The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently released its annual report showcasing how many Fortune 500 companies are using social media channels. It’s a report I review every year–partly because my clients are mostly all big companies and partly because my podcast partner, Kevin Hunt, always flags it for me!
The report shares some interesting data about corporate blogging. Namely, that it is UP more than 11 percent since 2017 among the Fortune 500 companies.
That’s the highest that percentage (53%) has ever been since they started tracking these stats in 2008.
Here’s what the study’s authors had to say: “Corporate blogs are steadily becoming more prevalent on company websites. With an 11% increase in blog usage from last year, more and more companies are taking ownership of their relationships with their customers. 53% now have corporate blogs.”
Given what’s happened with Facebook this year (engagement levels down, user numbers down) and Twitter (down as a brand engagement tool overall), it makes sense that companies are looking for ways to publish and control their own content. But 53 percent? That seems awfully high.
But, what’s even more interesting is the next graphic, which outlines how many large companies are using blog comments:
The number of corporate blogs that allow comments has dropped by almost 50 percent! In fact, I’m a little surprised so many corporate blogs still allow comments! 40 percent seems high!
And, this is the paradox I want to discuss today. Corporate blogging is up–but comment usage is down.
It begs the question: Is a corporate blog really still a blog if customers can’t publicly comment?
Good question, right?
For the answer, let’s start by defining the term “blog” a bit more.
Merriam-Webster says a blog is: “a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors.”
I gotta say, I love that! And, it kinda gets at what personal blogs are all about.
But we’re talking about corporate blogs here. And, a corporate blog really should be a place where people from a brand or organization share their thoughts, ideas and information in an attempt to influence customer/stakeholder behavior.
And, historically, it has almost always been two-way. As in, customers can comment and add to the discussion.
Apparently, that approach has changed.
It’s not all that surprising. Especially as we watched as media sites have endured this exact situation. For years, we watched as sites like the Star Tribune saw hundreds of internet trolls spam and berate people in comment streams within stories.
Brands, it seems, are simply heading those trolls off before they even get the chance.
Another trend at play here: The shift in social media marketing from two-way discussions to one-way broadcasting. After all, that’s really what brand social media marketing has become. A full-on broadcast ad platform. Look no further than Facebook for proof. Look no further than the thousands of customers comments that go unanswered every day on Twitter. Engagement, no matter what brands say, is no longer the goal. Broadcasting is. And, that applies to blogs, too.
Finally, some of this shift also has to do with how social content is created in 2018. In previous years, blog content was written and designed to spur discussion in the comment streams. This was a priority (bigger for some than others). Fast forward to 2018 and spurring conversations in comment threads is about the last thing on most brands’ minds. Again, the broadcast mentality dominates. No one wants to have discussions anymore. It’s all one way.
These stats validate that theory.
Look no further than some of the larger, more successful Fortune 500 blogs.
A quick peek at the Walmart Today blog shows just a handful of comments in the last 8-10 posts.
The long-standing Randy’s Journal blog for Boeing usually sees a few comments on each post–but I can’t find any recently that have got a response. Again, all one-way communication.
The FedEx blog also generates a handful of comments for each post–but much like others, they go unanswered, almost every time.
Many of the other most prominent Fortune 500 blogs don’t include comment functionality at all–just like the graphic above outlines. Microsoft, Coca-Cola, UPS, Allstate, and General Electric all fit in this group.
So, I’ll ask again: Is a corporate blog still a blog if it’s not allowing comments from customers and stakeholders–or at least RESPONDING to them?
Consider the following scenario:
You take a job out of college as a coordinator at a big agency.
You develop a feel and love for social media marketing, and move up into a AE role and then a Senior AE role.
You then find a job on the corporate side as a social media manager.
You love it, but you find yourself capped out a bit, as there are really only 8-12 “social media director” jobs in town (the highest “social” role you’ll most likely find).
This is a very real scenario facing a number of people in our industry right now. And, we’re going to see more of it in the years ahead considering the number of people who’ve started working in social the last 4-5 years.
Take a peek at this salary survey from The Creative Group. You notice social media specialist and social media manager listed–but not social jobs above that.
The social media career path is pretty short–as in 2-3 steps short (and may is pretty limited, too, capping out at under 100k). In fact, I would probably say it’s not a career path at all given its limited nature, both in terms of earning potential and scope.
Social, it seems, is a great career STARTER, but can be a definite career LIMITER as you get into your 30s and definitely, your 40s.
And therein lies the challenge: What do you do when you’ve capped out in a social media leadership position?
This was a topic of conversation between myself and someone I had coffee with last week who works in a senior-level social position with a big company here in town.
- Go back to school and get an MBA. Costly, unless you can get the company to pay for it. But, could help round out skills and position you better for senior-level marketing jobs. Especially with companies like General Mills and Fairview, who seem to see MBA as a pre-req for such jobs. Word of warning: If you’re seeking a senior digital job, you probably don’t *need* an MBA.
