Slow and steady can win the social race – no, really

It’s the beginning of the year, which means two things: Your gym has gotten a lot more crowded, and your feeds are full of predictions for what’ll be hot in your industry for 2017.

I’ve waded through a fair amount of these forecasts from social media pundits, and recognized a couple of common (and familiar) trends:

  1. Video. The boom in both live-streaming and edited content continues on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube, with daily views in the billions.
  2. Messaging apps. Slack, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp – a lot of discussion and content sharing is happening beyond the public sphere, in conversations among peers.

Sound familiar? Both of these were on a lot of ‘2016 trends’ lists, too, in addition to continued moves toward personalization and ephemeral content. The social media world moves fast, but the biggest shifts don’t typically come out of nowhere – which is convenient, given that quick changes are not something every organization can manage easily.

A slow(er) response can actually be a good thing, as long as it’s the result of thoughtfulness, not just laziness or disorganization. If your social strategy revolves around jumping on a particular platform or content trend, you may stay relevant – but you’ll also always be playing catch-up, reacting to what’s hot. If you have a huge, well-resourced social team, maybe that’s fine. But most of us live in the real world, where budgets are tight and video editors have to-do lists 20 projects long.

The Tortoise and the Hare
via Project Gutenberg

If you take the long view and keep big-picture goals – like building strong, rewarding user relationships – in mind, and apply the trends as they make sense for your audience, you’ll be poised to grow social impact year after year.  Certainly you should keep up with how social behavior is shifting, and recognize when your strategy has gone stale. But take your cues from what your users are actually telling you, through their words and their actions.

For example, consider video. Instead of responding by saying ‘we need to create more video’, you might ask, what does that say about what users want? Is it that they’re too busy to read? Does it mean they’re mostly on mobile? What does your data show you about how your audience is consuming your video content — do users gravitate to certain types (live, edited, animated) or topics? What can you adapt to a new platform (keeping in mind that you may have to do it without sound)? You can use this information to create a worthwhile video experience that people will actually want to engage with.

Tackling the move to messaging is tougher, but again, focus on what’s motivating the change. I’d argue that the shift to private messaging is in part a response to ever-noisier feeds. Users are containing their conversations within the peer networks that matter to them most, on the mobile devices they use most often. If that’s the case, then a brand butting in may not be the right approach.

A more effective angle may be to influence those conversations by ensuring that you are effectively reaching the content distributors and conversation starters within those networks – perhaps re-focusing existing influencer marketing and employee advocacy efforts. Again, use the data you have to understand more. Many analytics platforms have at least some way to track ‘dark social’ traffic, showing when users are coming to deep links in your site with no obvious path. Correlating this traffic with your promotions and existing user engagement can reveal what (and who) is driving the conversations outside of your control. At the same time, you can get a sense of how many customers might like to use messaging to interact with your brand, and how to effectively allocate resources.

These methods can take some time, and maybe your CEO has already asked why you haven’t done a Facebook Live video yet. This post isn’t about ignoring trends, or slowing down your overall output – it’s about taking a balanced, realistic approach that folds new activities into your larger plans, accounting for existing efforts and capabilities.

The first-mover advantage is real, but speed isn’t guaranteed to translate to long-term success. Need proof? Look around your gym to see who’s still there come June.


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