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The evolution of social media marketing, the importance of engagement, and where to go next?

By Douglas Eldridge

I wrote, in a previous post, that Facebook is part of the local landscape.

This is true now more than ever. You should think of it as advertising similar to sponsoring your local Little League team or putting a billboard up in a highly trafficked area. However, there's one stark difference in advertising on social media platforms like Facebook and traditional local advertising. Social Media data is so robust that it's easy to forget the social part of social media. Let's take a quick look back at the long and illustrious life of social media to figure out how we got here, what's next, and how to get social.

A Long, Illustrious History

Not so long-ago social media platforms had a novel use — to communicate with friends and like-minded people. Remember the good old days… way back in ought 3, Friendster was the leading social media site with a whopping three million active users within just a few months of its launch according to The New York Times. With its unique features like highlighting mutual friends, who viewed your profile, shoutouts, customizable profile background, and profile background music, it was the quintessential social media platform of its time. Then came Myspace, which overtook Friendster. Myspace and everyone's friend Tom seemed like the echelon of social media at the time. With its easy-to-design personal pages and its easy-to-share profiles, the platform was a huge success, especially for musicians and bands, but it didn't quite blossom into the successful platforms of today.

As Friendster and Myspace and even precursors to other types of ancillary social such music apps like Spotify and Pandora (remember Napster?) even it had an important role to play toward the environment we're in now - fumbled around making the masses happy, a few platform founders, most notably a guy named Mark, who doesn't seem to be anyone's friend, figured out a way to make investors happy and monetize social media.

Social Media As It Stands… Presently

And that's where we sit now. Advertising money keeps social media going while the user experience for the masses is a shell of what it used to be. Clearly, the masses are dealing with the issue, after all, according to the Pew Research feature that was released on April 7, 2021, around 72% of Americans use social media. Globally according to DataReportal the latest data shows that there are 4.48 billion social media users around the world as of July 2021, equating to almost 57% of the total global population.

Along with the vast number of users there seem to be almost as many metrics available to prove advertising success. Unfortunately, privacy concerns have made those metrics less valuable and, in some cases, even questionable. In 1990 it might have been acceptable to not be able to tell a complete story with available data. In 2021 social platforms need to figure out a solution to their data problems and they need to be able to make it simple.

Presently social media advertising is still thriving and deemed a necessary tool by most retail businesses. Spending on advertising alongside an organic strategy is par for the course. The problem presents itself in the preceding sentence. Since the organic strategy requires engagement, and the paid strategy is often static, which is not what social media was designed for.


Sounds simple enough, right? Monitor your paid ads and engage with consumers just like your organic strategy. First you need a paid strategy that consumers actually want to engage with. That requires relevancy and trust. Trust is a hard one with paid ads so let's discuss relevancy. Anyone with half a brain and a few dollars can advertise on social platforms. That's a big part of the reason that trust is so hard to gain, the sheer volume of ads that clearly display 'SPONSORED.'

How do companies differentiate? How do they break the mold that's so solidly entwined into the present day? Is it money, is it strategy, campaign management, the right platform?

There's a thousand correct answers and the only wrong ones are the ones that don't work. The low costs of social media allow for experimentation. And, while we might be past the Golden Age of Social Media, we're not so far past that everyone has to take the same tailored approach. And remember, engagement is not a one size fits all approach - different industries have different measurements and goals. Rather than showing a product with a CTA to a shopping page others are doing the following:

  • Videos - An algorithm is going to serve your ad and algorithms like videos right now. Tweets with video are seeing 10 times more engagement than with static photos.
  • Music - Music resonates with people in a memorable way. It's helping to shape a new generation of social media users so much so that Sirius XM recently launched a station dedicated to viral songs from TikTok.
  • Influencers - Like the age-old celebrity endorsement of the past, except for that many of the celebrities were made on and by social media. The terms YouTube and TikTok stars are now a common part of the English vernacular. Using an influencer to promote a product can garner millions of views more organically than a traditional paid campaign.

How to Stay Ahead of the Social Media Curve

What comes next in the social media world isn't the question you should be asking, it's how to continue monetizing it as it evolves. We've seen social platforms come and go. We see them shut down based on policy here and abroad. There's no guarantee that the next big thing will be the next big thing in a week. Your future social strategy has to be agile rather than meticulously planned.

It took a little platform like TikTok, with their bite sized videos and seemingly perfect platform for influencers to make a name, only a year from when they started marketing outside of China to hit 1 billion downloads. A TikTok strategy is now just as valid as a Facebook strategy for retailers, or as valuable as a LinkedIn campaign is for B2B.

As social media evolves, the relevancy of each platform and their advertisers will depend on their ability to engage with prospects rather than just use the site as an online billboard. See above, if you haven't started that yet, you're already way behind the curve.