- Target broader marketing/communications jobs. Another logical route. Round out the skill set. If your ultimate goal is to obtain a senior-level marketing or comms job, you’ll need much more than just social media marketing experience. Look for jobs within corporate communications teams or larger marketing teams where you could learn more about traditional marketing channels and approaches like employee comms, media relations and corporate communications.
- Focus on digital marketing. Now that you have a social media background, you’re well-suited to start tackling larger digital work. In fact, chances are you have done this already in some capacity. Senior-level digital folks are in high demand, and I would imagine it will stay that way for a while. Social media is a great way to ease into these roles. And, I would imagine these senior digital roles will pay quite well in the years ahead.
The social media career path doesn’t have to be a limiting experience. In reality, it should be a spring-board to a broader, more interesting role. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out with the people who have been in these senior social roles now for a few years.
We’ve been hearing about this whole “dark social” trend for quite a while now.
After all, the concept of texting and private messaging isn’t exactly new.
But, recent statistics and trend lines have me thinking 2019 may be the year we start to see “dark social” truly start to impact social media marketing plans.
For starters, there’s this trend line:
Then, you look at the huge growth in Facebook Messenger over the last few years:
And then you see this insane growth curve for WhatsApp:
Clearly, private messaging is taking off as a primary way for people to communicate on their phones (and, to an extent, online in general).
At the same time, engagement levels are plummeting on Facebook, down by 50% since 2017, according to some reports:
We know engagement levels are down (for brands) on Twitter, too (and have been for years).
What about Instagram, you say? Yes, let’s look at Instagram. Let’s look at the direction they’re going: Investing heavily in Stories and direct messaging (both “private” for the most part, when it comes to engagement). Many of the new features added recently revolve around these two areas–poll sticker, slider stickers, polling via DM. These are the areas Instagram is focused on–not the public-facing feed as much.
Really, it boils down to this:
- Public engagement levels are leveling off or decreasing on major social networks (with the notable exception of Instagram)
- Social media marketing, in general, is shifting heavily towards advertising–this is where most brands are investing and seeing results.
- Meanwhile, most people are spending much more time communicating with friends and family via private messages across social platforms.
That’s a much different picture from where we were just a few years ago. And, I think it’s about to impact brand social media marketing in the year ahead.
If I were leading social for a mid-sized to large company, here’s what I’d be asking myself heading into 2019:
What does this shift mean for my social media advertising plans in 2019? Should I boost my budget and take advantage of the ever-increasing targeting capabilities of Facebook and Insta? Or, ratchet back and use that budget to better figure out what to do with “dark social?”
Do I start to adjust expectations with internal stakeholders re: engagements? Should engagements even be a key metric anymore?
Should I explore the possibility of using more automation to respond to more inbound private messages? Should I look at chatbots more closely? How to I better automate customer service via social media?
What do I do about organic social media? Do I care? Does this impact my content strategy and generation? In other words, should I invest in less content instead of attempting to produce more? With public engagement numbers sliding, this bears serious consideration.
Is now the time to double-down on an employee social advocacy program? With brand feeds generating less engagement, and personal accounts generating more, it seems like the time.
I’ve been an independent consultant now for nine years. And during those nine years the most common refrain I hear from friends and colleagues is: “Must be nice to work from home.”
During those winter snowstorms when most are stuck in three-hour commutes home? Yep, sure is.
During those warm Minnesota summer Fridays when I can sneak out for nine holes in the afternoon? Yep, sure is.
During every day when I don’t have to actually BE SOMEWHERE by 8 a.m.? Yep, sure is.
Most people I talk to are jealous of the work from home flexibility. They’re tired of the commute. They’re tired of being a butt in a seat. And they’re tired of losing all that time.
But, what isn’t talked about as much is the significant cost that comes from working at home.
And that cost is loneliness.
It’s extremely isolating working from home on a full-time basis. I should know–I’ve done it for nine years now!
For some (read: full-blown introverts), that’s a blessing. And, that does encompass a decent number of the people who do the whole solo thing. I’ve talked to many of them–they love the quiet mornings writing, or the tranquil Mondays spend with heads down doing the work.
But, for those in the middle (me), or full-on extroverts, working from home can be very hard to manage.
Yes, you can throw in some laundry while you’re on that conference call.
Yes, you can pick up your kids early and still get your work done during the day.
Yes, you can start dinner for the family and still be working on that report for your boss.
You can do all that stuff and so much more. Working from home is EXTREMELY productive. But, it’s also EXTREMELY isolating.
When I meet with people for coffee, I often ask them, “How many people will you see and talk to today?”
The response is usually anywhere from 20-100.
My response? One.
The person I was having coffee with.
Oh, I know. It still sounds good. You’ll take that trade-off, you say. It’s worth it. And, you might be right. For a week. Even a month. I’ll even give you a few months.
But, try doing it consistently for a year or more. You do that and then tell me working from home isn’t isolating. It is. And, it will impact you in some way, shape or form.
I say all this not for a sob story on my current role. Truth is, I like the alone time. I get out plenty between coffee meet-ups, client meetings and my two mastermind groups (not to mention MIMA, MN PRSA and other local meetings).
