Posting without purpose: why it's time content marketers questioned 'always on'

As brands continue to move into publishing, Simon Law, the chief strategy officer of Possible London, urges marketers not to treat their content like news.

Brands do not need breaking news every day or hour, so it’s not necessary to post at such high frequencies

Have you ever questioned the wisdom of ‘Always On’ advertising as a strategy for social? Wondered if brands can really ‘publish’ like magazines and have a worthwhile effect? Or simply frowned over the volume of material developed for social channels, wondering whether it can really be justified?

Over the past four years, we’ve seen the algorithm change on Facebook and the strategies along with it. It hasn’t just been a reduction of organic effectiveness, so much as a systematic reduction in the ways that you can ‘game’ the system. The quest for fans became a quest for engagement, and then brands settled down to a more basic, advertising-like model of seeking reach. (We’re not here to gripe about that - this is commerce and we have to pay to get to the TV-sized audiences we’re now seeing on Facebook.)

While the models have changed, two things remained true. First, we have a better view of reach on Facebook than any other channel; we know the exact numbers and the exact audience demographics that are reached. Second, we have an instant guide of the creative appeal through the interactions (engagement, defined as people who like and/or share). That’s immensely valuable data: we’re not looking at engagement as an outcome (something we’re aiming for) but as an indicator; a relative measure of the creative impact vs. other pieces of content. This allows us to fine-tune our creative themes, topics and designs.

At the same time, the sheer volume of creative needed for Facebook is daunting. Brands post more than once a day there and three or four times on Twitter. It’s a ‘publishing model’ that treats content with the same fleeting relevance as news articles and gossip pieces. The rule goes: use content only once on social. Rationally, once people have seen it, it’s no longer new and you definitely can’t ‘Like’ something more than once.

Brands have not been looking to build frequency - and they’re missing out.

We’ve identified a pattern in brand posts on Facebook that proves posts with higher frequency (i.e. 4+ views, rather than just 1-3) get higher engagement. People are more likely to have a positive reaction after they’ve seen a post a few times. We’re seeing uplifts of 1.5 to two times the number of engagements around content with higher frequency. What does this mean?

Well, it’s led us to three new rules for social:

  1. Create and produce fewer, better pieces of content

Brands do not need breaking news every day or hour, so it’s not necessary to post at such high frequencies. When you do, you miss out on the frequency effect - it’s a lot harder to get frequency when your post only lives for four, 12, 24 or even 48 hours. But that also means we can redirect that budget into tackling the real challenge: Cut through because it’s easier than ever for people to skim past your brand in their feeds. Therefore, investing money and time in the creative is paramount in order to break through the daily deluge of media messages and make an impact.

  1. ‘Always on’ doesn’t mean ‘every day’

Brands should use social to build their presence, keep their products top of mind, and to drive reappraisal over time - but not every day for the sake of posting and, therefore, posting without purpose. Don’t emulate a news source, unless you are one. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a topical post that lives in the moment and thrives on immediate relevance or the occasional trivial posting. But it does suggest that those posts are parsley, acting more as an aesthetic garnish than having deeper effect.

  1. Sweat the brand role harder

Now that your posts are going to be seen repeatedly, building both favourability and embedding your message over time, you will now need to have your brand work harder in each post. These are a lot more like ads now, albeit they DO work differently in social, so they can’t smell like ads. But they do need to have a clear, single-minded, purpose in order to balance the cut-through with the outcome

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The nuance of the creative requirements may have changed, but the underlying fundamentals of advertising in terms of reach and frequency are just as important as they’ve ever been.

In many ways, it’s a lot like traditional advertising (good old TV, press and outdoor), where the power of frequency has long been understood and optimised. The old rule of thumb was 3+ or 5+ depending on the complexity of the ad - and that might prove useful here too. Interruption is less on social channels, so you’ve got to work harder to grab attention. Perhaps it’s proof that the age-old psychology of ‘mere-exposure effect’ (Google it!) stands true and can work in our favour.

We believe it’s a signal that things aren’t quite so different on social. Not now that you’re addressing massive audiences.

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