The news amongst marketing strategists and growth hackers started spreading like wildfire some weeks ago and if you’ve been following your Facebook stats in the last few years you might have seen it coming. Facebook started testing an additional explore feed to separate all marketing, media, and business communication from the newsfeed in some countries, and many expect for Facebook to eventually roll out the separated explore feed worldwide. It’s being assumed that companies will have to pay to be seen in the popular Facebook newsfeed in the future.
To marketeers and small business owners, this might sound like awful news. To designers and, let’s face it, consumers, this is the best thing that could have happened to us. Finally we’ll only get to see the good stuff! Facebook is about to turn down all the unnecessary, low-quality noise.
From the early days, social media was meant to connect people. The way platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram broke down social barriers is groundbreaking. Suddenly, it didn’t matter where you came from. All that mattered was how good you were.
With the social web, everyone had the necessary tools to show their work. Everyone could build a fanbase, become famous. Thanks to the social web, people could connect based on their interests and no longer just based on their location. Everyone could say and show what they loved. In the early days of blogging, no one really cared about picture rights. Talent and creativity was what mattered and what people loved to share and talk about. People were more than happy to share people’s work. The news about a person found online could have spread quickly. However, companies copied the strategy of how regular people used social apps. Many businesses started advertising themselves instead of highlighting the people around them. They started wishing us a “Happy Friday” and saying things like “It’s Hump Day, finally!” instead of engaging their community in a way people would remind us who this brand is and what it stands for. Brands started using social media like an amplifier instead of using it to connect people, building a community around them to eventually have people “do” social media for them.
What we’ve seen in the past couple of years has a lot to do with what we’ve seen before digital in the traditional media. Traditional media techniques made digital (not social). Facebook updates are just like print ads. Youtube just like TV ads. And street advertising is just what we now know as banners.
It’s become common practice to measure engagement based on how many people (and bots) liked, commented or maybe shared a piece of content a company posted. Only the most progressive brands, the most social brands, cared about how many people mentioned them and did so proactively.
To summarize the case, most businesses under-utilized what I’d consider the biggest potential of social media. The businesses that have done well, however, are the ones that have either helped people achieve their dreams and goals - maybe even helping them make money in one way or another - and businesses that have allowed people express who they are in a snap. And yes, by snap I mean a photo.
Generally speaking, there are two ways to people’s hearts and essentially to their social media feeds. High-quality product or space nicely packaged and designed, and a unique selling experience.
Let’s elaborate on what this means.
The first kind are brands that helped people get ahead in life. It’s of little surprise some of the most valuable businesses are platform businesses. Kickstarter, Etsy, Eventbrite, Creative Market, and EyeEm have been hugely popular because they help people succeed by providing them with the necessary infrastructure to do what they love. On Kickstarter, people raise funding for their projects, on Etsy they sell their homemade goods, on Eventbrite they sell tickets to events, on Creative Market digital assets, on EyeEm stock photography. Of course people spread the word about these businesses because they’re still talking about themselves and about the things they love.
Then, businesses such as Nike, Hoxton Hotels, and Starbucks do something else right. They don’t shout out loud about their product. They communicate a certain attitude towards life. This approach has worked even for small businesses, such as Brooks Saddles, Kinfolk Magazine, Roam Ubud, Roamers Berlin, Mr Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco, or the Joshua Tree House in the Californian national park. They’re world known to their sort of target group not because of their extensive advertising budget, but because of the way these products and spaces were designed that makes it easy for people to express who they are and what they stand for by buying those products or booking vacations at those destinations.
But why does it matter now even more than it did yesterday?
In the future, the most prosperous businesses will be the ones who got their brand positioning right. Those who invested in design to raise themselves above others. It’s those sort of businesses that care to bring people together. Today, tomorrow, and always.