Brands Killed Social Media, But Netflix Put the Final Nail in the Coffin

Here we are, in the spring of 2016, and we’re still avoiding the elephant in the room: Social media is a dying channel.

Here we are, in the spring of 2016, and we’re still avoiding the elephant in the room: Social media is a dying channel. Dizzying amounts of low-quality branded content clutter up our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds (“Mention this post for 10 percent off” is still a thing people post on Facebook every day). LinkedIn has slowly begun devolving into a mess of “1 Like = 1 Prayer” photos and unsolicited sales pitches. The social media landscape has evolved from a Wild West frontier to a cyberpunk dystopian nightmare in just eight years–an impressive record.

Today, 84 percent of U.S. brands actively use Facebook in their marketing strategies. They push out an average of 1.48 posts per day, despite 57 percent of marketers believing that Facebook posts have little to no impact on their brands. Brands are overrunning social media at a rate that has literally pushed individual users off of The “Big Three” platforms. New channels like Instagram and Snapchat have been popping up regularly not because they are amazing channels, but because brands aren’t on them yet.

Of course, there are plenty of brands out there publishing engaging content that users love to see–Old Spice didn’t take over YouTube two years ago just because it was paying for ad space. But these are overwhelmingly the minority, and they’re unfortunately losing their audience because of the rushed and poorly planned strategies of other companies. It only takes a handful of awful and forced content to ruin the party for everyone.

Social media consumers among key demographics are flocking to private networks that more resemble 1990s chat apps than they do social media. WhatsApp and Snapchat are for one-on-one conversations with friends, not mass-posting brands trying to get web visits.

So, marketers are left wondering: What happens now?

Today’s online consumer is part of a different content universe–a universe that was built by Blockbuster Video and perfected by Netflix. On-demand, live and seemingly infinite content–content that can fill 12 hours of entertainment without sacrificing quality. Content that users didn’t know they wanted, but that they can’t wait to talk about. Content that is experienced, not watched. And they are experiencing it–in massive quantities.

This is the binge content consumer. Thousands of hours of video are swiped through on Snapchat every day. Just take a walk through the nearest major urban center and do a headcount of people thumbing through their Instagram feeds and group chats while walking to a bus stop, or how many people are watching YouTube in the theater while the movie’s opening credits are rolling.

Clients often ask me how much content is too much, and the answer is, “There is no such thing.” It is fiscally impossible for a brand to produce more content than their audience can consume, as long as they are producing content of sufficient quality to be worth sharing. Users report that they unlike brand pages on Facebook that share “too much content,” but what they really mean is “too much content that doesn’t interest me.” BuzzFeed posts on Facebook at least once per hour, and its 7.1 million fans don’t seem to be complaining.

But you can’t get ahead by just publishing anything. Users may be binging on more content than ever before, but there are still only 24 hours in a day. Add in the fact that new content sources are constantly popping up, and that means users are spending less and less time with each piece of content as time goes on.

If you’re looking for advice on chasing the next big trends, there are plenty of blogs and white papers out there trying to answer that question, but they’re all approaching the problem completely backwards. Marketers need to stop looking at what channels and apps are popular, and start looking at what users are actually trying to consume. It’s not enough to count out exactly 75 words (http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/visual-content-marketing-strategy) of a blog before inserting a brightly colored infographic.

When we talk about binge marketing, the conversation is around quality, not quantity. It’s about creating binge-worthy pieces that consumers will bring into their private conversations freely, rather than trying to jury-rig a way to force content into those spaces like so many brands did with third-party upload apps in the early days of Instagram.

Brands that succeed at capturing the binge content audience are doing so by creating experiences those users will want to binge on and letting the consumers come to them. Binge marketing isn’t about creating 3,000 tweets as much as it is about creating something that 3,000 people will talk about.

As users sprint away from the corporate barrage of public social media channels, they are setting up new homes in one-on-one services like Snapchat and WhatsApp, where the only conversations they have are with their friends. Twitter is the new “1-800 number”–it’s where you go when you need to file a complaint, but you don’t ever want to see it pop up in your caller ID.

So go out there and build something amazing. Set up a pop-up store giving away free food in the middle of Times Square (and don’t you dare put a “Use our hashtag on Instagram!” sign on the booth). Do some guerilla marketing and have a flash mob perform routines in your company uniforms outside of a rival’s headquarters. Create a whiteboard video that talks about real social issues that affect your brand–not just the ones that you sell solutions for–and tell an honest story people will want to share and comment on. Take a risk and pull a Shia LaBouef and rent a theater and play your old 1940s commercials back-to-back for free so people can laugh at them and tell their friends about it using a custom Snapchat geofilter.

Tell stories, be honest, be unique and give the bingers something to actually give a damn about. Share your passions, not your taglines. Talk about your people, not your products. Find that podcast with 45 listeners that pushes out content every week on the intricacies of light-bulb selection and how it impacts modern theme park design and try to understand why they are so passionate about filament versus LED bulbs, because if they can talk about those bulbs every week for four years and still have listeners, you can surely come up with something interesting to say that no one has ever said before.

Binge marketing is a challenge only because our industry tries to fight it, instead of working with it. This isn’t a problem that can be solved with boardroom meetings and new technologies–it starts at the core of your branding and requires you to make the leap and take a risk. Don’t be afraid to be a trendsetter, because trendsetters are the only ones that matter in digital marketing today.

Tim Howell is a digital marketing strategist for full-service agency R2integrated.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.