by Craig Hannabus (@crayg) Flash back to 13 years ago and Mark Zuckerberg is announcing to the world that our favourite social media platform was going to start serving us ads. Brands would be able to build pages and communities, and it was all very exciting. I mean, for the brands, it was exciting. The rest of us weren’t terribly thrilled.

Come & go

Have we gotten the social media marketing thing right? In my 12-year career in social media, I’ve seen so, so many strategies, approaches, and methods come and go.

  • The brand sledgehammer is still a favourite, flooding feeds with marketing messaging focused on product. The result? It depends on who you ask. I’ve seen several FMCG brands that were locked down in agency negotiations while their marketing efforts were put on hold. Nothing happened. Sales were just as strong as ever.
  • There’s also the “lifestyle-content” strategy. Basically, it’s creating lifestyle content to appeal to the audience on a more-personal level. The result? Engagement sometimes goes through the roof and that’s about it.
  • More recently, I’ve seen the “test-and-learn” campaign become a part of marketers’ vocabulary. It’s a step in the right direction. Trying different messaging, platform and audience combinations to see what works seems like a good place to start. But that approach on its own probably won’t yield comprehensive results.

Why are we still sitting here, 13 years later, with only a handful of examples of social media shooting the lights out. Why are we still struggling to move the needle on sales/conversions?

Simple answer

The answer is simpler than you think. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are only a part of the overall customer experience. The strange thing is that they’re often treated as isolated platforms. How often have you seen the “social media strategist” job description? Why does that exist? Because we’re still building separate strategies for platforms and content that should be a part of a bigger digital-strategy picture.

Hypothetically speaking, your social strategy should be tightly integrated with your search engine optimisation (SEO), paid and mailer efforts. Most marketers (especially in multi-agency environments) will stop at creating a consistent message. It’s great to have at least one hook to hang your marketing strategy on but you need more. You need to have a consistent user journey in place. What will the consumer see at point A; how will they be remarketed to at point B; what will they get if they Google at point C?

A user journey starts with the consumer. The problem with many social media strategies is that they’re based on whatever analytics the platform in question spits out. Top-level demographics and a hint at what might interest the audience is hardly a place to start looking for insights. Having a few real, face-to-face conversations with members of the target audience is a far better approach. Maybe they’re craving the lifestyle content you’ve always eschewed. Maybe they want more competitions with product giveaways so they can trial. How are you going to know these things without actually talking to them?

Journey, not destination

So, 13 years on and we’ve basically decided that social media is just a space for brand awareness. Social media is an always-on inconvenience, a money sink that needs to be done because everyone else is doing it. Except there are a handful of SMEs and consultants pulling in revenue and turning a profit based on their Facebook campaigns alone. So how does that work? What do they know that big brands don’t?

It’s easy: What they know is their audience. What they know is that audience relationship is a journey, not a destination.

No social media strategists were harmed during the writing of this post.


Craig HannabusCurrently the strategic director at Rogerwilco, Craig Hannabus (@crayg) has spent his adult life in the tech and marketing industry, exploring both the development and the content creation aspects. He began as a developer, writing software to integrate cell phones with GPS systems, thus building one of South Africa’s first vehicle tracking systems. Through the years, he’s developed a strong interest in exploring the world of customer experience and has worked on brands including Standard Bank, Nedbank, General Motors, Nestle, and Caxton.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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