Here’s a scenario- stop me when it sounds familiar. An employee sets up a business Instagram handle then they leave without giving you the email or password information. A year later you decide that maybe you want to give Instagram a go after all and want to retrieve that account. Yep. There’s no way to do that. Go to the platform and you’ll eventually land on this “helpful” article advising you to contact your ISP. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are little better. Run afoul of them and you quickly find yourself in an automated no-mans land.
“How can they get away with this?” I’ve heard business owners exclaim in frustration when for the umpteenth time I try to explain that I can’t retrieve their original account. “I’m a customer!” But that’s the thing- you’re not a customer in the eyes of social media networks. They don’t have to make you happy because you hold very little power when it comes to their unique bottomline. Successful platforms balance user acquisition with the onus of monetization expected by their investors. To put it into context: Facebook just hit 2 Billion users, Instagram is at 700 Million. You.Don’t.Matter.
This is a harsh reality particularly given just how much of our marketing is invested around these platforms. In the first few years of social media marketing brands operated in the wonderful world of FREE. The idea of brands as humans was absolutely the case. Brand posts and pages were treated just the same as any other post. Remember the “Like Our Facebook Page and Win a Free iPad” contests of 2010 and 2011? That all came crashing down in 2012 when Page managers found out that on average only 16% of their audience was seeing a post. In 2014, Oglivy posted “Facebook Zero” finding that for pages with over 500,000 likes, organic reach was only at 2%. Organic reach took another hit in 2016, when Facebook said publicly that the algorithm would prioritize friends and family posts first for organic reach.
Of course this has all been a boon to paid social practitioners who are reaping the reward of operating in a space of murky attribution reporting where brands are desperate to continue their pre-algorithm reach. But for small to medium businesses paid social remains a slippery slope. Let’s be honest, a business owner who is still coming to grips with the value of social media is not suddenly going to open the purse strings for a paid social campaign.
Facebook’s success with the algorithm combined with total content overload led Instagram, Twitter and now LinkedIn to adopt increasingly stringent algorithms aimed at getting brands to pony up to participate.
If you want to market on social there’s one mantra that needs to be your guiding principle: Social media platforms are not your friends particularly if you’re a brand. At every step you should expect to be foiled and penalized.
The losers in this will always be the small business owner for whom an ad-buy is too pricey and yet by being categorized as a “brand” they suffer algorithm penalties. Yes you should have a paid strategy, but a small business social strategy must be agile and look to milk every opportunity for getting an organic ROI.