Before you spit up your coffee, hear me out. Because I think there’s a trend in the making here.
My thinking is based on three mini-trends and observations over the last six months:
Brand increasingly aren’t even interested in true engagement
Over the last year, I’ve done a number of audits for different clients. One trend I noticed popping up over and over: brands and organizations just aren’t that interested in “engaging” with their key audiences on social channels. They’re not. Oh sure, the Walmarts, Targets and Microsofts of the world are. But, the lion’s share of the brands I’ve researched and looked at for client work and for this blog are not. They just aren’t. Allow me to pick on Macy’s for a moment. Just take this recent post:
Now, let’s look at the comment stream:
Lots of opportunities for Macy’s to engage in those streams, no? Yet we don’t see a single response. That’s par for the course with today’s modern brand on social media. Again, not all brands are taking this approach, but an increasing number are.
What’s more, this is really what “engagement” looks like in 2019 when it comes to social media marketing for brands:
Look familiar? It should. Because customer service is something almost every brand worth its salt is doing on Twitter and Facebook. But, my question is this: Is this true engagement in 2019? Responded to customer rants on social media with templated responses? That’s “engaging” with our key audiences? I don’t see it that way. This is customer service. Nothing more. Let’s call it what it is and stop labeling this “engagement.”
Engagement rates on the biggest platforms are plummeting
In case you haven’t heard, Facebook is having an engagement problem. In other words: Engagement levels are falling off. Like “falling off the face of the world” falling off. Case in point:
Want first-hand proof? Let’s look at Under Armour. Big brand, right? Massive resources. Big budgets. Here’s a recent post.
Allow me to do the math: 272 engagements; 10,233,733 followers; that translates to a .0000265 engagement rate. Folks, that’s not great. In fact, I would argue that’s a complete waste of UA’s resources.
Another example: Dunkin. One of the absolute darlings of the social media marketing world. Surely, they are seeing outstanding engagement on Facebook!
Again, I’ll do the math for you: 18 engagements; 15,561,798 followers; that translates into a .0000011 engagement rate. That’s beyond hideous and embarrassing.
Where does that leave us? Not in a good spot folks. Not in a good spot at all.
#3: Engagements are starting to become fluffy
I think we could all agree likes, comments, shares, retweets are the basis for “engagement” on the social web. Likes are probably on the softer side of the equation, while shares are the holy grail of engagements for most brands. A good comment has solid value as well. But, many brands include the fluffiest of fluffy metrics as “engagements”–the video view. Why do I say these are fluffy? Well, to start, they count any view as anyone who’s watched a video on Facebook for three seconds. Think about that for a minute and tell me how “engaging” that is. Others count “clicks” as engagement. These are even more ridiculous counting basically any kind of click on the post or ad. Point is: By including clicks and video views and other fluffy metrics like them, “engagements” are losing their luster. It’s only a matter of time before CMOs and other higher-ups start to figure this out.
These are all reasons why I believe 2019 will be the year engagements start to fall out of favor as a KPI with brands.
What can you do to prepare for this trend? A few things come to mind:
- Evaluate your social media KPIs for 2019—do they still make sense? Is engagement a part of that mix? If the answer is “no” THAT’S OK!
- Define engagement more succinctly—is it all about customer service? Are video view metrics inflating your results?
- Consider what you can do to capture more lead-focused metrics—actions on site, e-newsletter signups from social, lead form completions.
If things keep progressing the way they are now, the answer to my question in the headline is most certainly “yes!”
Why do I have such confidence? Last summer, Forbes started using a new CMS, dubbed “Bertie.” This new AI-driven tool recommends article topics for Forbes massive contributor network based on their previous articles. It also serves up headlines based on the sentiment of the contributors’ pieces and images.
What’s more, Forbes is also testing a process where “Bertie” writes rough drafts of articles that the contributors can then simply edit and publish.
So, in reality, this is already happening.
From a productivity standpoint, this makes sense. And, it’s smart. Giving contributors new story ideas–pretty good idea. Making it more efficient to publish even more content on Forbes.com–I get it.
Forbes chief digital officer, Salah Zalatimo, even said the following in a recent Digiday article: “Anything we can do to make it easier and smarter to publish. That’s the loyalty we bring [our contributors.”
But, there’s the rub. “That’s the loyalty we bring our contributors.”
Forbes seems to be thinking about the wrong audience.
What about your readers, Mr. Zalatimo? Are you thinking about them?
Clearly not, if you’ve visited the Forbes site in the last five years. It’s full of annoying pop-ups and videos that are constantly bubbling up in the lower left-hand-corner. If “user experience” is the focus at Forbes, they’re doing a HORRIBLE job.
