One of the first posts that I wrote for this blog was entitled, “People have 87 hard questions about social media marketing.” I arrived at this number by using AnswerThePublic, a search listening tool for market, customer, and content research.
Now, I wrote that early post back in September 2019. And, three years is a long time in this rapidly changing marketing discipline. I was reminded of just how fast things change while updating “A Guide to Social Media Algorithms & How They Work,” which Search Engine Journal published in July 2022.
Plus, I’ve just finished co-authoring a chapter on social media marketing with Matt Bailey, the founder of SiteLogic, which will be Chapter 6 of Digital Marketing Fundamentals: OMCP’s Official Guide to OMCA Certification. Wiley will be publishing the book around the end of the year.
To create a rough draft of this chapter, Matt and I recorded a series of three episodes for his Endless Coffee Cup podcast:
- Defining Social Media Marketing, Part 1. Channels, Platforms, & Changing Rules.
- Defining Social Media Marketing, Part 2! Content Marketing, Influencers, & Audiences.
- Defining Social Media Marketing, Part 3! Social Commerce, Advertising & Analytics.
And, as you will learn if you “listen into” our discussion, we were both painfully aware that anything we said or wrote on this topic would be out-of-date before our book is published.
So, I used AnswerThePublic again last week and discovered that people still have 60 hard questions about social media marketing. (The chart below shows they have 76 questions about this three-word term, but 16 are duplicates. By comparison, a similar chart in 2019 showed people had 134 questions, but 47 were duplicates.)
So, have 31% of people’s questions been answered over the past three years?
Well, three years ago, people were asking, “How did social media marketing start?” and “When did social media marketing start?” Today, they just asking, “When did social media marketing start?”
Back in 2019, people were asking, “Is social media marketing effective?” and “Is social media marketing worth it?” They’re still asking both of those questions.
And, when I first tackled this topic, people were asking, “Is social media marketing dead?” and “Will social media marketing die?” Now, they’re just asking, “Will social media marketing die?”
So, it appears that people’s questions haven’t really been answered. It seems like they’ve just consolidated the way they’re asking them.
So, let’s take an up-to-date look at three of the hard questions that people are still asking in 2022.
When did social media marketing start?
Actually, this first question isn’t hard for me to answer.
Why? Because as I told Matt in the first episode of his Endless Coffee Cup podcast series,
I was actually in the room when the term was coined by Chris Shipley. Now, this is back in 2004 and she was planning to launch a new event called BlogOn 2004, it was held at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley. And she said, “Greg, I’d like you to be a speaker at my first social media conference.”
And I went, “Chris, what’s social media?” And it was a term that she had made up. And I said, “Well, I don’t mind speaking at conferences, but if nobody knows what the term means, then why do you expect anyone to attend?” So, I was there when she defined the term the first time, and it included blogs and social networks.”
Now, 18 years later, it’s still worth asking, “What is social media?” As I told Matt,
When people use the term social media today, there are two definitions that float around. One is the Facebook version of the world, where social media includes Facebook and anything that they’ve acquired like Instagram or WhatsApp.
But, it does not include YouTube. “Oh, no, no, no. They’re in a different category.” And that sort of made sense until early 2016, when Facebook decided that it was going to become a video first platform. And they basically “borrowed” every idea that YouTube or Snapchat had ever come up with and tried to cram it into either Facebook and/or Instagram, wherever they could.
And I still see lists of “The Top 10 Social Media That You Need to Be Using” that include TikTok, but not YouTube. Excuse me, how can you put TikTok on the list not include YouTube? How are you defining your terms?
So, I’m glad that people are still asking questions about when this discipline started. As Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
But, they also need to ask agencies, analysts, and authors for their definition of social media. Why? Because, if they don’t define their terms, then you’ll get significantly different answers to the other questions that people are still asking about this topic.
For example, are blogs still included in your definition of social media? If they aren’t, then it’s worth noting that WordPress is used by 43.0% of all the websites, according to W3Techs. So, if your organization has a small group of people writing blog posts, then are they considered part of the content marketing team?
And, is YouTube the proverbial red-headed stepchild in your organizational structure? If it is, then check out the latest data from SimilarWeb, a digital intelligence platform, which shows YouTube got more monthly unique visitors in the US during July 2022 than Facebook. YouTube also got significantly more monthly visits last month, and YouTube’s average minutes per visit was more than twice as long.
Here are the July 2022 numbers for the top 10 social media websites in the US, hot off the press:
- YouTube got 309 million unique visitors. The platform received 6.854 billion monthly visits and the average visit was 21.6 minutes.
- Facebook got 271 million unique visitors. The platform received 3.684 billion visits and the average visit was 10.1 minutes.
