This has been a frustratingly difficult post for me to write on multiple levels. For years, I have advised my clients to ‘plant in the gardens that they own’ when it comes to social media. Focus on your blog and newsletter, or the delivery channels that you control versus putting all your eggs in a social media basket. If you’re thinking of your digital strategy as a house, your website and blog should be the foundation, not social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
But now I am advising clients and companies like yours to put even less emphasis on Facebook and Twitter. The reason why is simple; Because if both companies continue on their current paths, neither will be around in five years.
Let’s Start With Facebook
Facebook has been in the news recently over complaints about how freely user data is shared on the site. Recently, reports came out about how a firm, Cambridge Analytica, had collected Facebook user data from users who had participated in a third party app/quiz, and that user data was then reported made available to the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. This actually isn’t a new practice, the Obama campaign also mined Facebook user data collected from third party apps during the 2012 election. Both instances have raised some very valid points about how Facebook needs to be more transparent with how it uses our data, and also about how Facebook users need to be more responsible with what apps they give access to their accounts. Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying before Congress this week and will no doubt be asked early and often about the site’s plans to better protect and care for user data moving forward.
Companies have also struggled for years to make sense of Facebook’s constantly changing algorithms when it comes to determining organic reach for its content. Increasingly, content for brands has seen its organic reach decrease as Facebook has encouraged companies to move to a paid strategy to maintain or increase reach with its audiences. These moves have especially hit small businesses hard, many of who have basically leveraged a brand page on Facebook as their de facto website. Additionally, it creates frustration for social media managers everywhere because just as they seem to adjust to Facebook’s latest ‘algorithm’ change, a new one is sprung on them that throws their engagement efforts into a new tailspin. The end result for companies from every change by Facebook seems to have one commonality: Less organic reach for your content.
And Then There’s Twitter
I joined Twitter in March of 2007, and ever since then, I have had a love/hate relationship with the site. I love the site and how it gives me the ability to so easily connect and talk directly with so many interesting people. But I hate how Twitter’s founders (Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey and Ev Williams) have always wanted the site to be a broadcast platform and not a social one. Replies were never intended to be a part of Twitter. Think about that…Twitter was founded without any thought given to incorporating the functionality for users to talk to each other. The feature was later adopted due to pressure from the Twitter community, and as you can tell from Ev’s update in 2008 on how Replies work on Twitter, he’s obviously not a fan of them.
In fact, one of the earliest changes Twitter made to replies signaled how the founders didn’t value users being able to connect with each other organically. Up until around 2008 or so, you saw every reply that anyone you followed made. For instance, if I’m following Jake, and Jake replied to Mary, I saw Jake’s reply. Why was this a big deal? Let’s say I’m not following Mary, I have no idea who she is. But she’s a friend of Jake’s, and she happens to have the same taste in movies that I do. Before Twitter changed how replies work, when Jake and Mary started discussing the movie Memento, I could see Jake’s replies to Mary, and then I would know that Mary loves the movie Memento as much I do! Suddenly, I’ve found a new friend to follow who shares my taste in movies, thanks to seeing her conversation with Jake. But Twitter decided early on that if Jake (who I follow) was talking to Mary (who I don’t follow), then I can’t see their conversation. Which means I may never meet Mary or have any idea who she is or that she loves Memento as much as I do. This move to limit how you see replies seems inconsequential now especially to anyone that joined Twitter after 2008 and has no idea what I am talking about, but trust me, this was a wonderful way to organically meet new and interesting people. And the fact that Twitter didn’t see or appreciate this, was very telling.
And then there’s this recent tweet from Jack Dorsey:
Great read https://t.co/O2djSQf8Qv
— jack (@jack) April 6, 2018
This is Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sharing a tweet from fellow Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, about a radical political article that appeared on Medium. The article on Medium, in short, calls for an end to attempts at bipartisan agreements in politics, and the elimination of one major political party so that the other party can ‘rule’ the country. Putting aside how scary it is for the CEO of a major social media site to so openly promote such incendiary political commentary, such ideas fly in the face of everything that is supposed to make social media so incredible. The great promise of social media was always this: Everyone gets a voice. For the first time in recorded history, the majority of the planet now had the ability to create content and reach the majority of the planet. We can talk to each other, we can learn from each other. And perhaps most importantly, we can talk to people with different viewpoints than our own.
Jack’s enthusiastic sharing of this article suggests to me that we have a very different view of what makes social media so great. And yes, I’ve been doing a slow burn about this tweet for a few days now.
I started blogging in 2005. Back in those days, many of us used a tool called Technorati to check our incoming links. I did as well, and since I was at the time writing for an advertising blog, the links I got were typically from other advertising blogs.
Then one day I saw an incoming link from a blog I’d never heard of. It contained what appeared to be Japanese or Chinese symbols. I clicked on the link, and discovered it was the personal blog of a 13 year-old girl in China. Suddenly, it hit me what had just happened. I had written a post in Alabama, that I teenager in China had read and enjoyed so much that she had linked to it on her personal blog. A year prior, it would have been all but impossible for me to reach anyone in China, much less a teenager. Now, thanks to social media, I had tool called a ‘blog’ and I could reach her, and she could reach me.
The power of social media has always been about more connections and more conversations, not fewer. Facebook and Twitter are arguably the two most powerful social media sites in the world, but I fear that the founders of both sites have lost sight of what makes social media so incredible.
What Does the Future Hold For Facebook and Twitter. And Should Your Company Be a Part of It?
There is growing distrust among Facebook and Twitter’s users toward both sites. Both sites need to be more open and willing to listen to their users. This has always been a problem for both sites, I remember having conversations as early on as 2009 with other Twitter power users about how the site needed a Community Manager, someone that could be a liaison between the users and the company. Too often, it seemed like users of both sites would advocate for changes, then without warning, the sites would announce changes that seemed to be completely disconnected from the changes that users actually wanted.
In short, if both Facebook and Twitter continue on their current paths, neither site will be around in 5 years, at least not in any form resembling how it looks today. In social media as it is in life, nothing lasts forever. Just ask MySpace.
Having said all this, there is still potential value for your company on both Facebook and Twitter. If you’re already active on either or both sites and seeing results that meet your goals, then stick with it for now. But moving forward, make sure that you depend more on the channels you control, such as your blog, and less on the ones that you don’t, such as social media sites. In fact, if you want to try something new with your digital strategy, launch a newsletter before you get on Instagram or Snapchat. In other words, be more dependent on channels you own, and less dependent on the ones you don’t.
Long-term, you should ask yourself “If Facebook and Twitter went away tomorrow, how would we reach our customers?” Increasingly, your customers are either considering a move away from these sites, or they are actually leaving. In the last fiscal quarter of 2017, Facebook actually reported a marginal decrease in US users. Twitter also struggled to hold onto users in 2017.
My advice to clients remains the same as it has always been: When it comes to digital content creation, plant in the gardens that you own.