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“I have to start ghosting Snapchat” I heard a social media manager say the other day. This struck me as both a masterful ‘tech geek’ pun AND an astute observation on a major challenge social media teams face.

BREAKING: since starting to draft this post, Twitter have announced the end of Fleets and YouTube have rolled out Shorts globally – the topic is hot! 🔥🔥🔥

If my son ever complains about there being nothing to watch on TV, I bore him with the fact we used to select from one of just four ‘terrestrial’ channels and watch it “at the time it was on” 😱.

In a similar manner, when I first began work in social media marketing, the options for a brand to post a photo were:

a) Facebook

b) Twitter

c) If you were feeling a bit fancy, some Facebook ads down the right-hand side of the desktop site

Platform selection wasn’t much of a consideration and post ‘formats’ weren’t really a thing.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and almost every client conversation references the challenge of navigating both the number of social media platforms AND the rapid growth in number of formats.

Platform selection x Formats x Features

From Reels (Instagram) and Fleets (Twitter) to Shorts (YouTube) and Watch (Facebook) every social network is launching new formats and features in an attempt to retain audience attention and ultimately share of advertisers’ wallets…

…which means social media managers must choose from a mind-bending breadth of options.

While some of these content formats are similar in nature (as the social networks quickly copy each other) we know that for brands, especially when paid media is being used, it’s never just a case of repurposing content between social platforms.

Where to place your chips?

Returning to our 1990s TV analogy, when it came to advertising, the choice was ITV or Channel 4. Create your ad, set your budget and run it (a little over simplified I appreciate).

As cable, satellite and digital TV launched, the choice of where to place media budget mushroomed. But just because there were suddenly 50 channels to select from, advertisers’ media budget didn’t grow 50 times. You had a media budget for that ‘medium’ and you allocated it as broadly or narrowly as you saw fit.

Social media managers now face a similar problem, but with more moving parts and a more complex medium + message equation to wrestle with…

Media Budget x Resource x Social Platform x Social Media Format = Help! 😳

Even if the exact same creative is used across platforms and formats (not recommended!) there’s still significant overhead in the planning, setup, launch and management of campaigns, especially when paid ads are used.

And when it comes to media budget, what would we do? Split it evenly across all formats, buying a little space in a lot of places? One TV ad slot on 50 channels, or 50 ad slots on one TV channel?

As the social networks continue to launch more formats, brands can feel the pressure to be seen to embrace every new opportunity. So where to draw the line? Eventually something has to give…… hence the title of this blog post.

Is the removal of Twitter’s Fleets a turning of tide?

The roster approach

As a means of addressing this, the idea of a roster for social media platforms and formats might be appealing.

Every social media platform has its own particular characteristics, benefits and audience – even if they all seem to blur into one sometimes.

This means for any particular campaign or activity, being able to activate on any of the major social networks is an important tool for marketers.

By putting in place a set of guiding principles for “when we will use XYZ social media platform and when we will use ABC format”, organisations can:

  • Avoid considering every platform and every format for every campaign
  • Ensure an appropriate level of effort and media spend are applied to each platform, without spreading it too thinly
  • Avoid rushing to use a new platform or format ‘just because’ – when it might not be a great fit for the brand
  • Provide a clear rationale for decision-making if challenging at a later date

Defining guiding principles

The principles need to be founded in a decent amount of planning, aligned to the different types of campaigns and activities the business runs and associated objectives. Useful questions to ask include:

  • When and where can content be repurposed between formats and platforms?
  • Where does our target audience live and behave in social?
  • What does each social platform and format specifically offer, aligned to our objectives?
  • How much media budget do we have?
  • How much resource and planning budget/resource do we have?
  • How did content on a given platform or format perform previously?

In summary

We know that social networks change and evolve over time, much faster than traditional media channels. Being comfortable with this, and not being welded to ‘our tried and tested approach’ is a mindset social media managers (and senior stakeholders) must embrace.

And this means navigating the communication channels available right now is what’s important, while managing it in a way that avoids paralysis through too much choice.

Of course delivering the message is critical, but figuring out the (social media) medium is too. It’s a bit messy, but that’s social media.

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