Your brand vs. social algorithms: The conundrum of 2018


Brands are finding themselves at the mercy of algorithm changes from the likes of Instagram and Twitter. Columnist Blaise Lucey discusses what that will mean for your social and content strategy in 2018.

There I was, trying to convince my friends that the purpose of Instagram was to take pictures in the moment. “Insta-gram,” I said slowly. “As in… in the instant. If you wait a day, that’s too late. The picture is no good.”

“That’s not true,” one of them said. “People post whatever they want. Plus, it doesn’t matter. I see stuff from days ago sometimes.”

And that’s when I realized that my precious principle was outdated. By about a year. Because that was when Instagram decided that posts weren’t going to be shown to users in chronological order. Now, you’re more likely to see the content that you want to see. Or at least what Instagram’s algorithm thinks you want to see. (And now you can even post old content on Instagram Stories.)

The conversation reminded me of the #RIPTwitter controversy earlier this year, when Twitter decided to stop showing tweets in chronological order, too. And let’s not even talk about the changes that regularly sweep across Facebook and Google. It’s too hard to keep up.

The bottom line is, if you have a social strategy and a content strategy, your brand is being shown on all these platforms. But you don’t know how many people you’re actually reaching, or when. You’re at the mercy of the algorithm.

The sharing economy

We’ve heard a lot about how swift technological changes have heralded the end of ownership. Airbnb is reinventing home ownership. Uber and Zipcar are reinventing car ownership.

Well, when it comes to consumers and brands, search and social media have reinvented ownership of that relationship. And that’s becoming a problem.

In recent research conducted by Forbes Insights and Criteo (disclosure: I work at Criteo), we interviewed 500+ marketing execs across brands and retailers. The study, titled “Commerce Data Opportunity: Collaboration Levels the Retail Playing Field,” revealed they had a lot of concerns about their customer data, especially how it’s getting locked behind the walled gardens of tech giants:

  • 50 percent were concerned that their access to customer data would be limited.
  • 41 percent were concerned their access to product information would be limited.
  • 38 percent were concerned that garden owners (digital-physical giants in control) could dictate terms and services.

If your marketing strategy hinges on promotion and distribution on third-party networks, you don’t own any of that data, and you’ll never be sure how your product is shown or discovered on the platform. You also won’t be able to follow up with people who engage with content or a product page, because you won’t actually have any data to personalize or target that message.

Many marketers are thinking about how to maintain customer relationships across channels. But without the right data, it’s impossible.

From maze to map

We’ve come to agree that the user journey is a maze. But it’s more like a map.

ComScore found that one out of five minutes online is spent on social networks. Throw in email (likely controlled by Google or Microsoft) and instant messages (controlled by Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger), and a quarter of all time spent online is dedicated to communications.

Brands need to invest in social and content strategies to reach their audiences where they spend their time. But those efforts should be concentrated on driving users back to the experiences you own.

While it’s tempting to get addicted to metrics that indicate heavy media consumption, such as retweets, likes and views, none of that gets customers any closer to your brand. By the time they engage with the next thing in their social feed, they’ve likely already forgotten the interaction.

In 2018, brands should focus not only on how to build a content strategy that gets engagement across search and social networks, but how to really build out a data strategy that allows them to take back ownership of those relationships. Otherwise, your customers could be wiped out during the next algorithm change.

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