I say this because the world of work is changing. More people are working remotely. Recent reports have the number of people working remotely “some of the time” around 43 percent. Other reports put that number well over 50 percent in the next few years.
According to that data, many of you reading this right now will most likely have the chance to work from home in the next few years.
And, when you make that decision, you need to make it with the knowledge that there are some significant drawbacks to working from home. Namely, the isolating nature of it.
Just something to consider, and one key learning I’ve had over the last nine years.
Professional trade associations are under fire. In fact, they have been for some time. Organizations like IABC, PRSA and AdFed are struggling to find their place in this new, highly competitive world of professional development and networking.
The common challenges?
“We need more members.”
“We need to engage more senior members.”
“We need to be relevant to our members.”
I feel like I keep hearing the same concerns year after year. Yet, in the world of professional trade associations, little changes.
They still have high membership fees that go almost completely to national organizations.
They still have the same conferences they had 20 years ago–and in some cases, they’re using the same speakers!
They still have the same “value prop”–we can provide you with professional development and networking.
The only problem is, everything else around them has completely changed.
For starters, more groups are now in the mix. Locally, MIMA is still relatively new. MN Search is definitely new. BMA wasn’t around 20 years ago. More organizations mean much stiffer competition.
We’ve also seen a huge proliferation of what I would call “networking groups.” These could be more formal in nature (Twin Cities Meet Up–remember that?). Or, they could be more informal (like the two “mastermind” groups I run locally here in Minneapolis). Point is: This is chipping away at these trade organization’s strange-hold on networking.
And finally, the professional development landscape has completely changed. There are now endless online options to learn about everything from content strategy to how to create Facebook ads. Countless new conferences and events have popped up in the last 5-10 years to serve these audiences. Everyone from solos to agencies to third-party vendors are now competing for this time and attention by offering up programming like this.
Point is: The professional trade organizations haven’t really adapted to an environment that’s essentially been flipped on its head the last 10 years. It’s a completely difference space than it was in 2008.
And, as a result, they’re struggling. If (when) the economy goes south, you’re going to see some of these organizations shut down (or, combine–which is an interesting notion). I believe that’s inevitable.
The bigger question I have is this: Is there still a need for the traditional professional trade organization in PR, comms and social media marketing?
Historically, I’ve been a huge supporter of these types of organizations. So, on the surface, I’d say yes–but, a few big things need to change in order for the progressional trade organization of 2018 to survive:
1: The membership revenue model needs to change–DRASTICALLY.
This is the root of many of the problems for many of these organizations. The lion’s share of your annual dues go straight to the national organization. However, the national organization provides little to no value for that money. Almost all of the value in your membership to these orgs is connected directly to the local chapter. I don’t have a big idea for this one, but I do know the current model needs to change. Soon.
2: The professional trade orgs need to start targeting solos and freelancers.
Hey, I don’t say this just because I’m a solo consultant. I say it because in 10-15 years, a substantial portion of the U.S. workforce (including us in comms/PR/social) will be working on our own. The stats and trend lines don’t lie. Yet, many of these organizations don’t even bother targeting solos with anything–professional development, networking opps, nothing. That needs to change. These people are already a key audience–in 10 years, they’ll be a PRIMARY audience.
3: Forget large-scale networking and focus on private networking.
The days where professional trade orgs could own networking opportunities are long gone. My advice: Ditch efforts to facilitate the big group networking events you’ve done in past, and instead, focus all your networking programming on getting smaller groups together in a more intimate setting. I’ve seen the thirst for this first-hand in the two mastermind groups I run, and in a few others people I know around town. People can network on their own now with all the tools available to them–they don’t need professional trade orgs for that anymore.
4: Redefine leadership criteria.
One struggle for a few of these trade orgs has been identifying and finding qualified people to sit on the board. Some orgs (PRSA) require professional certification to sit on the board. Others, tend to look for more senior-level folks to join their board. I’d look at it a little differently. I’d go younger (20-something millennials) and much older (50+ Boomers). Why? Because those are the groups who are more likely to have more time on their hands. You know who doesn’t have extra time on their hands? Parents of little kids, middle schoolers and even high schoolers! Plus, young people–often eschewed because they don’t have the experience–are full of ideas that can spark the change these trade orgs desperately need. Why wouldn’t you want more of these people on your board? And, more experienced pros have seen it all. Their wise counsel would offset the younger set perfectly. This just makes too much sense, doesn’t it?
5: Make volunteering a requirement for membership.
All trade organizations struggle with big thing that’s absolutely key to their existence: Convincing people to volunteer. Its the volunteers who do the lion’s share of the work for these organizations. From marketing to organizing events to working with students, volunteers do it all. But, they always have a hard time finding these volunteers. Why not make volunteering a REQUIREMENT when people sign up as a member? You wouldn’t have to ask for a ton of time. There could even be a minimum time commitment of 3-5 hours a month. Who doesn’t have 3-5 hours a month? Think if ALL your members were donating 3-5 hours a month? How productive would your org be? Of course, people could and would volunteer more time than that. But, making it a REQUIREMENT from the get-go would change everything.