Stop Calling Everything “Social Media”

February 11, 2016

If you’ve been referring to everything from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat to Twitter as “social media,” you might want to think again. “Social media” now refers to so many wildly different apps and experiences that using the term loosely can betray a misunderstanding of the direction information delivery is moving on the web.

Or, at least, that’s the provocative premise of a recent Medium  post titled “Why I Unfollowed You on Instragram.” by Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at LVMH. It’s one of the more compelling pieces on social media I’ve read this year.

Rogers’s argument: To understand what we call “social media,” you first have to understand the difference between a Social Feed, an Interest Feed and a Communication Tool.

The only true Social Feeds are Facebook and LinkedIn. These are apps based on personal connections, personal news and “soft follows,” meaning you don’t see everything everyone posts. Content is curated by algorithm.

Everything else is either an Interest Feed or a Communication Tool. Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, for example, are Interest Feeds. You likely follow nearly as many brands as you do people on these platforms, and you see everything that gets posted. You’re responsible for curating your own content — not an algorithm.

The latest darling of brand marketers, Snapchat, is a Communication Tool — not so different from your e-mail inbox. Rogers argues, in fact, that Snapchat is closer to Cable TV than anything else.

Here’s why this matters to us at Hanley Wood: In order to fully serve our customers, we have to continually push ourselves to evolve toward a more nuanced understanding of the apps and experiences competing for audience attention online.

In this case, that means:

  1. We shouldn’t talk about “social media marketing” as a one-size-fits-all solution. Each app (including, by the way, e-mail marketing) has vastly different purposes — and strengths and weaknesses — that may or may not make it an appropriate solution for a customer. Instagram is a great place for kitchen and bath fixtures brand. It’s not the place where a manufacturer of drywall fasteners is going to succeed telling its brand story.
  2. We should always look for ways to help our customers anticipate the evolution of content marketing on the web. For his part, Rogers argues that the next killer app is going to be an intelligent Interest Feed that scrapes everything — from Facebook to your Google in-box — and serves up a new level of relevant, customized content in an elegant, mobile-friendly UI. And, even better, gets smarter over time. This wouldn’t be “just” another Flipbook or Unroll.me — this would be the self-driving car of web content.

Will we see something this revolutionary in 2016? Who knows, but it’s a safe bet someone is working on it already.

In the meantime, we can all help our customers see the bigger picture. In the case of social media, that might mean breaking it down for them into manageable parts: Social Feeds, Interest Feeds, and Communication Tools.

Which combination is right for your customer? If we’re doing our jobs correctly, the answer is a little different every time.

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Vince Giorgi
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