The focus on contributors is misguided, in my view. Making it more efficient to publish more content is OK, if your readers are interested in consuming said content. With Forbes as of late, I would say that remains to be seen.
There are other concerns, too. What about the fact that AI has its own inherent biases? This has been discussed at length recently.
Or, what about the fact that Bertie may end up serving up more ideas for articles too similar to previous works? That doesn’t necessarily encourage exploration of new topics. It doesn’t encourage diversity of thought. It doesn’t encourage NEW IDEAS.
Finally, if you’re a PR person, this has the potential to be disastrous. After all, you’re the ones pitching future story ideas to reporters and Forbes contributors every day! The moment tools like “Bertie” start doing that, it takes away value from what you provide to clients and your organizations. That’s a big problem!
Look, I know a lot of people will say this is a great idea. That it’s making contributors’ jobs easier. That Bertie is a great idea generator.
But, I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. In my mind, Forbes hasn’t exactly built up a ton of equity in my mind given their online user experience. So, I’m probably quicker than others to doubt them.
But, I also don’t love the fact that this whole process just encourages contributors to publish “more of the same.” That’s not what we need (or want) as readers. And, it’s certainly not a good thing for society, or the business world, as a whole.
What say you, Talking Points reader? I’d love to hear other opinions on this one.
I’ve been a long-time subscriber of the Star Tribune. My parents have been long-time subscribers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I grew up reading newspapers. I will probably (hopefully) grow old reading them.
I say hopefully because, as we all know, the newspaper industry is in trouble. Not “they might not survive the year”-type trouble. More like, “will they be around when I’m retired”-type trouble.
The challenges of running and maintaining a modern-day newspaper have been discussed at length the last few years. Competing with social media. Revenue issues. The list is long.
But, unfortunately, I have another to add to the list today: Readability.
This past weekend, I read an op-ed from one of my personal favorites, George Will (for the uninitiated, Will is a political commentator and journalist who writes regularly for the Washington Post; he’s also a Pulitzer Prize winner).
I like Will because he challenges my brain. I have to read his op-eds SLOWLY. Because they’re full of words and phrases I do not know.
And, therein lies the challenge.
I am a college-educated, upper-income earner living in a major metropolitan area. I’m not a doctor, attorney or academic, but I’m well educated and decently well-read.
And I can’t understand what George Will is often talking about.
Which raises the question: How many people CAN understand what George Will is talking about?
Which raises another question: Who is George Will writing to? Seemingly, the top less-than-one-percent of all people in this country.
And that, my friends, is not a way to sell newspapers.
It’s quite a paradox. On one hand, I love reading Will’s columns. They’re interesting. Insightful. And again, they challenge my brain. It’s partly why I love reading the paper.
On the other hand, our country is getting dumber. There’s just no question about that now.
The average American reads at around a 7th/8th grade reading level.
And, as you may have heard before, journalists are taught to write at an eighth-grade level. My son is in eighth grade. There is no earthly way he could decipher Mr. Will’s Sunday op-eds.
Now, to be clear, the entire newspaper is not written this way. Much of it is easily readable. But all it takes is one George Will op-ed to turn people off. I remember a review of the Messiah my family attended right before the holidays–it was equally as unreadable and full of terms my wife and I had to look up.
Look, I’m not writing this today to pile on daily newspapers. Quite the opposite: I’m writing because I care. I want newspapers to stay around. I believe we need newspapers in our society. And, most importantly, I want to grow old reading the newspaper in my old-man chair.
So please, George Will, I love you, but please stop using big words and write to a level more people can understand. You’re (slowly) killing the newspaper industry.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a very interesting article in the Atlantic titled “Rising Instagram Stars are Posting Fake Sponsored Content.”
The idea: Wannabe influencers are now posting fake sponsored content in hopes brands will see it and approach them about long-term partnership deals.
Yep, it’s for real. And yep, it’s happening.
And yep, it’s a big problem for brands.
In fact, the owner of a sunglasses brand was quoted in the Atlantic piece as saying: “the practice (posting fake sponsored content) has put him in a tough position as a stream of mid-level influencers post mediocre-quality sponsored content seemingly on his behalf, without his approval or control.”
What’s going on here? As wannabe influencers vie for brand dollars, they’re increasingly turning to “fake #sponcon” in an effort to curry “street cred.”
According to one influencer qouted in the Atlantic piece, fake #sponcon: “makes you seem like you’re in a position to be getting things for free, which helps you build your brand or media kit … It makes you seem more established, like you have brands that you’re working with. That means you’re producing good content and you’re worthy of approaching and offering these opportunities to.”