- Instagram got 202 million unique visitors. The platform received 1.108 billion visits and the average visit was 6.5 minutes.
- Twitter got 193 million unique visitors. The platform received 1.501 billion visits and the average visit was 11.2 minutes.
- Reddit got 101 million unique visitors. The platform received 825 million visits and the average visit was 10.4 minutes.
- LinkedIn got 82 million unique visitors. The platform received 434 million visits and the average visit was 7.6 minutes.
- TikTok got 118 million monthly visitors. The platform received 317 million visits and the average visit was 4.4 minutes.
- Pinterest got 104 million unique visitors. The platform received 299 million visits and the average visit was 6.9 minutes.
- WhatsApp got 23 million unique visitors. The platform received 88 million visits and the average visit was 3.4 minutes.
- Snapchat got 8 million unique visitors. The platform received 11 million visits and the average visit was 2.1 minutes.
So, if YouTube isn’t part of your team, then you’re missing your star player. And, if you’re salivating at the prospect of launching a brand on TikTok before you’ve launched it on YouTube, then it looks like you’re suffering from a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.
In other words, your definition of social media matters … a lot.
What’s included in my definition? Well, I write for Search Engine Journal, so I use their list of the top 10 social media platforms – except the list that you see above uses more recent data for the US from SimilarWeb instead of the number of monthly active users worldwide reported by the platforms a couple of months ago, so our rankings are significantly different.
Is social media marketing worth it?
The fact that people keep asking “Is social media marketing worth it?” year after year after year, indicates that the answers they’ve been finding aren’t really answering their question.
So, maybe it’s time to start asking a different question: “What are vanity metrics and how do you stop using them?”
According to Hootsuite, “A vanity metric is an analytics item that can be measured but is not a signifier of real return on investment. Examples include the number of followers, likes, or comments. These metrics are best contextualized by more concrete numbers such as click-through rate or visitor-to-lead conversions.”
Now, it’s easy to understand why it’s hard for many social media marketers to stop using vanity metrics. They’re under increasing pressure to justify their existence. And, if their executives don’t yet realize that the number of social media followers, likes, or comments are vanity metrics, then why enlighten them?
Well, their executives probably know the Warren Buffett quote, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
So, if you don’t start providing your executives with more concrete numbers, then they’re much more likely to decide that you are the vessel they need to change.
Matt and I discussed vanity metrics in the third episode of his Endless Coffee Cup podcast series. And, we talked about some of the more concrete numbers that social media marketers should be using as key performance indicators (KPIs) instead.
For brand-building campaigns, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, and LinkedIn all offer “Brand Lift” studies to advertisers. These measure the impact of video ads on metrics that matter like brand awareness, consideration, and purchase intent.
They work by dividing the people into a randomized test and holdout groups, and showing your video ad to the larger test group, but the smaller holdout group doesn’t see it. Then, they conduct surveys comparing the performance of these groups over time.
To measure the impact of organic social video campaigns, you can conduct one brand lift study before a campaign is launched and a second one after it ends. Or, for ongoing social video programs, conduct periodic brand lift studies – at least one per year and up to one per quarter.
To measure the real active engagement of users with your social media pages, there are other social media metrics that you should use as KPIs. They’ve been hidden in plain sight since October 2011, when Avinash Kaushik first defined them in a post on his Occam’s Razor blog entitled, “Best Social Media Metrics: Conversation, Amplification, Applause, Economic Value.”
The definitions have evolved over the years, but here’s what each one measures and how it’s calculated:
• Conversation rate: Indicates how many Comments/Replies on average each of your posts has received (e.g. Conversation rate = # of Comments/ # of Posts).
• Amplification rate: Indicates how many times on average each of your posts was Shared/Retweeted (e.g. Amplification rate = # of Shares/ # of Posts).
• Applause rate: Indicates how many Likes/Likes each of your posts has received on average (e.g. Applause rate = # of Likes/ # of Posts).
• Economic value: Shows how much economic value each visit from a social network brings to your site by completing your site’s goals (e.g. Economic value = Per session Goal value, which is calculated by Google Analytics when you assign a monetary amount to each conversion event that contributes to the success of your business).
Now, if you start using TrueSocialMetrics, which was inspired by the ideas of Avinash Kaushik, then you can start measuring what matters. But, you may want to include blogs in your definition of social media.
Why? Because TrueSocialMetrics enables you to compare the conversation, amplification, and applause rates as well as economic value of all your social media accounts – including your blog.
And, who knows if social commerce will take off in 2022 like many agencies, analysts, and authors keep predicting it will year after year after year.
But, what will happen to your budget if executives learn that the content marketing team’s blog posts have generated more economic value than your team’s social media posts?
Is this a likely scenario?
Well, recent news stories indicate that social commerce is entering the trough of disillusionment in the Gartner hype cycle.
