Thanks Trump! Thanks Clinton! Now Social Is Screwed

4 Nov

Thanks for nothing

A version of this appeared in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily. Marketing on social media is a whole lot more difficult than it used to be, thanks to the presidential election. And, while the nation’s collective nightmare may end on election day, brands will be bearing this burden for a long time to come.

The corrosive effects of the past 18 months have fundamentally altered the social media landscape. As a result, people are becoming far less “social” and far less likely to engage in the behaviors marketers have come to rely upon.

Consider a couple of recent data points.

  • A recent study by Pew Research Center found that more than a third of users have changed their privacy settings on social media to restrict the number of friends whose posts they see. And 27 percent actually blocked someone out of annoyance.
  • Since 2009, the CMO Survey has projected brands will spend 20.9 percent of their marketing budgets on social media. As recently as February that projection was holding steady. But in October the survey found brands spending only 11.7 percent on social, well off the projected pace of 17.5 percent.

Underlying all of this data is a rapid shift in attitudes toward social media from the youth audience that has been critical to the explosive growth and whose behaviors have typically been bellwethers for older audiences.

It’s worth reflecting on what built social media in the first place. Initially it was the ability for people to stay in touch with friends and make acquaintances they otherwise wouldn’t make in the real world.

Then came the ability to share items of interest. Suddenly, social media enjoyed exponential expansion as people discovered that a mix of friends could be a powerful force for curating information and exposing us to new ideas, and even products or services.

Now, however, some of those same friends are pissing us off. They’re getting into strident arguments over political and social issues. Brands that venture into current events discussions are finding their digital audiences instantly polarized. Indeed, it seems like every issue has sides. “Safe” topics have effectively been reduced to amusing videos of animals and complaining about Mondays.

For the past five years, so much of the investment brands made in social was chasing that sharing behavior. Every piece of content was launched in hopes it would “go viral,” making a small investment payoff with disproportionately huge returns. No more.

Perhaps the only winners in the past 18 months have been the trolls. Younger users, 16- to 24-years-old, tell us that rather than expose themselves to trolls they have shifted their sharing to private channels, Snapchat or text messaging, where they know who they’re talking to and can safely predict the reception they’ll get. And it seems that their parents are following their lead.

It’s doubtful all this gets better any time soon just because the election is over. So what’s a marketer to do?

Get real. Quit thinking about social as something that’s best left to the youngest members of the team. Success is going to demand the skills of seasoned marketers.

Strategies will have to focus on pockets of opportunities. Time is the enemy.

Successful marketers, and their agencies, will continually analyze the digital environment, quantifying the opportunities. This will allow them to have reasoned assessments of the likelihood of success and the potential for damage to the brand.

From the client side, it will take a commitment to move fast, take risks and firmly understand where the brand can and cannot go.

Strategies that are tethered to nothing more than the flow of the moment will lead brands onto the rocks faster than ever before. You can thank our presidential election for that.