Digital innovations are always followed by an explosion of niche industries looking to quickly exploit the underlying principles of these innovations. Many will remember the technical tricks that enabled you to ensure a position on the first page of search engine results in the early 2000s. Instagram and the development of a new kind of media based on highly personal content, also called ego media, have not escaped this trend.
From a marketing point of view, it seems like a good time to dissect the various issues associated with this tendency: purchasing social signals, purchasing organic social reach, and automating the organic discovery of an account.
The first issue is purchasing social signals, such as the mass purchase of followers which are generally fake accounts, or even buying comments. Many Quebec companies have already been caught resorting to these types of practices. A vanity metric par excellence, the number of followers of a social media account is a way of sending a signal to unsuspecting users that the account is popular.
This practice should remind us that while this statistic is of primary concern to social network users that are marketing-naïve, it should be considered as merely one incidental statistic when it comes to evaluating social media accounts. The important thing is still the engagement rate of these accounts when it comes to evaluating the relevance of an association, as well as their progression in acquiring followers in order to evaluate the authenticity of their audience.
The second issue involves buying sponsored posts with an influencer in order to provide your message with organic reach that is potentially more powerful than you would get with a simple media buy. The idea definitely isn’t reprehensible.
Many Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Snapchat and TikTok profiles should rightly be considered fully fledged media channels, and renting their audience through sponsored posts shouldn’t be seen differently than other more traditional media buys.
But where this becomes a learning opportunity is in the strategic thinking that preceded the decision to do business with these social accounts. As with everything, making use of this type of media should only be one part of a larger media mix, and the rigour of the selection process for the accounts should be inversely proportional to the degree of transparency they provide regarding their data.
Why should you decided to do business with this type of media? Other than the addition of their respective audiences, which will allow you to record a more advantageous reach in your campaign report, what do these accounts bring to the brands we’re working with?
As we’ve seen, an account’s influence is not correlated with the size of its audience. We also know that developing an audience is a long-term project. Yet we’re surprised to see so little interest amongst the majority of brands in engaging in more long-term relationships with a few alternative media channels in order to develop something that is greater than just an audience: a tone, a true brand affinity and a shared universe that is rich in learning and brand recognition. In concrete terms, partnerships with influential social media accounts can become a very tangible way of creating high-quality brand content.
Finally, the third issue concerns the automation of certain practices which aim to publicize your account and other accounts on the same network without the use of advertising. This novel practice might seem shocking, but it isn’t very different from many perfectly acceptable practices such as using artificial intelligence to better manage the sending of newsletters to subscribers in order to maximize their open rate.
The idea of following an Instagram user in order to make them aware of your brand is a normal practice that is part of the to-do list of every community manager.
Being able to use tools to automate this task isn’t, in itself, such a bad idea.
If Instagram punishes the practice, it’s first and foremost because it is in conflict with its own advertising offering. However, if done while respecting platform rules and with a bit of intelligence, this practice will be of great interest to those looking to develop a brand audience at the same level as buying media space. And while it’s normal to question the morality of unfollowing an account just a few hours after having sent a signal that you’re following, you should note that all the scripts that automate these interactions do not do this and that this practice is highly influenced by the limit of 7,500 followers for Instagram accounts.
In closing, it seems essential to us that many brands develop a rigorous approach to audience development and devote the majority of their budgets to KPIs that will have a positive impact on their net reach. While your established audience (the people who already follow you) are from now on part of a valuable digital asset necessary to the deployment of other advertising efforts, rented audiences, sometimes acquired at a high price, will not provide the desired return on investment without the shrewd integration needed to pull them into the brand’s endeavors.
In short, no strategy should ever be based mainly on a hack.
Never forget that having an approach driven by statistics is not an end in itself, but is part of a decision-making methodology. No statistic deserves to be taken into consideration when making a decision without understanding its source or its methodological limits.
And even if all this is properly considered, remember that in the arms race between hackers and the world’s largest technology companies, only the really intelligent hackers can hope to emerge as winners.
You’ve been warned! 😉