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The Social Privacy Wars: Redux

If you’ve had an eye or ear on the news about social media reporting, it looks like we’re in store for round 3 (or 4, or 5) of Government Vs. Social Media Giants. With the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal a faded memory in the review mirror, this week’s executive order from the Trump administration is once again throwing the spotlight on the government’s role in regulating social platforms. If history has given us any clue as to what may happen next, then get ready for some Beltline & Valley fireworks.

But what does this all mean for marketers and brands? How will skirmishes over content liability and privacy impact the local restaurant? The online fashion retailer? The multi-national big-box behemoth?

Exec Order Impact: Focused on In-Feed

At first look, it appears almost all of the focus of the latest government regulation salvo is focused on in-feed content; the content you see as you scroll through your newsfeed. Why focus on the feed? Because, in theory, the feed is the best equivalent for “the public town square” of the internet – free, unfettered flow of information and opinions, regardless of accuracy or intent.

As a marketing vehicle, the feed has become an increasingly loud and overcrowded space, and that – along with algorithm changes from social companies – has made its effectiveness for delivering marketing ROI a bit debatable. That’s probably why, way back in 2018, Zuckerberg and his team shifted their focus to “private, off-feed” content spaces. Places where communication amongst users feels protected and temporary, tapping into the growing trends of how Gen-Z and their younger compatriots utilize social. Thus, the focus shifted from in-feed timeline content (or “your wall” for those of us of a certain age) to more emphasis on Groups, Messenger, and Stories.

If we’ve learned one thing in a decade of social marketing, when the channel shifts focus, go with the flow. Here’s how.

Tactic 1: Close Ranks with Groups

In 2019, Facebook doubled down on this “close quarters” privacy focus with a new homepage layout that placed groups front and center in the timeline. With more than 400 million people interacting with groups they find meaningful (4x more than just a year before), Facebook even shelled out $10 million for a 2019 Super Bowl ad to remind people to hit that “join” button with gusto. In addition to placing a group tab at the top of the feed, the infamous algorithm shifted to give preference to group-based content when deciding what to serve users.

Organic communities dedicated to BBQ-smoking fanatics, yard sales, or badly taxidermized animals sprouted up quickly. But, for the most part, brands have been slow to tap into the power of groups.

Take, for example, everyone’s favorite kitchen gadget: InstaPot. While InstaPot’s business page boasts a following just shy of 300K, their Facebook group is thriving with 2.7 MILLION members from around the globe. And that is a huge missed opportunity – almost 90% of their social audience is missing out on their community. By curating – and pushing people towards – a space where passionate cooks can ask questions, discuss recipes, and, when needed, provide troubleshooting from group members of InstaPot’s team of admins, brands like InstaPot can create a space that feels less like advertising and more like community (and that’s kind of a big deal).

The bottom line: Get a Group going. Groups are a chance to stop battling for engagement from a broad swath of people, and instead, focus your content on people who are specifically interested in what you have to offer. You get the added bonus of benefitting from the algorithm and a steady stream of UGC content, which, properly policed, can take the creation burden off your social team.  

Tactic 2: Slide into those DMs (Respectfully)

While the newsfeed of the future may be dominated by groups, there’s another handy (and fully private) feature also waiting for its moment to shine: good ol’ FB Messenger and its Facebook-owned cousins Instagram DM and WhatsApp.

With 1.3 BILLION users sending 8 billion messages each day, Messenger is already a space that marketers should be paying attention to. Like groups, Messenger invites users to raise their hand and initiate engagement with brands, which in turn opts them into continued direct, personalized communication well beyond that initial “hello.”

But it’s not just the connection factor—there’s real marketing ROI in Messenger. With open rates that average 70%-80% and CTRs around 20%, Messenger puts most email marketing to shame. The rise of tools like Manychat makes crafting sophisticated chatbots accessible to even the smallest of marketing teams.

An example: a tuition-free higher ed program, University of the People, combined ads optimized for Messenger engagement with a chatbot designed to answer questions normally handled by their call center. This campaign resulted in a 51% increase in started applications and a 62% decrease in cost per completed application.

The bottom line: Messenger opens the door, and chatbots can eliminate (or at least limit) the need for a human to monitor every message your Facebook page gets. That’s a double-whammy to build audiences and drive conversions for your brand. 

Tactic 3: Get Back to Storytelling

When Facebook launched Stories in 2017, the first ones launched felt admittedly like another attempt at making Facebook appealing to “the young folks.” The new feature struggled to catch on with Facebook’s older audience, and Gen-Zers who preferred SnapChat.

But true to form, Facebook pushed on, and three years in, Stories are on the rise with over 500 million stories published daily with that same number being pushed out on Instagram. It’s worth noting a third of stories viewed are posted by businesses.

Why do Stories work? The short lifespan of Story frames gives users a sense of exclusivity, immediacy, and FOMO – and recent rollouts of features like polls, questions, and AR filters up the ante even more, inviting engagement in a way that helps consumers feel emotionally connected to the brands they interact with.

But don’t think you have to be a flashy retail brand to capitalize on Stories. Take staid stalwart Cigna – if your health insurance company can leverage a paid Story campaign to drive an 8 point increase in brand recall and an additional 120,000 users reached in stories alone,  then you can too.

The Bottom Line: Stories are a hot ticket right now. While they may take a little more creative effort than in-feed content, even lo-fi/raw content gets embraced as authentic in this space, and (for now) you can sync both Instagram and Facebook stories for increased reach.

So, What Now?

Is the writing on the wall for the newsfeed? All that Cambridge hub-bub a few years ago made a lot of noise, but the change it generated is open to interpretation. But even the potential for change is opening new and exciting avenues for consumers to interact with brand content. Groups, Messenger, and Stories are generating engagement rates social marketers haven’t seen since the early days of social, and, unlike the feed, that engagement is turning into ROI for brands in a big way.

If your brand could use a hand tapping into these channels, give us a call – we’re always up for a good group story-telling session with a side of DMs.

About Greg Abel

Greg Abel | Founder of Tailfin Marketing
Greg has been disrupting the ad industry for decades. After graduating from UGA’s Grady College of Journalism, Greg found his path at big ad agencies as a Media Planner and Account Executive. From there, Greg jumped on the digital wave at a consultancy where he helped to develop digital strategy and online user experiences for a range of consumer brands. In 1999, Greg co-founded Tailfin, an ad agency that specializes in branding, traditional and digital advertising, engaging content development, and social media.

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