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Is Social Media Even Worth It Anymore?

Ana Gotter contributed to this article.

Gone are the days when social platforms sent significant traffic to publisher and brand websites. Today, platforms want to keep eyeballs and engagement within their digital walls.

Then there are the near-constant changes to algorithms affecting organic reach, lawsuits alleging the major social platforms cause societal harm, potential costs for participating, and the possibility that the hot new platform everyone’s buzzing about might become yesterday’s news in no time.

You may start to question whether it makes sense to invest your finite resources (time, budget, creativity, energy) on social media at all. And you wouldn’t be alone.

Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, recommends that their clients spend less time and budget on social. “Our research tells us social media only generates 2% of traffic and leads for most companies, and paid social is only 2%,” he says. “Focus your effort where the people are willing and ready to engage.”

Considering the current state of social, it’s a good time to take stock of what your content program stands to gain from this channel. These suggestions will help you decide on which platforms to spend resources (if any) and how to get the most out of your invested resources.

Experiment and diversify, but exercise caution

Because social media sites exist to make money for their parent companies (not your brand), the benefits of participating will remain volatile, says Adrienne Sheares, owner of ViviMae Labs. To mitigate the risks, she recommends you establish a strategy for investing in owned platforms (e.g., your blog, website, or email newsletters) where you have more control over what happens.

The goal, says LetterShop x KMC CMO Karen McFarlane, is to ensure the flow of communication between you and your audience, even if some members stray from a given channel.

Maintaining investment in channels your brand owns and operates, such as your website, blog, and email list, lets you stay in contact with your customers no matter which way the social media winds may blow, Karen says.

Align social strategy with audience and goals

If you decide to continue investing in social channels, remember that not every platform will serve your brand’s needs and goals. To track down your best opportunities, let your audience be your guiding star.

Social-listening tools and audience research can help you determine where they engage in conversations relevant to your brand, says Jill Roberson, vice president of digital marketing at Velir.

Similarly, keep an eye on the volume and quality of users engaging in your brand’s conversations. “If you see engagement is dwindling on a particular channel, it’s time to diversify and focus on expanding reach via the channels your audience prefers,” Jill says.

For example, the Pew Research Center found that 60% of users have taken breaks from X (formerly Twitter) in the past year. So, it’s no surprise that CMI’s latest research found that 32% of B2B marketers decreased their X use (and 20% decreased their Facebook use) over the last year.

If you’re pulling back on one platform and increasing participation in another, first examine the terrain of your preferred destination. Evaluate its conversation formats, audience makeup, and community standards against your content strategy to determine if it’s worth building – or sustaining – a presence.

That consideration includes understanding how each platform determines what content will appear in user feeds and notifications.

LinkedIn remains at the top of most B2B marketers’ social media lists. The same CMI research found that 84% of B2B marketers say LinkedIn delivers the best value compared with other social platforms. If you participate, optimize for the LinkedIn platform. For example, this Sprout Social experiment shows that LinkedIn social posts without links outperform those with links.

Daisy Shevlin, SEO and content manager at Kaspr, suggests customizing your content strategy to the particulars of each platform to keep people engaged as long as possible.

Think quality and originality over quantity

It’s easy for your content to get lost in the conversational stream. Focus on quality and originality (rather than quantity) to stand out, says Paul Fairbrother, owner of The Fairbrother Agency. “Leading the conversation with original insights, thought leadership, and ideas has never been so important,” he says.

To increase audience interaction, use your social content as a testing ground for ideas and unique perspectives on relevant issues. You can also share successful solutions to challenges your audience may face.

Sharing lessons learned has been a critical component in Kaspr’s approach to LinkedIn, Daisy says. Posting content about common pain points for their ideal customer profiles, such as tips for cold calling, helped the company grow its followers by over 200%.

But AdRoll senior content marketing manager Shae Henrie says social media conversations don’t have to be all business. “It doesn’t have to be boring. Creative, unique, and funny approaches are memorable and more impactful,” she says.

Consider paid social ads optimized for conversions

With organic reach declining on social media and ongoing shifts in search ranking factors, investing in paid social campaigns is increasingly important. CMI’s B2B research found that 78% of marketers used social media advertising and promoted posts in the past year. 

PureSEM CEO Keith Holloway says his content team has experienced great traction from its paid social to support lead-gen campaigns. “Sending social traffic to a landing page is far less effective than using the right ad types and asking for the conversion right on the platform,” he says. In paid campaigns, he recommends offering value-driven downloadable content like e-books in exchange for consumers’ permission to communicate.

Remember: Paid promotion opportunities vary by platform and format. Refer to buyer personas for engagement clues to help you decide among options like ads, influencer partnerships, and promoted posts. This guide to paid social promotions on popular platforms may help you plan.

Leverage groups to build community trust

Consumers have good reason to distrust social media, from privacy issues on Facebook to ongoing concerns about disinformation and deceptive ad practices. While some disengage or delete their profiles, others move toward invitation-only options like Discord, Reddit, or Circle.

These semi-open spaces may not give the high-volume reach you seek, but Trust Insights chief data scientist Christopher Penn believes they are worth exploring. “Invitation-only servers on Discord are not mediated by AI, which makes the engagement experience more authentic and organic,” he explains.

If your brand can get an invitation to relevant Discord communities, earning members’ attention and trust may be easier, too.

Know when – and how – to pull back

“Companies must always be prepared to lose access to or leave platforms they don’t own,” Hijinx Marketing owner Andi Robinson says. For example, if the platform decreases its moderation efforts or posts more objectionable content, your audience might not want to be associated with that site anymore. Your brand should consider moving on, too.

When that happens on one platform, it’s easy enough to seek your brand’s fortune elsewhere. But given that brands have experienced declines in organic reach and engagement across the board on social (except for TikTok), your safest move may be to pull back on your investment in the channel entirely.

But brands can attract undesirable attention by announcing their decisions, says Adam Pierno, Arizona State University’s managing director of brand strategy. “If there’s a troubling platform, and your brand wants to pause there, just pause. Don’t put out a press release,” he says.

Keeping small directional shifts on the down low can prevent you from becoming the target of high-profile backlash and outrage posts (especially the attention-seeking kind), he says. And you’ll avoid having to backpedal if you change your strategy.

Geek Law Firm’s evil genius Ruth Carter recommends conducting regular meetings to review what’s working – and when it’s time to develop an exit strategy. Discuss how you’ll recognize a change is necessary and what that might look like. That way, Ruth says, “you won’t be scrambling when something happens like a mass exodus or platform being banned.”

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute