Organic reach died years ago. Marketers just forgot to bury it.
It all started when Mark Zuckerberg pulled one of the greatest bait-and-switches in business history. He promised brands and agencies freedom from the confines of paid media, then completely changed the rules of the game. It’s why he’s one of the wealthiest people in the world. It’s also why you’re not fully satisfied with your social media performance. You’re probably still clinging to the notion that your brand or client can get something for nothing through so-called “owned” media. But that’s always been a flawed mindset.
The switch was inevitable all along
It’s important to understand the bait-and-switch so that you can take action. Zuckerberg’s bait was simple. He created a platform with billions of users that brands could use to create their own audience, publish content and reap the rewards. Once upon a time, brands could reach millions of consumers organically without spending any money on paid media. All they needed were “friends” who would wait with bated breath for the latest branded content.
Once marketers were hooked, Zuckerberg pulled the switch. He shifted the algorithm so that brands no longer could reach millions of people for free. Right now, organic reach for many brands is about 1% for Facebook and about 2% for Instagram. Baited, then switched, the vast majority of content that brands develop is virtually invisible. All of the meetings, all of the strategic plans, all of the creativity are often for naught. Every day, brands invest hours, dollars and creativity to develop content that a negligible percentage of people actually see.
This doesn’t mean that social media marketing doesn’t work. It is still one of the most exciting and powerful channels in the history of marketing. There is no other arena where brands can leverage multimedia to create stories and conversations. It is a critical channel for virtually any brand in any industry. Perhaps even more important than the multimedia capabilities is the consumer mind-set. Social media is the new mall. It’s where consumers go to hang out, window shop and spend their money. But great content is not enough to win in social. It requires paid media.
The time for wound-licking is over
With a simple shift in mind-set, marketers can recover and drive powerful results on social media. When we shift our focus from purely organic content and recognize that social media is a paid media channel, the ballgame changes. It becomes the most powerful paid media channel there is because of its superior targeting capabilities, AI-driven sequential messaging and the ability to serve the entire sales funnel.
This shift to a “pay-to-play” channel is sadly ironic since brands initially thought that social media would spell the death of paid media and that creative would rule the day. We need to get over that emotional hurdle. Content remains of paramount importance. It’s not simply about buying media on social and re-hashing the antiquated reach and frequency model of yesteryear. Brands must invest heavily in creating compelling stories.
For most brands, the ratio of creative development to working media will be close to 50:50. This is much higher than traditional channels, but many brands now spend over 90 percent of their dollars on content creation, and that simply isn’t working. Producing great creative without paid media behind it is like setting up a candy store in the desert.
It’s not simply about creating a high volume of content. It’s about recognizing that paid social media enables brands to tell full-funnel stories, and the assets created for social media must extend down the entire sales funnel and integrate with digital and traditional channels. This means that emotional and functional content must be developed to move audiences sequentially through awareness, consideration, conversion and evangelism, regardless of channel.
The data-fueled engines on social media enable brands to tell a story that grows chronologically on a one-to-one basis. This is probably the most compelling component of social media marketing because it enables brands to drive brand metrics and generate revenue simultaneously. It’s no longer a choice between creating a branding campaign verse a direct-response campaign. Rather, it’s about creating a cohesive story where the upper and lower funnel work in harmony.
Zuckerberg and the other social media founders have matured their business models. It’s time for brands to make changes commensurate with the changes to the algorithms in the social platforms. Brands have unprecedented and unparalleled ability to leverage creativity, tell stories and build relationships. But these channels are not nearly as effective if brands don’t pay to play.