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The Evolution of Social Content

Posted on Nov. 11, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.

by Katie Gatti.

What’s the first thing most people do upon waking in the morning? While the standard morning wake-up call for hundreds of years had been to use the restroom and bathe, for the past decade, the first thing most people do in the morning is check social media apps.

Our world has been hurdled into an increasingly interconnected web. “Those who choose to ignore the wealth of social data available will appear to the rest of us like those who once scoffed at the value of a cell phone even as smartphones like the iPhone were flying off the shelves,” wrote Jordan Hanson for Customer Think.

In fact, only one notable brand is curiously absent from social media. Perhaps it’s a statement — “We don’t need to generate buzz with social content, because our products speak for themselves.” Whatever the reason, there’s no @apple Twitter account. There isn’t an Apple Instagram page. There isn’t even an official Apple Facebook page, but an unofficial page without content has nearly 10 million likes. Talk about brand loyalty.

For the thousands of other brands that don’t have Apple’s market power, social media is nonnegotiable.

Half-hearted social media use?
Every consumer is familiar with a brand that maintains social media accounts merely for the sake of having them. The posts are uninspiring, unentertaining and usually receive little to no interaction. While still considered a respectable stab at engaging potential customers online, releasing bland, predictable messages into the cyber world only numbs consumers to social media marketing.

“What I really hate to see are companies that establish handles on multiple networks and then never post, or respond. It’s almost worse than not being there. When a consumer has a question or an issue about a product and sends a message but doesn’t get a reply, that’s a blemish on the brand that’s difficult to overcome,” warned Mary Barber, president of The Barber Group.

Before an effective social media strategy can be devised, one must understand who uses social media. Given that its advent can be roughly traced to 2005, the Pew Research Center conducted an analysis of social media demographic data collected over the past decade to determine how social media users have changed since its onset.

The findings
Social media users have increased tenfold since 2005, an increase from 7 percent of all adults to 65 percent. Predictably, millennials lead the way. Ninety percent of young adults use social media regularly, making them a highly targeted demographic.

“Social media is so dominant that it’s easy to forget that the term is only around 20 years old,” wrote Tim Maytom for Mobile Marketing. “The rapid growth in usage and changes in format … make social media the perfect bellwether for seeing how our methods of communication are likely to change over the next few years.”

Contrary to stereotype, millennials and middle-aged members of society aren’t the only people online. The Pew Research center data revealed that, of all the groups examined, people aged 65 and older experienced the biggest surge in use: up from 2 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2015.

man-535872_1920Some of the other findings were more surprising: After examining 10 years of social media metrics, the study found that gender, race and location had a negligible effect on social media usage.

Instead, research revealed that age, socioeconomic status and education level made a noticeable difference. Seventy-six percent of college-educated people are social media users, compared with 54 percent of people with only high school diplomas — a 22-point difference.

Coincidentally, high-income households and low-income households experienced the same 22-point discrepancy (78 percent and 56 percent, respectively).

Of course, this is not to say that every social media user is a highly educated, upperclass individual in their early 20s. Research indicates, however, that a man or woman who has a college degree is more likely to express his or her thoughts on Twitter than a man or woman without one.

Likewise, someone who makes $70,000 or more annually is more likely to post a photo on Instagram than someone who makes, say, $25,000. A young man at the age of 19 is more likely to log on to Facebook and update a status than a man who’s 59.

One must be careful not to oversimplify, though; there are still proverbial 59-year-old, high school-educated men who make $25,000/year and are on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (just not as many, theoretically speaking).

Cutting through the clutter
This data breakdown is important primarily because it debunks some conventional social media wisdom: Women are more active online than men and there aren’t any grandparents online, to name a few. So, how can brands capitalize on this knowledge?

iphone-830480_1920The online universe is saturated with conflicting messages. There is such an immense amount of virtual clutter in cyber existence that using social media for a brand effectively seems like a nearly impossible feat.

“Storytelling, organic engagement and growing your social network by quality and not quantity are the ways to have true engagement with your audiences,” said Fran Stephenson, principal of Step In Communication. This approach requires ample research and a nuanced understanding of the industry at hand. A beautiful image and a humorous quip aren’t enough if the message is irrelevant to the audience.

“The answer lies with the generation that has grown up as social media natives, who have been mobile consumers all their lives and who are the most sought-after group by both developers and marketers alike: millennials,” Maytom said in Mobile Marketing. The Pew Research Center data revealed one crucial piece of information that showed ‘teens from wealthier households are more likely to favor picture- and video-based social media.’

What’s next?
Market analysts increasingly believe that video is the new frontier. “Video allows for much richer storytelling, combining sight, sound and motion, providing a bigger opportunity for brand building, emotional resonance and loyalty,” explained Claire Valoti, director of agency partnerships at Facebook UK, for Mobile Marketing.

22193885450_4e8d7fc962_kVideo content lends itself to a naturally more engaging experience. Market trends indicate that, within the next several years, larger social media networks will consume smaller ones and continue developing new features. “This provides marketers with a small number of channels that reach a huge and diverse audience,” explained Maytom for Mobile Marketing.

When it comes to crafting messages for that small number of channels, it’s important to remember that ‘modern customers crave tailored, engaging experiences,’ Hanson wrote for Customer Think. In other words, one size does not fit all.

“You owe it to your customers to understand their habits, behaviors and perception of your brand,” Hanson explained for Customer Think. When a consumer trusts a brand, he or she is more likely to reveal personal data. That personal data can then be used to further customize the message.

“You need to make sure the content you post is not only appropriate to your brand, but also appropriate to the network. If you’re on Instagram, you better have super pictures. If you’re on Twitter, your message better be pithy and less than 140 characters,” advised Barber.

Measure, then modify
Luckily, text analytics programs are designed to monitor social media use by consumers and offer an immediate understanding of popular topics and the corresponding sentiment. This means a more personalized customer service experience, as these types of advanced metrics programs can visually represent the opinions of consumer populations whenever needed.

“Every day, the tools get better. Just today, I learned about three new tools to analyze and measure social media,” said Stephenson.

phone-958066_1920What’s social media’s role, then, in the brand experience, and how should it be employed to optimize the consumer’s involvement? According to Hanson, social media insight should be used to improve brand loyalty.

“I try to use everything on a personal level so I can counsel clients on which channels and audiences they should be looking for,” Stephenson explained of her own social media strategy.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula. Barber offered advice for brands that don’t know where to get started: “Even for clients who don’t want to put resources into social media, they know they need to listen and hear what’s being said out there. It’s a tool. You must first identify the problem you’re trying to solve, and who your target audience is. Once you know that and your strategy, you can decide which tools to choose.”

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