AVM consulting - Coaching, Consulting & Storytelling
AVM Consulting · Looking Forward - 031 - Is social media still social?

image credit Prateek Katyal on Unsplash
by Anne Muhlethaler @annvi

Is social media still social?

  • "Build it, and they will come” only works in the movies. Social Media is a “build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay. - Seth Godin

'What will I write about?'

Most weeks, when I get myself ready to write, I have a moment of worry. The recurring thought that shows up is: 'What will I write about?'

The fear of an empty mind is common, or so I hear, among those who write. Last night, I was revisiting a long post which I've since left behind; the theme wasn’t quite on the nose for a newsletter relating to business, communication and mindfulness - in fact, it was a metaphorical exploration on overwatering. Yeah, I know.

“I'm going to leave it until tomorrow”, I thought to myself, “see if I can make it fit somehow. There's something to it that I haven't quite figured out yet”.

What I often forget - or rather what I forget every week - is that to find something new to write about and create the right story, I only have to lean into what's actually going on with me, or around me.

By morning, a Tweet had grabbed my attention:

Eye-opening Instagram data trends Q1 to Q2 2021, across all industry verticals (via @DashHudson)

Engagement: -23.04%

Follower Growth Rate -34.33%

Effectiveness (video) -5.61%

(Thanks @Dina!)

Huh.

For those reading who aren’t clued in on social media marketing metrics, engagement is considered the most important of all. Given the tweaks made to the algorithm in the past few years, engagement has become an uphill Sisyphus type of a climb for brands and businesses trying to connect with their followers. One of the most meaningful ways to gauge how well your content (or a brand's content) is performing, is to measure how many followers like, share, tag or save what you post. As for Follower Growth Rate , it's pretty self-explanatory: there’s been a massive slow down.

That got me thinking.

LOOK TO THE CHANGEMAKERS

Recently, I’ve barely opened Instagram for more than a minute or so per day. I'm not proud of it - this isn’t me trying to boast about my amazing willpower - I've just become very, very bored by the platform. Maybe it's the ads? Maybe it's just not fun anymore? I haven't tried to analyse it. I’m just noticing my own consumer behavior. I also don't see this changing, which is annoying because I have a very beautiful IG feed to support my Out of the Clouds podcast (and new website coming soon). I just can’t be bothered anymore despite having a plethora of wonderful things to add to the grid.

Now, why should my own Instagram feelings (or lack thereof) interest you? Well, it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one. Two of my close collaborators have shared the exact same sentiments with me. What do we have in common? We all work closely with social media and more generally digital communications.

I can't speak for the other two, but I would generally say that I'm an early adopter, if not an innovator (depending on the product). I'll often be ahead of the curve when it comes to how I consume, interact or communicate. Basically, I'm friendly with all-things online and good at finding what works for me - my friends tell me that I'm ‘resourceful’.

Early adopters generally tend to signal to others that new products or services are interesting, helping diffuse them to a wider audience. If you're not familiar with the Technology Adoption life cycle, take a look at the graph here to get a snapshot of this theory - the bell curve says it better than I can.

When a brand successfully jumps from early adopters to early majority (also known as crossing the chasm), they’re likely to be successful. Sounds epic, doesn’t it?

Today, what I wonder (and what Google has so far provided no answer for) is: what’s the opposite of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle? The abandonment cycle? Is there a bell curve showing what happens when innovators and early adopters leave en masse? I wonder because I have a feeling that if more of us continue to jump off the IG bandwagon, it’s going to suffer the slow aging, depletion of talent and creative death that Facebook has experienced.

The numbers we looked at above only show us what was going on at the beginning of the year. There are certainly some external factors to take into account.

By early Spring, a number of countries were in full vaccine roll-out mode. After coming out of a locked-down winter, my feeling is: of course the numbers went down. People were out and about, finally! We were looking at our phones less. Congratulations everyone!

Recently, I was made aware of a similar trend which touched many other digital businesses, creators and online social groups which had become a lifeline during the long months of COVID confinement. Summer was a huge slump for many of them. People were in need of IRL, breaks and holidays. I mean even I disappeared, abandoning my beloved podcast for six weeks, so yes, online socialising dropped off the radar, for a good reason. And I experienced it first hand.

I’ve regularly mentioned the Bento Society, a group I have been interacting with once or twice weekly since June 2020. Just last week, it was announced that the Society would be going into hibernation for a few months. There were a few reasons for this decision but the post-summer online social slump was certainly an important factor.

