how social media has changed

Social media has changed a lot over the past few years and continues to changes at a rapid pace.

As a freelance social media consultant, it’s my job to keep up to date with those developments – from a trend and strategic view, right down to a macro and tactical level.

So when an old friend who I worked with at a digital agency got in touch to find out what has changed in social media over the past few years, as he was looking to get back into social media consulting, I was happy to help him and answer his questions.

We worked together from 2008-2010, just when platforms like Facebook and Twitter were taking off for brands. I remember when we ran the first Twestival that if you had over 200 followers on Twitter you were a pretty big deal.

Things have definitely changed since then.

It was an interesting exercise to take a step back from the day-to-day, remind myself of what social media and digital consulting used to be like, and what it looks like now. So interesting, I thought it was worth sharing here in case it was useful to you – and more importantly if you disagreed or had something to add.

My friend’s questions about how social media has changed and my answers

1. What are the main similarities between social media now and in 2010. It appears that organic, as opposed to paid for, campaigns seem to do less well as a result of sponsored links etc. Does this mean that organic is dead or that it needs to be targeted better to overcome this?

The core principles are the same: get the right message to the right person at right time. You can’t polish a turd with a tweet.

The difficulty now is that it’s much harder to reach those people organically, as social media is a lot more professionalised. Bloggers are more savvy now and will generally only take sponsored posts from brands that pay (unless the offer is really compelling or is for a cause they associate with). Vloggers are huge now and there are whole agencies that manage YouTube talent.

That means that paid media (Facebook ads, Twitter ads) are increasingly being used to boost campaigns and get some guaranteed numbers.

The good news is that these ads can be so targeted and are so easy to measure that you can get some really good results from a targeted approach, even if the budget is relatively small – much better than casting the net far and wide anyway. We increasingly recommend that some budget is set aside for paid media to benefit from this targeted approach, even at the cost of losing some of the fee we’d take home as consultants.

Even if you do get a top tier piece of online media or blog coverage, this really does not guarantee click throughs or other ROI measurements. You’ll be surprised at how little clicks media like the Guardian or the Telegraph get you. Even a tweet from Stephen Fry is not quite what it was.

In fact, paid media and social media (compared to PR) probably generate better results, which is why I’ve broadened my specialism to include paid media. Brands increasingly expect you to be able to do that as well.

That being said, content marketing is huge at the moment. Those brands who can get their content marketing strategy right and give the right resource to it over the long term will see massive benefits (in terms of traffic) that last a lot longer than paid media. Once you stop paying for advertising, all that traffic stops too – unless you generate lots of organic traffic through SEO and content marketing.

Everything is much more strategic now. There’s a lot of pre-written content that’s being scheduled using tools like Buffer and Hootsuite, which means you can plan a lot further ahead and don’t have to be manning the channels the whole time.

Everyone can do social media now as more brands have needed it, plus it’s a part of everyone’s job description if you’re in a comms, marketing or advertising role. That means that there’s been a race to the bottom in terms of what you can charge for social media or community management – plus a glut of people who claim they can “do” social media.

The difference comes from those who can deliver real results that affect the bottom line, while being able to give solid, strategic client consultancy, which only comes from excellent training that many agencies give or experience working with brands that really excel in the space.

Two last things:

  • Campaigns rely on images a lot. Facebook and Twitter need to have images with every post really, plus they’re useful for Instagram and Pinterest, so most brands need to invest in at least basic visuals.
  • Mobile accounts for 40% of traffic at the moment for most campaigns I run, so any campaign needs to be mobile optimised and have responsive websites.

2. What brands are you most impressed by in terms of their social media presence?

Others that you might not normally consider:

3. What is your main channel for communicating with audiences or is it targeted dependent on the brand?

Depends on the brand, but overall:

  • A Twitter profile for community management and influenced engagement
  • A Facebook page to mainly run ads and competitions through, unless you have a very large (100,000 fans+) base as organic reach is so low (just 2%!)
  • A company blog for content marketing and general news updates
  • Email newsletters are getting important again. With so much noise in social media, getting someone’s attention right in their inbox is extremely valuable and savvy brands realise this.
  • Google+ is largely irrelevant, unless your a gadget or car brand
  • Instagram and Pinterest are good for fashion, design, interiors, food – basically anything visual
  • Hacker News, Reddit and Product Hunt for start up news

4. Are your campaigns mostly proactive news seeding or reactive fire fighting or something else entirely?

Mainly brand building, awareness raising, community management – but the objectives are much more specific now.

Social media is a lot easier to measure than it used to be. There are a lot more benchmarks and case studies to refer to, so clients are rightly being more specific on campaign ROI and expecting more from their campaigns – and being more realistic in what campaigns can achieve.

What do you think the main changes to social media have been? Has the approach needed or main strategies changed? What has improved? What do you miss about the good old days of social media?

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