Many companies have invested heavily in paid and organic social media marketing. But storm clouds — very large and dark ones — are gathering on the horizon, which threaten to blow away its marketing value. For years, social media has been the online marketing no-brainer, the obvious investment, the sure thing.
But there is no such thing as a sure thing — just ask the 1980 Soviet Union Olympic hockey team or the Super Bowl III Baltimore Colts. Here is a recap of why the future of social media marketing is not nearly as secure as you may think.
- Big tech platforms are receiving heavy criticism from the very people who created them. The addictive nature of social media is “hijacking our minds,” having disastrous effects on our mental state and social cohesion. These are big issues that are making people think twice about checking their social media streams every 30 seconds. As more people become aware of the danger, social media participation may shrink — and perhaps the ball has already started to roll. Relevant data point: Facebook lost daily users for the first time ever in the U.S. and Canada in Q417.
- “Fake news” has brought criticism raining down from all sides on Facebook and other social platforms, causing them to rethink how and to what extent they control the publication and sharing of content. The platform owners and leadership cannot make everyone happy; there will be persistent, bitter complaints about too much censorship, not enough censorship and bias — with the upshot being growing distaste for and distrust of social media, perhaps reaching a point where a company’s presence on social platforms could harm rather than enhance its brand image. And unfortunately, the constant presence of bots, trolls and mean-spirited posts further erodes the value of social media for companies trying to use these platforms in a constructively engaging way.
- As if these trends aren’t serious enough (and they are very serious), studies are percolating into public awareness about the profound danger of screen time on developing brains. Mobile phones, tablets, television, electronic toys and desktop monitors all put children at risk. Problems begin at infancy and worsen from there. Regardless of your feelings about social media marketing, if you are a parent or grandparent, you should study the evidence — screen-related issues affecting children involve cognitive development, learning ability, speech, anxiety, depression, obesity, sleep and much more. It’s enough to make you want to trade in your screens for flip phones, books and radios.
- For older children and young adults, truly horrifying social media-related problems such as bullying, exposure to sexual predators and distracted driving continue to be major — sometimes literally life or death — concerns for parents and young people. The cumulative effect is again to discourage social media use, making younger generations less likely to use social media when they get older.
Contingency Marketing Plans Are Needed
Our love affair with social media could go on for a long time. Heaven knows there are forces at work that would love to have us online 24/7. But if marketers know anything, they know that people are unpredictable, and their preferences can change quickly. A couple examples:
- Twenty years ago, few people cared about sustainable packaging — then, one day, everybody did.
- As we speak, one of the biggest trends in food is a shift from meat to plants — consumer preferences are changing radically due to dietary, lifestyle and philosophical reasons that run deep.
If the public sours on social media, if people see the negatives of online participation exceeding the positives, then today’s big platforms will go the way of the dinosaur and the department store. It could happen in five years, 10 years, tomorrow or never. Smart marketers take advantage of what is working today while laying the groundwork for what will be working in the future.
Now is not too early to develop contingency plans to replace social campaigns. If social does indeed go south, companies that saw it coming will gain an amazing competitive advantage.