When it comes to prognosticating about social media, death is in and the future is subdued.
After years of touting social media’s potential influence, many journalists are now trying to put social media in a hearse and collect Web traffic on the way to the funeral. Recently, some influential media outlets published headlines that made my RSS feed look like an obituary section.
Here is a quick look at the headlines about the dearly departed:
• “A Eulogy for Twitter,” Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic
• “Facebook Is Dead,” Drew Magary, Deadspin
• “Klout Is Basically Dead, But It Finally Matters,” Jon Nathanson, Slate
The digital funeral movement is certainly concerning for marketers who are managing brands active on social media. Corporate marketing budgets don’t have bereavement leaves. Years of investment in time, ad budgets, and company culture sea changes are at stake.
Although I don’t have a crystal ball telling which channels will prosper or perish (nobody does), I can tell you that as a marketer it’s largely a frenzied exercise in click-bait futility. That’s because, although channels will come and go, social media isn’t going anywhere.
Twitter’s struggle to attract more mainstream users to maintain growth and Facebook’s problems with tweens are notable strategy issues but are largely irrelevant if today’s CMO sticks to these two digital content best practices:
1. Treat every decision as an experiment.
2. Be where your audience is.
Whereas monthly active users and stock prices ebb and flow for various social media channels, the primary trend that speaks to social media’s investment value as a worthy marketing channel is overall use.
This study from Pew Research Center shows that we’ve come a long way and that there’s plenty of room for growth among older audiences:
If you dedicate resources to understanding which channels users are migrating to and how you can connect with them, the struggles of any particular channel become less of a concern.
That still leaves brand stakeholders with decisions about when to start investing in a new social media channel or jump ship altogether. There are plenty of variables. Here are two telltale signs that a social media channel might not be worth your brand’s time:
1. Social media content and advertising budgets are up. Engagement is down.
When you’re simultaneously trying to earn and pay for a social media following that isn’t engaging, something is off. Has your audience left town for something else?
2. Your audience is mobile, but your social media channel is desktop—or vice versa.
Make sure you understand how your audiences use social media. Smartphones are fast becoming ubiquitous. The content or ad you develop for a small screen vs. a 19-inch monitor can make or break your engagement levels. Reach the right people at the right time on the right device.
The only thing that is dead in social media is the mantra of “set it and forget it.” There is no place for complacency in a social media strategy.
Constantly track which channels your audiences are using. Seek to understand why they left a particular channel and what their new social media channel preferences say about the content you now have to deliver. Focus not on what you have to do for retweets and “likes,” but on behavior patterns. Look for what draws them to your brand, regardless of channel.
That way, if Facebook or Twitter does end up joining MySpace and Friendster in social media heaven, you’ve already moved to the next “it” platform.
Rick Stoner is a social media strategist at Bader Rutter (@bader_rutter). Follow him on Twitter @RickStoner or connect with him on LinkedIn. A version of this story originally appeared on the company's blog, Converge.