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Is social media marketing what it once was?

Diane Hall


When the likes of Facebook and Twitter launched, businesses were crying out to reach their audiences via these platforms. Social media marketing was a way to connect to people individually, as well as with specific groups and demographics, on a variety of topics. Rather than hoping consumers would visit your website, social media enabled you to go to them.

Some once-popular platforms fell by the wayside in the years that followed (Twitter and Pinterest, for example). Despite this, some companies spend eye-watering amounts on advertising via Instagram and Facebook (and now TikTok).

Social media marketing, like any promotional initiative, has the expectation that it brings a return for the money spent. This doesn’t always mean a financial return (though this should always be an element, ultimately); engagement, new leads, data relating to your demographics, and other types of interaction can be valuable. That said, if your efforts are only producing a handful of likes and nothing else, you need a new social media marketing strategy.

Likes aren’t worth the (virtual) paper they’re written on.

When a business spends money on its advertising, it wants people to buy. To act. Not just click a button that gives a thumbs up.

New research has shown that ‘big data’ isn’t necessarily the game-changer we believe it to be in 2021.

Information about our likes, dislikes and buying preferences has become the biggest commodity of the digital age. Our devices listen in to our conversations and targeted marketing and intelligent adverts display the things we discuss. How many times have you mentioned the most random object just to see an advert pop up in your social media feeds a short time later? This type of artificial intelligence still freaks many people out.

The study in question showed that collectively, we’re becoming desensitised to ‘personalised’ adverts and targeted marketing. Whereas, a few years ago, this would have been a novelty and may have made us pause as we scrolled through our feed, we’re so used to seeing it that we block it all out.

Simply liking something is not an indication of our buying intentions, either. Clicking the ‘like’ button takes much less effort than clicking through to the website in question, completing the address and payment information, and arranging delivery. We’ve got to really want something—which usually comes from researching the product and not purchasing on a whim. Therefore, whilst social media marketing has its value in bringing a product to our attention (albeit passively), it needs to work much harder and involve the changing psychology of consumer behaviour to work as effectively as it once did.

It was inevitable that social media marketing would lose its grip. Nothing lasts forever. Given that this technique was ultra-successful at its peak, a few years ago, it had to encounter a trough, a dip, a recession. Social media marketing needs to incorporate the psychology of a sale and not just rely on simply being present under customers’ noses.

The pandemic has helped to speed up this shift. The more we’re online, the more overwhelmed our senses are when surfing everything the net has to offer. Almost every brand is digital nowadays, and most of them are paying for targeted marketing without any understanding of what makes a customer buy, versus what causes them to simply ‘like’ a post.

We can get anything we want, at any time, just by logging on. So, how does any one brand make waves in the ocean of options available? How can a brand stand out when everyone and their dog is personalising their marketing? Surely, at that point, it simply becomes overwhelming. Just a lot of noise we easily ignore and shot after shot of forgettable imagery.

Bigger companies are becoming disenchanted with social media marketing. A few years ago, they may not have understood it; now, they likely recognise how it operates, but they’re not enamoured by the analytics.

The people carrying out the study in question, which was compiled less than a year ago, found less correlation than ever between the things people like and search for and what they actually buy. The feeling is that we’ve become so used to browsing that we rarely stop and look more closely at any of the things we’ve seen. What was once an effective science has reverted back to guesswork.

For social media marketing to be as useful as it once was, it needs to focus less on customer attitude and more on consumer actions, i.e. rather than gathering data based on people’s behaviourial preferences and assuming what they’ll buy, it needs to dig deep into people’s purchases, and base its advertising and future marketing strategy on truth and actual transactions.

Those working in the social media marketing industry would do well to read psychology books rather than concentrating on the technical and analytical aspects of their role. Whilst the latter elements are important, they’re redundant if experts don’t know why one product makes customers act over another.

Personalising the posts they see won’t matter a dot if they’re not likely to buy the product to begin with.

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