- On Aug. 3, 2022, Social Media Today published a story entitled, “Facebook Shuts Down its Live Commerce Push, Which May Reflect Broader Disinterest in Live Shopping.”
- In late July, Search Engine Journal reported, “Shopify Lays Off 10% Of Workforce.”
- In early July, the Financial Times reported “TikTok abandons ecommerce expansion in Europe and US.”
So, maybe it’s time to remind your executives that the original definition of social media included blogs as well as social networks.
Will social media marketing die?
This brings us the third hard question that I’ll tackle today: “Will social media marketing die?”
Well, it will eventually, but it’s hard to predict how much longer it has to live.
For example, Shelly Freierman’s article, “Telegram Falls Silent Stop Era Ends Stop,” tells the story of the last telegram, which was sent on Jan. 27, 2006. And, as we all know from our history books, Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first telegram on May 24, 1844. His message: “What hath God wrought?”
So, a few months short of 162 years is a long time.
But, as her article also notes, the advent of the transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861 put the Pony Express out of business just 18 months after it had started in April 1860. So, all of the famous riders who had established a unified transcontinental system of communications had to find a new job.
So, how much longer does social media marketing have to live?
Well, the first social medium, SixDegrees.com, was born in 1997. It was named after the six degrees of separation concept and allowed users to set up a profile page, create lists of connections, and send messages within networks.
So, most social media marketers have now held on to their jobs for a lot longer than the people who had responded in 1860 to the California newspaper help-wanted ad that read: “Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”
But, even if social media marketing has already outlived the Pony Express, that’s no guarantee that it will live as long as the telegram. So, it never hurts to keep asking other hard questions like:
- “Will Pinterest survive?”
- “Is Facebook marketing dead?”
- “When will Snapchat die?”
- “Is Twitter a dead platform?”
Heck, even I started asking these questions after seeing SimilarWeb’s latest data, which showed me the monthly unique visitors in the US for the top 10 social media websites going back to August 2019. Here are the trends that I saw:
- TikTok has grown 162.2% over the past two years, from 45 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 118 million monthly visitors in July 2022. So, if you’re salivating at the prospect of launching your brand onto jump on the platform, then read my article in Search Engine Journal, which is entitled, “How TikTok’s Search Algorithms Power Content Discovery.”
- LinkedIn has grown 15.5% over the past two years, from 71 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 82 million unique visitors in July 2022. You’re probably already using this platform, but I updated the information about LinkedIn in “A Guide to Social Media Algorithms & How They Work.”
- WhatsApp has grown 15.5% over the past two years, from 20 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 23 million unique visitors in July 2022. Maybe it’s time to read the article in Search Engine Journal by Jes Scholtz, which is entitled, “Dominating Your WhatsApp Marketing Strategy.”
- Instagram has grown 10.4% over the past two years, from 183 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 202 million unique visitors in July 2022. You’re probably already using this platform, too, an update on Instagram is in “A Guide to Social Media Algorithms & How They Work.”
- YouTube has grown 4.4% over the past two years, from 296 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 309 million unique visitors in July 2022. You may already be using this platform, but I updated the information about YouTube in my Search Engine Journal article entitled, “How to Optimize YouTube Videos to Help Ukraine.”
- Reddit has grown 4.1% over the past two years, from 97 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 101 million unique visitors in July 2022. If you aren’t already using this platform, then read the information on Reddit in “A Guide to Social Media Algorithms & How They Work.”
- Twitter has remained flat over the past two years, from 193 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 193 million unique visitors in July 2022. And, until we know what will happen to the platform now that Elon Musk has pulled out of his buyout deal, you should pray for the best, prepare for the worst, and expect the unexpected.
- Snapchat has remained flat over the past two years, from 8 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 8 million unique visitors in July 2022. So, if you’re already using this platform, then I’d suggest that you begin planning for your stories to disappear.
- Facebook has shrunk 17.4% over the past two years, from 328 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 271 million unique visitors in July 2022. So, you’re probably spending a lot more on this platform than you should. So, I’d recommend moving some of your Facebook team members and budget to other social media platforms.
- Pinterest has shrunk 24.1% over the past two years, from 137 million unique visitors in July 2020 to 104 million unique visitors in July 2022. So, if you’re already using this platform, then prepare your exit strategy.
In other words, it’s probably time to get some cross-training in other social media platforms and other digital marketing disciplines. You’ll find that Matt Bailey offers a variety of digital marketing courses and I should disclose that SEO-PR offers digital marketing training for companies and executives, too. But, whatever you do, don’t wait until our book on Digital Marketing Fundamentals is published around the end of the year. You don’t want to be the last member of your team of orphans to find out that you need to update your resume.