We’ve worked with businesses that spend thousands of pounds a month on social media and we’ve worked with businesses that spend nothing.
Can you guess which group was more successful? Yep, unsurprisingly, the ones that ponied up some cash flew into the lead and were never seen again by their tight fisted competitors.
In this blog, I’m going to look at how the social industry has developed and why you can’t treat social media as a free medium any more.
Before we get started, though, a huge thank you to Mahon Digital’s founder and CEO, Saija Mahon, and social media specialist, Dane Cobain for their expert contributions and advice.
Plummeting organic reach
In the good old days of Facebook, you saw every single update from every single profile and page you were connected to. Every single personal status, every single company update, every single cat picture and dog video. You saw it all.
However, as Facebook grew and the amount of content posted to the site ballooned, squeezing everything into one feed became impractical — or so the official Facebook line goes.
A couple years ago, Facebook introduced the EdgeRank algorithm, a fancy piece of tech designed to weed out the rubbish content and show you the best and just the good stuff.
The EdgeRank for every piece of content is based on three factors:
The distance between viewer and creator
How important the piece of content is
Older stories are worth less than newer stories
Bits of content with high EdgeRank values make it onto your news feed. Bits of content with low EdgeRank values get ignored.
This change to Facebook’s publication algorithm made it much more difficult for companies to reach all of their audience as their updates were generally only shown on a fraction of news feeds.
EdgeRank didn’t stay around for long, however, and was supplanted by a more complicated algorithm as early as 2013. The new algorithm is constantly evolving, pulling together thousands of metrics and even learning what you like based on your behaviour.
The move to filtered timelines has led many marketers to start treating networks like Facebook as paid platforms.
Mahon Digital’s founder and CEO, Saija Mahon, is one of those marketers. She believes organic exposure on social media is no longer enough for modern businesses.
“Due to the plethora of updates the Search engine giant Google and their social media counterpart Facebook have recently introduced to their algorithms, it’s become even more imperative for marketers and advertisers to invest their time, resources and any media budget to an effective ecosystem of both, organic and paid activity.
“It’s unfortunately not enough to rely solely on organic optimisation any longer, as the visibility rates here have plummeted to an all-time low.
“However, despite all the gloom and doom around SEO and organic visibility, it’s not all lost as paid marketing campaigns can effectively support organic tactics and vice versa.
Therefore, it’s important to research and plan how to create strategically an efficient, targeted and relevant Omni-channel approach by utilising both techniques.”
So far we’ve talked exclusively about Facebook but the EdgeRank trend is one we’re seeing spread across all social networks.
While most networks started out with a purely chronological content feed, the big names are all changing.
Earlier this year, Twitter introduced its new algorithmic timeline, which prioritises tweets it thinks you’re likely to care about.
And just this month, Instagram followed suit, rolling out its own algorithmic timeline, prioritising content based on audience engagement.
Should you pay for social media?
With algorithmic timelines, it’s nigh on impossible for a business to organically reach every single person connected to your company’s social pages. That’s the stone cold truth. So whether you should pay for social media depends on whether you need or want all your fans and followers to see your updates.
For some pieces of content, low distribution is okay. I mean, you don’t need everyone to see cute pictures your office dog or photos of your Christmas night out.
However, if you’re announcing a new product or celebrating a new contract, you definitely want everyone to see those updates and get excited.
So, whether you need to pay for social promotion of a piece of content depends largely on your objective behind the update.
On top of that, there’s an argument for promotion based on efficiency. If you’re employing someone to plan, research and create content, that’s a big investment. And if you’re dropping big bucks on content creation, you should be trying to eek out every last drop of value.
Here is fst’s social media specialist Dane Cobain breaking the argument down into cold hard numbers.
“For us, paid social is a no-brainer. As we’re a marketing agency, clients are already paying our fees for us to create content. For an extra investment of 10% of their budget, that same content reaches at least ten times as many people, and so really, it’s a case of efficiency.
“Let’s say a client pays us £50 for three status updates, each of which will reach 1-200 people. For an extra £5, each of those updates could reach 1-2,000 people, and so we look at it as an efficient way of amplifying the content that they’re already creating. These days, we typically build social advertising into the retainer that a client pays us.”
When you couch the arguments in numbers, it really is a no-brainer. If a budget increase of 5 percent is going to generate a 200 percent increase in reach, it’s absolutely criminal not to pay that money. It just makes good business sense.
However, whether you can invest an extra fiver and enjoy a massive increase in reach depends on your content, your business and your industry. I recommend starting small, testing out paid promotion and seeing if it works for you.