Navigating an era of ‘anti-social’ data

Thought Leadership

Social media is becoming less social, less about broadcasts to hundreds of friends or followers and more about deep connections to smaller communities often anchored around deep interests. In this blog, senior director of research & insight, Devon Vipond, argues that how brands connect with and measure their impact on the new phase of social requires us to understand a different set of rules.

According to our Digital 2024 report, Instagram is the world’s favourite social media platform. But the latest trial of its feature, Flipside, allows users to create curated alternative feeds that only their chosen followers will see.

That highlights that in many ways, social media is maybe not that social any more. Public engagement is shifting towards congregating privately. Discord, which is hugely privacy-conscious, is one of the fastest-growing platforms.

It means that the way that social media is constantly evolving puts a lot of pressure on measurement specialists, in particular.

For example, marketers have long relied on the data of a linear purchase funnel. However, that predictable path to purchase has been largely replaced by a more kaleidoscopic experience where an array of digital touchpoints exist across platforms and purchase can take place immediately after awareness. And some of that is not being tracked.

At the same time, 40% of users employ ad blockers to protect their privacy. It seems we have reached a tipping point on social media: users understand the value of their data and have also gained algorithmic awareness – the consciousness of and ability to understand how social media algorithms work.

People curate their feeds and create their own echo chambers rather than being passive participants on platforms. That means analyzing them with the tools marketers have traditionally employed is becoming harder than ever.

Community and cultural currency

Traditionally, marketers have relied on numbers of followers or likes and other ‘vanity metrics’. But Instagram pages only grow their follower base by 1% a month on average and, typically, some 30% of followers see any given post. Is that really a valid measure of success?

Similarly, the adage that ‘content is king’ is being replaced by a more nuanced view. It is not enough just to educate or entertain – is a like or a follow as important and useful as the ability to drive and direct a conversation?

Cultural currency comes by creating content worth talking about – and for brands to build communities (and measure their success) they must look beyond the primal marketer instinct to grow the raw number of followers.

It is instead a question of interaction and conversation – of tracking the volume of response compared to the size of the community.

A private space like Flipside or channels with just a few hundred fiercely engaged advocates may well be far more valid to the brand than tens of thousands of followers. The observers (or ‘lurkers’) that comprise so much of social media may be uncomfortable sharing their thoughts in a big space but are far more influential in a smaller one.

A new age of measurement

This poses a challenge to brands and marketers alike: how can you measure effectiveness in an era of anti-social data?

The first step may be to look beyond what is readily available and the traditional metrics. What data points does the brand need, and how best can they be acquired? This could entail working with multiple data sources to triangulate the numbers that matter.

Marketers should focus on desired behavior and work backward to find relevant data points that could live outside social, rather than relying solely on data provided by social media platforms. Proxy measures may help answer key queries such as: Did a consumer see the content? How did it make them think differently? And did they act on what they saw?

If lead generation is the goal, again, marketers need to ensure they are asking the right questions to fill that gap in intent/attitudinal data that can be a blind spot for many campaigns. It is important to use all the tools in the marketer’s arsenal, which in this case, can mean asking customers directly.

With social platforms entering a new age of increased privacy and curation, thanks to users who know their value and can game the algorithmic system, brands and marketers have to up their measurement game.

Conversation matters more than simple engagement, and extracting value from data means leveraging more than just what the big social platforms offer – putting even more of a premium on human analysis.

This piece was originally posted on WARC here.