So, knowing and applying that to IG, I imagine that the downward trend has dipped even further over the third quarter of this year. Mind you, only time will tell.

OVERSATURATED

My overwatering metaphor, which had originated from a pet sitter almost killing my plants this summer, (surprisingly) resurfaced as relevant to this story.

Pottering around in my bathroom earlier, I chose to listen to a summary of Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday, an ebook he published in 2013. It reminded me of the shift IG, Facebook and co. had experienced over the last decade, transforming, metamorphosing even, from social networks to social media. Again, unless you are really into this stuff, maybe the distinction isn’t as clear to you as it is to me - but it’s an important one.

Today, we as a society, as brands and as individuals, publish our lives and broadcast our points of view and choices 'à la masse media'. Over the past year, curated feeds partially disappeared, making room for what is now called ‘photo dumps’ - an IG trend as clear as its name: heavy, hurried content, shoved out carelessly.

So, how does this all relate back to overwatering plants you may ask?

Overwatering, in simple terms, drowns your plant (so says the internet), resulting in a limited oxygen supply and plants are not able to breathe. Translating this back into human terms, it sounds a lot like anxiety to me.

Is it possible that WE are oversaturated, suffocating or drowning under, from being submerged by each other's 'social' media broadcasts, even more so when they’re carelessly distributed? With anxiety at record highs everyone… something to think about. Perhaps it’s time to take a break and take a breath, literally and otherwise.

Yet we want to be connected to each other, and the socials (network or media) are still able to offer this. But in this mass broadcast dump, what truly remains social about it today? I assume not much. It strikes me as unlikely that the existing platforms will help us engage mindfully, meaningfully.

And that’s probably another factor we can see reflected in IG’s statistics.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

I was reflecting on this subject with great interest because how we communicate matters to everyone. And in terms of supporting businesses, many of my clients rely heavily on Instagram to talk to their own clients. What will happen to them? How will they be able to reach their people?

I feel so much concern for them as they pile their resources, their budgets and their creativity on a platform that was already trending down even before all the very worrying reports that have been coming in thick and fast over the last few weeks.

Recently, I was coaching another coach in training from my cohort and we were working on this very topic: how do you reach your own people? She was overwhelmed when she thought of all the work she'd need to put in to learn to use new platforms, to find and communicate to her ideal clients. My friend is lucky though - she has a very defined niche. She moaned and looked at me over Zoom: “I'm not good at this, it's going to be so hard. I’m not good at this stuff.” When asked how she will reach out to her clients, she replied: “My people are on Facebook between meetings.” And when asked if that was the only way she could reach them, she simply said: “Yes”.

Using a tool called 'the Work' by Byron Katie (look it up, it’s amazing), I looked at her and asked her: “Is that true? Is that thought absolutely true? That you cannot reach your clients with anything else but this tool.”

She smiled, partly because she knows ‘the Work’, and replied: “No, it’s not absolutely true”.

I spent the next few minutes asking her questions so that she could uncover non-digital or non-Facebook related ways for her to connect to her tribe. You'd be surprised at how easy it is for any and all of us to get stuck in our thinking (in general) and especially around how we can or should interact with our clients.

Sometimes, as the outsider looking in, you can see other possibilities so clearly, but for executives under pressure, the big problem is that stress narrows the field of vision. When anxious, we experience tunnel vision; our minds go into rumination mode and we literally can't see the wood for the trees. In this case, they can only see one big digital tree called Instagram.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? Let’s turn ‘the Work’ on me. Anne, Is that thought true?

Well, it’s been absolutely true for every single one of the clients I've worked with over the past 4 years. But it’s not true for me.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Instagram is not quite gone, not yet anyway. In fact, people have started using it in other ways. For example, there's a trend seen with luxury fashion brands as reported recently by Vogue Business, where brands post and then remove the content from their social media feed shortly after, aka 'short-lived marketing'. Is this a good tactic? Well, if less and less people are on the platform and you remove the content, what will your people see? Personally I do get the point but I'm not convinced. It feels gimmicky or at the very least not generous. Mind you, maybe generosity isn't the top value at any of these companies, so perhaps I'm the one missing the mark here.

I'm not completely sure what's going to be the next thing but I am curious and I quite like knowing what's up and coming. I have some ideas on where I’ll get some new insights.

Meanwhile, there is always a way to connect to your people. Whether it's analog, IRL and/or possibly in the metaverse. If you need someone to coach you through this, you know where to find me - not on Instagram!

Until next week friends.

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