’s no relationship at all. I’ll even go as far as taking it on a personal tangent: when I have Facebook friends who post updates often, thereby inviting feedback from their friends on a regular basis, but somehow don’t seem receptive to one on one private messages, I wonder why they make themselves appear to be approachable at all. Is it about maintaining a friendship with everyone you’re connected to, or about massaging one’s ego with public reinforcement?
With social media, the one-on-many is exactly what has become of it all. Social media experts who buy or have genuine followers are thinking their influence (strength in numbers, after all) can impact purchase intent. As I mentioned earlier, even my 42k genuine followers don’t seem to care about social media anymore. In fact, I used to have 43k followers. It’s slowly been dropping day by day.
This is what I call burnout.
Playing the Digg card of pushing content has died. Digg peaked and then fell. Social media broadcasting, too, was at its peak but has fallen.
I barely use Twitter for social media myself. I watch as my feed there gets cluttered with marketing content and very rarely true conversations. I just opened it now to see broadcasts about Ukranian elections, social media statistics, quotes from the New York Times, infographics, startup tools, research findings, and professional headshots being tweeted and occasionally retweeted. It’s all sort of cool stuff coming from a network I use almost exclusively professionally. However, I haven’t paid attention to my home feed on Twitter in something like five years. I don’t need to go to a network to see this content in excess pushed at me. It’s worse than those tickers you read on buildings in Times Square. Too. Much. Volume.
Then why do I have HootSuite as one of my pinned tabs and use it for an average of 43 full and completely active minutes without interruption each day? (That is done over a ~16 hour period, where I do other things in between outside of Twitter. The data was aggregated by RescueTime, a great productivity app tracker.)
The answer is because I end up using social media for nothing more than customer service these days. Forget about me and my personal thoughts and agendas. The brands I represent need help. People have turned to social media not to broadcast but to complain or request assistance from a medium known as a real time medium. Even I have done it. Repeatedly.
And I’ve learned over the past few years with the wasted effort in broadcasting without reception that if you give someone a direct relationship through one on one assistance, you are marketing better than ever before. Today, that’s your sales vehicle.
This is especially true when the assistance is done in the public and the company is proactive, helpful, and professional.
You can post your cute little Washington Post story finds all day long until the cows come home, and someone may click on it, but that’s not a marketing vehicle–unless you happen to work for the Washington Post. I’m sorry to say, it no longer asserts thought leadership to the extent it used to when you’re a company posting about somewhat of a relevant article to your industry either.
The real time medium has changed. More and more people–the common computer users–are concerned about getting problems solved. They don’t turn to Twitter to read about some new ad agency tactic or to learn about cell phone usage stats. They turn to Twitter for no other reason than because they want something out of it. The best way to get something out of it is to complain about some company, product, or service and hope the company is listening to help.
Unfortunately, they do this more often lately because traditional customer service doesn’t care about users and cares more about script compliance–that is, reading what’s in front of them and never deviating from the script to do something special for a customer. Social media as a human medium lends itself more to “wow” factors, slang, funny GIFs, and ways for customers who are truly nothing more than our peers to identify with us as humans too.
I’m totally on board with that. I’d rather a company really truly try to empathize with me in informal speak than to give me the canned replies I see in a traditional company. And I’d rather see a company take a proactive stance to aid a customer in a different way than to do the tired and true methods of support. It not only shows me as a customer that I’m appreciated as being just like them, it reminds me that they’re just like me.
I laugh inside a bit because as a known early adopter, I was preaching social media marketing in 2006 before people cared. No one listened. Then, social media exploded, and the books started coming. The books taught lessons and those who read and diligently followed those lessons succeeded at first. Years later, new people who didn’t hear about social media marketing in 2009 wanted to do whatever it took to succeed. However, they were too late: the methods that were once so powerful stopped working. Social media marketing, after all, requires participation from people. If people are already bored of what they’re seeing and turning away from the space, how do you expect your message that’s like everyone else’s to resonate?
It’s why I stopped doing that kind of thing.
Sadly, people who are oblivious are still doing it. They’re still on this high that social media marketing strategy of old is a panacea of poor marketing to date and silver bullet. And when they or the companies that hire them find nothing coming of it, they think social media is a failure (look at the date of that post).
I’m here to reiterate that social media customer service is exactly where you want to be. I’ve been speaking to this truth since January 2013 with the launch of Real Time Email and in my guides. And yet, no one seems to be catching on.
By the time you do (and do it well), will it be too late?
Digg fell because of the arrogance of Kevin Rose. What we’re seeing now in social media with content distribution may be a problem, but it’s not analogous. Still, good points overall.
Hey Brian, nice to see you here. 🙂 Hope all is well with you too.
I think Kevin had much to do with Digg’s fall, but I can’t say he was solely responsible for its demise. It fell apart long after I understood Kevin to have that type of authority. In any event, the idea is what goes up must come down, and we’re seeing the same with how social media marketing of 2009 is not the same as social media marketing of 2014.