How Social Media Platforms Became Publishers & Why That Matters

When major news hits, what’s the first thing you do to catch up? Maybe you switch on the TV and tune in to one of the major news channels? Maybe you pick up your phone and check out apps? Or, maybe, you open your favourite social network and check out what the people you’re following are posting. News has always travelled fast, but nowadays it’s travelling even faster thanks to the continued rise of social media. According to The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, young people use social media as a key source of news more than they use television.

Shocking though that fact may seem to some, it’s hardly surprising. Social media platforms are the sum of the people who use them, so if most people are using them to get up to speed with the latest news, they consequently become news platforms and content publishers. This means that there’s a knock-on effect for everyone using the platform, including brands, who need to learn fast and adapt to these changes in order to maintain engagement. But how can that be done? Fast Web Media explores…

So, how did this happen?

The smartphone and digital revolutions put power in the hands of everyday people. Whereas before the media was an exclusive area that required power and privilege to enter, digital made it available to anyone who could afford a mobile and an internet connection. This meant that everyone became a publisher, not just of news (though so-called Citizen Journalists were the first major ‘social publishers’) but of anything they liked. Wanna make a video about fidget spinners? Go for it! Long to build a following through Instagram? Sure thing! Wanna rate dogs on Twitter? BORK! It’s all there at the tips of your fingers.

As social media platforms grew, the concept of content being something that required a significant amount of time to craft faded. People could use YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or any platform to post updates with unparalleled ease: snap a picture, bash out 140 characters or flick on your webcam and you’re sorted. Frictionless and fast! Just look at Donald Trump’s now-infamous “covfefe” tweet from May 2017. A simple (hilarious) typo sparked a chain reaction perpetuated by mini-publishers who could create jokes and publish them to the world within 30 seconds, and then see their notifications stack up.

Despite the constant negative press covfefe, social media and the people who use it are powerful content publishers, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

What does this mean for brands?

The shift in the way social networks are used has had innumerable positive effects, forcing big brands to be more transparent, encouraging authenticity in imagery and giving greater opportunities for minorities and the marginalised to make their voices heard. However, with change comes the need for adaptation, and brands must sit up and take notice. The rise of Fake News, for example, may seem like an issue for journalists alone, but society as a whole, and in particular those who use social media heavily, have started to be more careful with what they consume, be that a story in a newspaper or a piece of messaging from a brand.

Most significantly, the idea that social media is an island on its own is now a dangerous and outdated concept for brands to cling on to. For too long, many brands saw social as an amplification tool that they could post links to and generate traffic from, or worse, independent communities that stand apart from an overarching strategy. Today, social platforms should be seen as an extension of a wider holistic strategy, and certainly as part of a wider content strategy. In other words, Twitter, Instagram or whatever your preferred channel is needs to work in the same way as your blog does: giving users complete chunks of content for them to consume without needing to click elsewhere.

This may seem scary to those who see social as a source of amplification, but it locates social content within the wider Hero, Hub, Hygiene content pyramid many brands use. If a brand’s Hero offering is its high profile content that’s capable of making a big splash, and the Hub is the lower level content that’s designed to keep engagement going, the Hygiene content is the social posts: the always-on content that’s pushed out daily and is designed to keep people constantly engaged.

What should brands do?

Social media is always in flux. The idea that you can create a static strategy that isn’t regularly being updated, or offer monolithic tips that will always be relevant and apply to every brand equally, is as ridiculous as suggesting covfefe is an actual word that people understood. However, the below tips are a good place to start.

Content Is King

Craft a post like you would a piece of blog content: after all, Twitter did begin life as a microblogging platform. This means ensuring that a post offers a nugget of information that exists as a complete whole in itself and doesn’t need a click through to elsewhere to complete the reader’s understanding of it. Don’t worry about missing out on a click or inserting a call to action. If your post is interesting enough, it’ll win the click anyway because people want to read interesting information.

Look at the mock tweets below. The first example simply drives people through to a landing page: it’s an advertisement for content, not content itself. On the other hand, the second example still offers a link, but it stands as an interesting bite of information in itself. People will want to know more and, because it’s an interesting statistic that requires very little effort on the user’s part to understand (no clicking through to somewhere else), it's likely to gain more ReTweets and awareness.

Trust your readers to respond to and reward good content. Don’t bury it beneath clickbait and mysterious messaging.

Use Twitter’s Functionality

Twitter has responded well to the changes in the way it’s used, and has developed functionality to allow people to tell longform stories. Yep, it’s not just about cramming your thoughts into 140 characters by using rlly akwrd txt spk and the odd ❤️ emoji. Now, you can make your point across multiple tweets by threading them together, or compiling them into a Twitter Moment, making it easier for users to follow a longform point. Journalists and social activists have made particularly striking use of this, again underlining the need for tweets to feature content in themselves rather than simply driving users to other websites.

Brands can take advantage in unique and engaging ways. If you run a competition that requires users to respond with an original answer (rather than simply answer a question), compile some of the best into a Twitter Moment. If you’ve got a reaction to a breaking story in your industry, but don’t have time to put a blog together, gather your thoughts and compile them into a thread; you can always come back to a long-form blog later. By reacting to it on Twitter, you’re showing that you’re up to speed with events in your industry and on-the-ball enough to have a relevant, compelling take.

Further functionality like this will follow, and it’s important to take notice. Social media is a storytelling platform, so use the tools to tell your brand’s story.

Play to Social’s Strengths

Each social media channel has a core strength. Facebook helps build a sense of community. Instagram can make a bold statement through imagery. YouTube offers an arena to distil complex information into simple, bite sized videos. And the speed with which Twitter moves has helped the platform become arguably the most up to date website on the internet. There are many more benefits (and, of course, some drawbacks), but they key is to work out what will allow your brand to stand out and gain attention.

Let’s say, for example, you’re a fashion brand. You can use a mix of social media platforms, and your blog, to produce a holistic content strategy that plays to each platform’s strengths. Instagram can push out striking imagery to emphasise your products’ coolness. YouTube can give your customers a clear feel for how the clothes will actually look and feel, and Twitter can be used to engage people with fashion news, opinions and humour. All the while, your blog can provide longer-form written content with greater context.

Your social strategy is like an orchestra and you’re the conductor. Each instrument can be played in a different, brilliant way; your job is to work out how to get the best music from them.

Conclusion

Social media’s shift into publishing has been a slow but significant one. Brands now need to consider them as extensions of a holistic content strategy and play to each one’s strength. The benefits of doing so are increased awareness, heightened engagement and, hey, maybe even a bit more press covfefe.

Do you, a social media user, see yourself as a publisher? Let us know your thoughts @FastWebMedia and start a discussion!

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