It’s Time to Stop Renting Your Audience
If you’re a content marketer these days you might be in a panic. Why? You’re getting better and better at producing content and you’re producing more of it–except for one small issue: engagement on your content is going down. What??? This is not what the inbound marketing experts promised you. You were told that if you regularly produced high-quality content that provided value to your audience, they would come and they would share and everything would be awesome. You might be feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse in terms of this whole content marketing thing, wondering if you’ve been the victim of some huge scam–almost as if the content marketing experts (we know who they are!) have done a little bait and switch on you.
If you’re feeling this panic, don’t worry. You’re not alone and it’s not you. No really, this time it’s not you :P There are two primary reasons why your visits, views, shares, comments and overall engagement are down. The first has to do with the changing business models of social media networks, and the second has to do with the amount of content that is currently being published.
Social Media is Closing
Yes, you read that correctly. Social is closing. I don’t mean that literally. I mean that the day of free access to your social media audiences are over. Seriously. Done. Cooked. Finished. Organic social media reach is a thing of the past or will soon be. Organic reach is loosely defined as the number of users who were shown your social media post through unpaid distribution. If you’re expecting to put in long hours and develop a phenomenal social media content calendar and reap the benefits of your hard-earned efforts with 10x engagement, think again. The numbers are in:
- Facebook’s organic reach is now less than 2% due to changes in its newsfeed algorithm. According to Facebook: “Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300”. You are fighting for one of those 300 spots against your competitors. You can expect it to reach zero in the near future. LinkedIn’s organic reach is slightly more with 20% organic reach, but again that means 80% of your audience on LinkedIn never sees your content.
- Twitter’s new algorithm is now curating the timeline, attempting to democratize it, but in reality it means that only the most “relevant” tweets will now be seen. Relevance is defined by tweet engagement, which seems good in theory, but is something altogether in practice. Many believe this shift to a curated timeline is a precursor to a pay-to-play model.
- According to one expert, Instagram has “seriously messed up its timeline.” People are pissed. In fact, over 338,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to #keepinstagramchronological. Much like Twitter, Instagram is ditching the chronologically ordered timeline and is letting an algorithm decide what's relevant to you. Instagram allows users to opt-in to push notifications from those they follow to guarantee they will see their updates, but as many have pointed out, if you follow a lot of people there is no way you can opt-in for notifications for everyone you want to follow. Again, what does this mean? It means that brands can no longer guarantee that their hard-won audiences will see their content in their timelines.
Social is closing. Brands who fail to understand the magnitude of this situation will continue to spend money on social, yet see ever diminishing returns from it.
Many content marketers are crying foul over this. But they shouldn’t be. We’ve always had to pay to play, and social media just took a little longer to adopt this model. Marketers found ways to promote their content long before social media and will find new channels and mediums to exploit in the future. The trick is to get out of denial as soon as possible so you can start getting creative about how to get your content seen by your audience.
Content Clutter Has Created Content Fatigue
Okay, I'm going to say something kinda obvious here, but you need to bear with me because it's going to lead to something not so obvious. Sorta. Here it is: there is a glut of content. (And yes, I do see the irony of making this statement as I type another blog post.) Your audience is absolutely inundated with content and their social media feeds are literally cluttered with it. No really. I think we all “feel” this glut, but it’s one thing to feel it and quite another to be confronted by cold facts.
According to the Cost of Content Clutter Infographic, if there were 5 exabytes of content created between the birth of the world and 2013, there were 5 exabytes of content created every day in 2013. This situation is only getting worse.
- 8796 photos were shared every second on SnapChat
- 220,000 photos were posted every minute on Instagram
- 2.5 million pieces of content were shared every minute on Facebook
- over 130,000 original articles were published each week on LinkedIn
On top of this less than 20% of content text is actually read.
The Solution to Disappearing Organic Reach
The question is: what can content marketers do about this?
Solution #1: Move Away from Renting Audiences and Toward Owning Them
I wrote recently about the difference between owed versus rented content/media. It is time to stop renting your audiences and do the hard work you need to do to start owning them. Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing guru, recently wrote eloquently about why he was building his own newsletter because organic reach on his social channels had dwindled to almost nothing:
The end result for a business is that you lose control, predictability, and, worst of all, the ability to form relationships with your audiences. If I can't predictably reach an ardent lover of my brand, Ms. Zenobia, on Facebook, do we really have a relationship? Or just a onetime hello? And, what is the point of that hello (/like)?
