Social media myths: 7 lies that are distorting publishers' perceptions of their strategies

Robbie Jenkins | Social Media Manager, Deseret News, National Edition, DDM | @robbjenkins | June 1, 2016

As the social media manager for a digital media company and two of the news sites it owns, I have come across numerous myths regarding social media. I have encountered them from friends, family, co-workers and, admittedly, myself.

In my defense — and theirs — social media changes rapidly. Several current myths are grounded in partial truths from prior stages in the evolution of popular platforms. It is for that exact reason, however, that we have to take a step back and examine the medium’s current state.

It is my purpose here to highlight these myths and briefly explain why they are either mostly false or entirely false.

1. Social media = free marketing

There is a pervasive myth in our industry that social media equates to free marketing. This is true to an extent. It is free to use Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest and a host of others, and a post that effectively presents interesting, entertaining, inspiring or informative information can go viral.

Optimizing all of your content’s potential is another matter, however. With millions of posts, links, images, videos, tweets and more being published daily, most content will require something more.

A good organic strategy can only take you so far so fast. To truly drive engagement, drive page views and drive growth, one has to pay to play. This is especially true for dominant platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Of course, no amount of money can compensate for a lack of quality or substantive content. It will not translate to long-term success. Make sure those who manage your social media have access to quality content and some sort of budget.

2. Social media is for acquiring new people and growing

You can and should be focused on growth. Growth alone, without adequate focus on retention (serving the audience you already have well), is not enough on its own.

There is value in growth, and it is an important metric for determining the value of the content you are producing, especially for new publishers on social media. That said, I have two points for you to consider.

First, you rarely convert social media users into followers. Rather, you find those followers who just haven’t found you yet, thought to look, or had the right incentive to act based on their interest.

Second, growing followers, likes or connections is not the only determinant of success. If growth is the only determinant, strategy becomes tailored to growth. But what about the people you already have? What are you offering them other than publishing “at them”? Balance your strategy to account for growth and consumer retention.

3. It’s all about the following

I want to take the previous myth one step further, because while growth is definitely a positive, engagement with your existing community is vital. Fortunately, engagement is an aspect of social media over which you have a lot more control. You may not be able to grow to millions of likes or followers like other publishers, companies or brands, but you can know your audience intimately and serve it well. This will translate into more engagement.

An account with 10,000 active followers can potentially have a bigger impact on more people than an account of 100,000.

For example, imagine you own a store. Would you rather have 100,000 yearly visitors who only make 1,000 collective purchases or 10,000 visitors who make 3,000 collective purchases? Sure, more visitors means more people recognize your store, but recognition does not translate to profit. Purchases do.

4. Social media is for publishing content

OK, it is for publishing content. I won’t deny that, and it is the biggest part of what we do at Deseret Digital Media. The myth here is that it is only for publishing content. It is so much more than that!

Social media empowers your followers (and yes, that’s a good thing). It also empowers you. You, too, as a brand, can like, share, comment, message, favorite, retweet, vote, pin, etc. These options make social media multi-dimensional, similar to real conversations. And conversations are what you want.

Don’t fall into the trap of publishing “at” people. Publish for them, listen to them, and by all means respond to them. Not everything will merit a response, but some sort of acknowledgement creates a two-way conversation, however simple or brief. Each conversation, in turn, develops your relationship with the person on the other end. Over time, you can transform your audience into a loyal community — one that is engaged and supportive.

5. If you post it, they will come

I have, on numerous occasions, sensed that some firmly believe that starting a page or account or posting an article will be an immediate solution. We all wish it could be an immediate solution, of course, that it acted like chum in shark-infested waters. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.

Pages take time to grow, and most content will only reach a fraction of the people you want it to, even on established pages with a sizable community. It takes time, consistency, experimenting and money to frequently get the right content in front of the right people.

6. You have to be everywhere

This common myth and the following one are closely related. You don’t have to be everywhere and do everything. The main factors for determining where you should be are, most importantly, determining where your target audience is, considering what types of content you have to offer and, for many, evaluating how much time you can dedicate.

Social media can be time-consuming. Spend your effort and money where it will provide you the biggest ROI for the key performance metrics you value. Each social platform offers something different.

It never hurts to re-evaluate where you’re spending your time and sharing your content. If a change is needed, why wait? Remember, growing an account takes time.

7. You have to have Facebook and Twitter

Just because you can’t be everywhere does not mean you have to fall back on Facebook and Twitter. Yes, Facebook is still king — at least when it comes to the number of users and the volume of traffic it refers. For media and news publishers, that’s what many of us want. However, many fall into the trap of assuming that these two are, by default, the go-to platforms. I might have agreed with this at one point, but as usual, things change.

Do not spend most of your time on these two simply because they were the staples two or three years ago. According to the most recent Pew research on the demographics of social media users, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn exceed Twitter when it comes to percentage of adult online users. In other words, more adults online are turning to Pinterest (31 percent), Instagram (28 percent) and LinkedIn (25 percent) than Twitter (23 percent). Facebook, by the way, is holding strong at 72 percent.

Social media is a constantly changing landscape. Our strategies need to be similarly nimble. Calling out these myths is either the first step in changing your perceptions of your existing strategy or the first step in changing your strategy altogether.