How Social Networks have become Anti-Social (and how your strategy must respond)
It was always going to be so as the exponential success of the big Social Networks led them towards the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: Wall Street. Since floating, the dynamics of the big Social Networks have changed as "The Street" impresses upon them the ever-insatiable appetite for profit and growth. The spirit of collaboration that these networks had built their popularity on is irrelevant to the stock market that is vested purely in the business of dividends and portfolio wealth. The symptom of this I've noticed that is of particular importance is one that I also see prevalent among online publishers: to operate almost in denial of the rest of the internet. The spirit of traditional Social Media for the most part is to operate as an efficient aggregator of all the great content on the internet, regulated by the level playing field of Relevance. The best content is shared the most times by the most people and therefore achieves "cut-through" based on the quality of the content, not on the size of the content-owner's marketing budget. This is why the Social web is so democratic and appealing (especially to smaller organisations) - its primary currency is "interesting" rather than dollars.
Publishers have built their sites in denial of this but have sought to benefit from it at the same time. The principal difference, for instance, you will see between a blog post and an online newspaper article is that a blog post is riddled with embedded external links so that your reading can go on elsewhere as you research a topic. On most newspaper sites, the only links are to other articles on that site. The commercial imperative is to keep the reader on the site and not send them away, despite the fact that there might be more interesting or more relevant content elsewhere. While commercially logical, this is essentially anti-Social in my view.
Since floating, the big Social networks are becoming equally Anti-Social. They are driven not by the need to provide the most Social experience for their users but to keep the user on the site as long as possible in order to report the best metrics to advertisers.
- Take for instance the LinkedIn Publishing platform. There is already the internet and on it there are already blogs that thought leaders have been using to share their expertise. But recently LinkedIn has de-emphasised this external content in preference for their own platform. Third party content shared by users on LinkedIn no longer receives the same visibility as much as the content published there on LinkedIn. This platform currently receives its own, somewhat annoying, Notification everytime someone in your network pubslishes onto it. While third party content posted by users on LinkedIn disappears into the ether, content posted onto the LinkedIn platform is archived on your profile. Again, this makes sense commercially for LinkedIn but it means that the efforts users have gone into to produce their own platforms and promote them on these Social Networks are now irrelevant to LinkedIn (except they must continue as LinkedIn is a walled garden to Google and SEO will suffer from a LinkedIn-only strategy).
- On Facebook, a different dynamic is in play this year as the powerful engine is undermining "organic reach" for brand pages. Organic Reach describes that very dynamic I mentioned earlier - cutting through on the basis purely of your relevance and interest to your audience. If you manage a Facebook Page on behalf of your company, you have to date relied on the Facebook algorithm (Social Graph) and Organic Reach - your users liking your content and sharing it which in turn increases its visiblity. Effectively, this is free and the currency of it is your creative effort rather than your marketing dollar. Well, no more. As this article on Forbes explains: "Brands must now have Facebook down as a ‘paid channel’ on their marketing budget so they can work campaigns around this fact. The free ride and access to Facebook’s user base is coming to an end." This process has become known as the Reachpocalypse.
So what can be done about this reality? Your professional LinkedIn strategy should recognise that you should start leveraging the Publishing Platform more in combination with your external or blog content strategy. This is a welcome mat you cannot afford to wear out (given there's a Notification every time) and so perhaps weekly contributions versus daily content posting. If you already have a blogging strategy and don't want to duplicate that or replace it, it is advisable to post your content on the LinkedIn posting platform also, but be warned that the correlation between LinkedIn and the Google search engine is not yet understood but in order to check your blog SEO efforts are not punished for duplication, change many of the words so the content is not a mirror.
On Facebook, it is a fact of life that you will have to spend more money on your Facebook content strategy - sponsored posts and advertising to promote your content will become essential. But one other lesson I have come across is that while external content is punished, if the content is native on Facebook it will travel further. I recently heard of an instance where Facebook executives admitted to a room of Page managers that a video on You Tube posted onto Facebook will not do as well as a video posted directly into Facebook itself. Therefore, again, a duplicate strategy is needed for video and image content. Your video will do well on You Tube so continue on that journey but to ensure it receives visibility on Facebook, post the file directly into the engine.
This is disappointing but is merely a natural consequence of the same commercial mechanism that gave us these wonderful platforms in the first place, so you must adapt rather than lament. However, it does frustrate me that while we already have a perfectly functioning and wonderful internet, we must now duplicate our content efforts on these platforms that once valuably aggregated that internet but now aim to compete with it.
Twitter hopefully will remain what is in my view the purest of Social platforms, but is still only recently accountable to the market and the outcome of that is unclear. What I have noticed though is that native content - images uploaded directly into Twitter - do help your posts travel further.
Google+ is unique because it serves not y the stock market but the search engine - that algorithmic machine your content strategy must remain a loyal servant of - in recognition of the fact that internet is, despite all I have written above, still the most powerfully Social network of all.
In summary, your content strategy now must become multi-faceted: a Social-SEO strategy on the internet and then walled-garden strategies on LinkedIn and Facebook. But it should be remembered that the significance of peer-to-peer engagement remains unchanged and ultimately the most powerful and unique aspect of Social Media.