Social media algorithms are increasingly favoring native content — here’s what that means for your brand publishing strategy.

Back in the “old days” of social media — that is, prior to 2017 — most of the major platforms were actually functioning somewhat similarly to search engines.

Just as Google and Bing identify relevant audiences and funnel them to you, brand publishing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. was all about quick updates and link drops that migrated users off of the social platform and onto your website.

But over the past 18 months or so, all of the algorithms across social have begun to favor what is known as “native content” — or content that exists entirely within the social network itself.

As a result, the social media landscape has changed dramatically — both in terms of brand publishing practices and the new wave products, technologies, and functionalities that have emerged in response.

All of this is to say that if you want to succeed on social going forward, you need to rewire your thinking completely.

Social is no longer just a tool for driving traffic to your website — you need to figure out how to effectively communicate your value prop within the social media universe itself. That requires embracing new tactics, new tools, and a new way of thinking about ROI.

Changing Up the Program

In terms of torchbearers, I think many news organizations have done a great job of adapting to this new social media paradigm.

ProPublica, for example, started utilizing Twitter’s new and improved “tweetstorm” functionalities to effectively publish entire articles as a series of easy-to-digest, bulleted tweets.

This allows people to get a top-level overview of the story and decide if they want to click the link for more in-depth content.

Importantly, from an information transmission perspective, this represents a win-win for ProPublica — either way, their message is received (in fact, this approach actually won them an Edward R. Murrow Award).

At L&T, we still frequently utilize social to drive website traffic, but we’re increasingly shifting our focus towards optimizing content for social in order to make the best use of what social platforms have to offer.

For example, when we helped Arch Grants develop their 2017 Annual Impact Report (a great, interactive piece of content in its own right), we obviously wanted to get the word out.

Instead of simply trying to direct people to the full report on the website, we decided to utilize social as a distinct, but equally weighted, platform for sharing the story.

This required taking a complex, long-form piece of content and distilling it into bite-sized chunks that were optimized for social sharing on mobile (where most social activity takes place these days) — quote graphics, videos, etc.

Taken together, they tell the full story of the report; however, taken individually, they’re still salient and, importantly, convey Arch Grants’ value prop at the speed of social media — that is, instantaneously.

New Measures of Success

A few years ago, attributing ROI to social was a relatively easy thing to do — you could see how much traffic your social strategy was driving to your site and determine much of that traffic turned into new customers.

The rise of native social content has made measuring ROI much more challenging. Accruing likes, shares, and followers doesn’t create long-term value on your owned media assets.

Plus, it’s pretty difficult to connect a passive impression from a piece of social content to another action taken further down the funnel.

The reality is that the evolution of consumer habits and preferences on social has outpaced — or, perhaps more accurately, outmaneuvered — the existing technologies we use to measure digital marketing success.

This isn’t exactly surprising, but it does mean that at the moment, social media is something of a black box when it comes to ROI attribution. I would advise marketers to take a holistic approach to measuring ROI, rather than by channel. Social may influence search which may influence paid advertising campaigns and vice versa.

What we do know is that native social content performs better than content that drives traffic to other sites. For example, Twitter’s Large Summary Cards get 3x more engagements than text-based Tweets. We also know that the best social media presences are the ones that take on a life of their own, separate from the overarching brand, to build engagement and fan followings on their respective channels.

Native social content still runs the risk of renting vs. owning your audience, but it would be a mistake to not experiment now because, in reality, all your current success measures will have already been impacted by these shifts in user behavior. The time to future-proof your social media – and reap the rewards – is now.

Author Jonathan Allen

Jonathan Allen is a search and social marketing specialist and formerly the Director of the award winning search engine news publication, Search Engine Watch. Under Jonathan’s stewardship, Search Engine Watch grew from 600,000 pageviews a month to over 1.4 million and in May 2012, won the Gold Azbee National Award for “Online Excellence, New or Relaunched Web Site” from the American Society of Business Press Editors.

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