Again, street cred.
So, weird and wildly unethical phenomenon, right? But, from a brand perspective, this is very scary stuff.
It’s already tough enough for brands to convince existing influencer partners to use the #ad and #spon hash tags at the top of their posts. Now, we have to deal with fake #sponcon?
As optimistic as I am about influencer marketing in 2019, this could prove to be a big challenge for brands.
After all, what’s to stop wannabe influencer X from posting a regular stream of fake #sponcon featuring Coca-Cola products, effectively claiming to be a brand influencer? What if some of those posts contained profanity or culturally insensitive remarks? What course of action would Coca-Cola have?
This is a scenario that soon may be faced by more brands.
And it’s pretty darn scary.
What can brands do?
One idea: Create a page on your site, blog or newsroom where you list out all the influencers you’re currently working with. Maybe you even have some fun with it and create profiles for each influencer? Whatever the case, this approach would give you a portable and brand-owned URL to use when fake #sponcon pops up.
Just copy and paste the URL, comment on the fake #sponcon post with something like, “Thanks for the post and brand love, but these are the current brand influencers we’re working with. To be considered, please send us a note at XXXX.”
While this approach would take some time, and hours of social media monitoring each week, it’s one way to get at this evolving trend.
And, if you’re working in the influencer marketing world at all right now, I’d suggest getting in front of this now.
While you can.
We’ve been talking about the concept of the “social CEO” for years now. In fact, I remember Richard Branson being on Twitter in 2007!
But, the notion of the social CEO has really never taken off. Sure, there are a number of CEOs who are somewhat active on social media channels (Spencer Raskoff-Zillow, John Legere-T-Mobile and Gary Kelly-Southwest come to mind), but for the most part it’s been an uphill battle the whole way convincing CEOs this is worth their time and effort.
However, the tide may be turning.
I’ve noticed some stats and numbers recently that lead me to believe 2019 may be the start to more CEOs embracing social media.
Consider a recent BRANDFog survey that found 78% of people prefer to work for a company whose leadership is active on social media.
Or, what about the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer that found business is more trusted than government and that 64% of people believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.
That same Edelman study also found that 56% have no respect for CEOs who remain silent on important issues. And, more than half (54%) believe it’s easier to get brands to address social problems than to get government to take action.
And finally, only 20% of CEOs have a social network account today.
What I see here are three big trends coming together, and one large opportunity.
First trend: Employees wanting to see more of their leaders online/on social media. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. When I worked in corporate communications years ago, “I want to hear more from the CEO” was always a chief complaint among employees. Today, I’m certain that refrain still rings true. Employees want to see and hear from their leaders, and social media channels give them another way to do it–and more importantly, they represent channels that aren’t named “email” or (the dreaded) “intranet.” Great example here: Jack Salzwedel of American Family Insurance. I’ve written about Jack’s involvement on social before (with the help of Tom Buchheim, who we just featured on the Talking Points Podcast!). If you follow Jack on Twitter or LinkedIn, you’ll notice he interacts with employees all the time. They’re a key audience for his work on social.
Second trend: People are looking to brands and their leaders to enact change on key issues. Now, to be clear, I’m on this whole “CEOs need to take stands on key issues” bandwagon that agencies and experts have been expousing recently. I’m just not buying it. BUT, the scare tactics may just work. They may convince some CEOs that they need to start social media accounts. And from there, they will evolve. I think this series of stats may be one that gets them off the proverbial dime.
Final trend: Recruitment marketing pressures will continue to mount. It’s no secret many companies are having a hard time recruiting top talent. At the same time, “recruitment marketing” (specifically, social recruitment marketing” has become a thing). And, a big part of that recruitment marketing is getting key leaders out onto platforms like LinkedIn to be active so potential employees can see that when researching these companies. It plays to the first stat provided above. Think about your process when researching an employer. What are the first things you look up? Company web site. Glassdoor, maybe. Then, most likely, social channels. If you see the company CEO on LinkedIn talking about company news and issues, wouldn’t that catch your eye? Wouldn’t that make a favorable impression? Wouldn’t that change the way you think about that company–even just a bit? I think it would. And, I think it’s a key BUSINESS reason we’ll see more make the leap in 2019.
The opportunity is clear: With only 20% of CEOs on social media, there’s a lot of room for growth here. I see a lot of this happening on LinkedIn in 2019. It simply makes the most sense for most brands. Your employees (are usually) there. Your vendors are there. Your customers may be there. And, it’s relatively safe, unlike the toilet bowls that are Twitter and Facebook.
Time will tell, but this is one trend I’ll be following closely in 2019.