Social is becoming less social, with more users switching to private networks and messaging apps.

This begs the question, how can brands make money from social media if they aren’t allowed to join in? 

Recently I’ve been spending more time with Ello, the Facebook-challenging social platform that is using data privacy as a USP, and I’m not the only one.

Increasingly, users are migrating to closed messaging platforms like WhatsApp or WeChat, and closed networks like Rooms or Ello.

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0005/7030/matt_on_ello-blog-flyer.png

I have no idea what I'm staring at in my profile picture. 

It’s largely our own fault

Before we figure out how to make some cash, I’m going to indulge in a small rant.

Businesses still don’t appreciate social or content. For every market leader looking at multichannel attribution and content marketing, there are a thousand others who simply don’t care.

Social media is portioned off as part of marketing or SEO, content is only measured on last-click. I have regular bouts of apoplectic rage when I hear from people who not only don’t believe that social makes money, but are so pig-headed about the whole thing that they refuse to believe that there are better ways of measuring how and why it’s performing. 

For those people, the simplest possible analogy I can think of is a restaurant. Why do you go to a restaurant, and who do you pay when you’re there?

Now, who actually created the revenue for that business (Hint: It wasn’t the doorman)? That’s how content and social works. 

The reason I’m touching on this is because we really only have ourselves to blame for this shift.

Most social and content is still measured according to outdated broadcast metrics. Most people honestly believe that if something happens online, it’s always measurable.

If our ads don’t work, we stage site takeovers, if our content is bad, we simply throw more money at it.

Targeting can be excellent, but very, very rarely is. Because we still honestly think pageviews count there’s a push towards sheer volume, quality over quantity, and that means interruptive ads, and the willingness to throw UX out of the window the second there’s a chance to display another video ad on our sites. 

To be absolutely fair, there are certain businesses where advertising is the only option. It’s genuinely difficult to produce consistent, relevant content when all you’re really trying to do is sell a few more tins of soup, but we’ve got to stop kidding ourselves and be willing to make the distinction between content and ads. 

This push to interruption annoys users, who are making the move to platforms where we can’t shove annoying ads in front of them. 

Feel free to say “But we do value content!” in the comments below. It’s your conscience... OK, rant over.  

We don’t know our own value...

The focus on these metrics means that content is woefully undervalued, and social even more so. You cannot hope to have a clue about its business value if you assume that clicking a link and buying something is the only way you make money from your web properties. 

Recent stats from Radium One showed that up to 91% of social media users share content through Dark Social channels. IM and email that you won't be able to track properly.

Even if you are using campaign tracking, each time something is shared, the likelihood of that tracking breaking increases. I can post something on Econsultancy's Facebook page, but if someone tweets it, and then someone else decides to copy that tweet and email it to a friend, the chances of attributing a final action become remote at best.

This point becomes more important in a minute, so keep it in mind. 

But users sure know theirs

I’m loathe to use the term ‘Millennials’, as it’s really too broad a term to be useful in most cases, and this is a trend that extends across all demographics. However old they are, more and more users are taking to WhatsApp, WeChat, Ello and more to talk. 

Today’s consumer has a range of attitudes towards the web. They are at once open, and intensely aware of privacy.

Collaborative, group projects are increasingly the norm. Look at Kickstarter. Look at your shared google docs. Hell, look at your Facebook Secret Santa group. That’s open. All the ideas go in and shape the end result in a collaborative and fruitful way. 

Closed platforms take all the good parts of social platforms (open networking, group functionality, instant communication) and remove all the bad (being spied on, your mum seeing your update by mistake, clueless marketers forcing you to watch ads about elephants-foot umbrella stands), and that’s how it should be.

Why shouldn’t you be able to expect some form of privacy? And more importantly, why shouldn’t you be able to choose how, where and with whom you share your personal information? 

People know how much they are worth to you. 

How can we make money?

So if we can’t set up a branded presence, how do we get involved? Is it all over for content? 

No, of course not, but it is all over for old fashioned measurement and lip service.

If you want to make money, you’re going to need to have absolute faith in your content and in your brand identity and affinity. You aren’t going to be able to measure it. Just like you can’t really measure all those print, billboard and TV ads you plough millions into. It’s going to be tough. 

Affiliate marketing and the monetised audience.

Affiliate links are going to be making a comeback, and this isn’t really a surprise.

Way back in 2010, Pinterest made itself a tidy sum by sticking affiliate links into pins, and once the secret got out… no one really cared. News that something carries an affiliate link is usually greeted with a ‘fair enough’ attitude by users, and including creating content that enables these to be shared is a straightforward way of pushing some cash back to the publisher.

It’s an added way for closed platforms to make some solid revenue, but it also neatly addresses the idea that engagement has a qualifiable value. Let’s face it; people will really have to like you to share your stuff without you asking them to. Which brings us to…

WoM

In the past I’ve written about the variety of problems and inaccuracies associated with link tracking, Direct traffic isn’t going anywhere (and, controversial as it may be, I‘m willing to bet that Apple devices will remain fairly popular for a while) so it’s a continuing problem. Which means we’ll just need to accept the fact that strong brand affinity is going to matter more.

People are going to have to like you, which means that, along with superior UX and CX, businesses will need to be more responsive through social

To take advantage of this, we need a shift in thinking.

No longer will we be able to concentrate purely on forming our own communities. ‘Follow Us’ will still matter to an extent, but ‘Share Us’ will become even more important.

Social is already a prime channel for customer service, but we’ll really have to start thinking beyond platform-specific content and providing more value and interest.

Light branded content like memes and micro-video will still matter because they are inherently shareable, but we may finally be entering an era where we realise that content measurement is going to get incredibly complex, incredibly quickly, and that a lot of it may never be measurable, which means we're going to have to use the data we have to create content that we can have faith in to do its job, trackable or not. 

Matt Owen

Published 3 December, 2014 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (1)

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Two words: Direct response.

Matt, you're right. There are certain businesses where advertising is the only option. And every bit of that advertising is wasted when it's not meeting up with a direct response piece. Whether you're wrapping a bus with your message or placing it onto social media "broadcast style" you're wasting it all if there's no DR piece connecting to it.

Content marketers are not yet focused on using direct response copywriting to elicit behavior -- allowing prospects to navigate toward or away from sellers. Sellers remain confused as to how and when to apply content like videos, white papers, blog posts... in order to generate appointments.

As well, content marketing has yet to approach the group buying dynamic. That is, making sure sales knows how and when to use content in group buying scenarios. Most content marketing strategists spend 99% of their guidance on "re-purpose" and other trivial ideas. Instead, they should be helping sellers understand how to apply the content across a half-dozen decision influencers! Personas and matching content to them? It's simply not enough. It's the cost of entry, not the key to success.

Ok. Off my soapbox :)

about 3 years ago

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