For Kaushik, relying only on rented platforms is a “dangerous” strategy that is ultimately too risky. Therefore, he’s decided to diversify both platform and audience relationship quality. He’s no longer going to “rely on building audiences” that he “kinda sorta owns at the mercy of rented platforms.” In short, he’s no longer going to be at the mercy of Facebook’s whims. He’s going to stop renting and start owning his audience.
To start owning his own audience, Kaushik has started his own newsletter so he can nurture those relationships and own all the data associated with them. As I noted recently, building a newsletter from your blog and for your site is essential for your inbound strategy. It’s now also essential if you want to stop being extorted by Facebook and their ilk.
Solution #2: Invest in Influencer Marketing
In my recent post on the value of influencers for content marketing, I discussed how influencer marketing can help you cut through the noise and eliminate “banner blindness.” But we now have one more advantage to leveraging influencers: it can help you improve and grow organic reach. Working with high-quality, relevant influencers will likely bring brands more opportunities to reach their diminishing audience. Of course, this will also cause demand for influencers to grow and with it the cost, but it does represent a very viable solution to the disappearance of organic reach.
Solution #3: Make A Mobile Content Strategy
Mobile content gets more engagement. No really. That’s just a fact. Did you know, for example, that 97% of SMS messages are opened? Compare that with astronomically low email open rates. This is because over 90% of mobile users have their phone within reach 24/7. Furthermore, 70% of mobile searches result in action within 1 hour. Wow. Time to get your jaw off the floor ;) Mobile just works and content marketers are now in a mobile-first world. If you haven’t gotten into mobile marketing, make this one of the first items on your marketing bucket list.
Solution #4: Start Developing Your Own Community with Native Content
People have been using LinkedIn groups for years. But only recently have content marketers realized how powerful these groups are for getting your content viewed by your desired audience. But here’s the thing: a LinkedIn group is still a rented audience. You may be an “owner” or “moderator”of a LinkedIn group, but as Kaushik explains, you only “kinda sorta” own it. I’ve actually been involved in legal disputes over who actually owns a LinkedIn group when I managed a group for a company I worked at. After lawyers became involved, it was certainly clear that LinkedIn owned the group, not the company or the former employee who claimed to have “started” the group.
But again, the answer is to develop your own group–your own community. A “community” is really just a fancy way of thinking about an audience you theoretically own. I like to think of “community” as an opt-in audience—in other words, an audience who has already bought into your message and not only wants to hear from you, but also wants to engage with you more, which is even better. These are folks who have become advocates. It’s kind of like the difference between having a social media following, which is only marginally interested in what you have to say at best, and having a real audience.
There are so many ways you can start building your own community, and I think a whole blog post needs to be written to thoroughly address this topic, but you can start quickly building a community through your blog commenting system like Disqus. If you want to go really kuh-razy, you can implement your own social media network within your site. Again, there are lots of options, but you need to know going into the project, that it won’t be easy, and it will be a long slog to get your community really jumping.
Solution #5: Use Digital to Connect Your Analog World
Finally, you can use digital means to leverage analog tactics to gain a captive audience. I’m speaking specifically about in-person or face-to-face events, but also about digital equivalents like Twitter Chats or Online Conferences. Events generally provide an unparalleled ability to connect you to an audience and, in some sense, hold them captive in a way you can’t do in any other medium. Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) recent benchmark study rated in-person events as the most effective marketing tactic for 6 years in a row. In fact, the recent 17-million-dollar acquisition of CMI was largely an “event” acquisition. According to Joe Pulizzi, CMI was making over 5 million dollars on Content Marketing World alone. Events, like mobile, deliver phenomenal results for content marketers and when you use mobile in conjunction with your events, the results are explosive.
Ultimately, social media is closing, making it increasingly more difficult for content marketers to get their content to their audiences. It’s time to get out of denial about this and face up to the sobering reality that now or in the very near future, social media will be pure pay-to-play and to start executing tactics now to help you regain the loss of your rapidly disappearing organic reach. I’ve presented 5 possible solutions here, some of which can be used together. These techniques are powerful ways you can get and keep your audience and stop depending on unpredictable, diminishing audiences.
So what do you think? Is social closing? And if so, what are some tips you think will help?
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