The recent New York Times article, “The Follower Factory”, sheds light on the proliferation of perfidious bots and the desire for eyeballs and clicks (i.e. “engagement”) that has fueled it. If you’re not yet familiar with the Times’ reporting, here’s a quick summary:
Devumi, a service that promises to “accelerate your social media growth,” allowed John Leguizamo, Ray Lewis and other media and political elite to purchase engagement with their content. These individuals purchased this digital activity to bolster their reputations as social media “influencers” – a sought-after status that can yield lucrative sponsorship deals. “The catch, as The New York Times discovered, is that this purchased engagement came largely from fake, automated accounts started by outside parties and companies that stole identities from real users.”
However, The New York Times does not examine in depth what fuels this volume-obsessed culture: The companies, organizations and issue campaigns and their agencies that emphasize the importance of getting more likes, shares and comments on social media content over the more meaningful ways to drive and measure digital engagement.
While capturing eyeballs and clicks is certainly important, successful campaigns require more than just volume; they need smart measurement, audience-first planning and local execution. Here’s how we apply these principles to deliver results for our clients:
- Smarter measurement ensures our tactics are achieving the goals set forth for the campaign. Communications work is effective only if it is supporting a higher-level business, organizational or campaign objective such as increasing market share, establishing clout or passing legislation. That is why we work with every client to track a range of performance metrics that measure the output, impact and – critically – outcomes of our work.Increasing engagement with your social media content is important for driving awareness and gauging interest, but engagement does not measure how your audience’s conversation changes or where they spend their money or how they vote.
- Audience-first planning forces us to think about whom you want to reach, and, ultimately, the content creators and thought leaders to whom that audience turns to for information. We define an influencer as a person or organization that is credible to your audience and can be engaged to raise awareness, change minds and drive action. A large social media following may be a sign of influence, but it does not guarantee it.It is easy to find individuals with large follower counts, but it is harder to identify lesser-known individuals who can sway your audience. Identifying these lesser-known influencers is at the core of being audience-first, and it is why we have developed digital tools to help us find them. By first defining the audience you want to reach, we can identify potential influencers and define their level of influence among that audience. This helps our clients achieve their desired outcomes – not just gain more clicks.
- Going local is critical, too. When small business executives, city, town or municipal officials and hometown reporters speak, their communities listen. This influence cannot be understated. Recognizing the importance of local media in driving community engagement, Facebook announced recently that it would prioritize local news in its users’ News Feed. The social media giant is also testing a feature called “Today In,” which aggregates local news, events and announcements. These changes mean that local news coverage will be essential in driving eyeballs, clicks and securing campaign outcomes.Going local, however, is a bottom-up approach that can pose a challenge for companies, campaigns and organizations operating at the national or global level. Investing in on-the-ground relationships is critical to providing access and securing outcomes in cities, counties and congressional districts across the country.
The issue of fake social media accounts may fade into history, but the reliance on superficial data points to measure campaigns will persist. Smarter measurement, audience-first planning and a local presence will ground any campaign in the outcomes they are intended to achieve.
By Sam Harper, Senior Director, Public Affairs & Crisis, Burson-Marsteller.