What TV Can Teach Us About Breaking Through on Social Media

By Jessica Straus, NVCA VP of Development

On social media platforms, the brutal reality is that audiences don’t care about your content and there are no short cuts to success in the dynamic, sometimes mercurial, world of social media.  All of those challenges have been particularly acute for brands, companies, agencies, publishers, and, even VC firms, seeking to build and engage audiences on social media. [Enter data about challenges for brands reaching target audiences]

With the proliferation of digital content, one social media technology company, SocialFlow, leverages its technology to get back to first principles: align a commercial message with high quality content.

We interviewed Jim Anderson, CEO of SocialFlow, for his insights on the strategies for navigating huge shifts in social media.  Jim has more than 20 years of experience developing, productizing and selling both B2B and B2C technology solutions.

Jessica Straus: SocialFlow started in 2009, and has been central to the huge developments in social media and how advertisers approach these platforms.  What are the big changes you have seen? How are the most forward-thinking companies reaching their customers on social?

Jim Anderson:  The thing that has been most interesting over the past 18 to 24 months is people’s ability to successfully reach consumers on Facebook and other platforms. Early in our company’s history, we wanted to sell our platform to media, brands and agencies. With the reality of what has happened with organic reach, it just doesn’t make any sense for marketers to spend any money on organic reach. There is just too much content competing for consumer attention. But, Facebook algorithms pay attention to where users are clicking, and where they are not. Many have thought Facebook would get My Spaced. Instagram and SnapChat have both been successful over the past several years.

We think the key is to listen to our customers. When a platform becomes more important to our customers, it becomes more important to us. You don’t have to be the first to figure out the next new platform.

JS: Since social media enables dynamic, two-way interaction, it seems that genuine connection and quality content are key.  What is SocialFlow’s approach to content?

JIM: Quality content is king – but only if people actually see it. We are in a world where there is an explosive amount of content competing for a finite amount of attention. If the amount of information in the world is doubling every year, competition only gets steeper. New York Times, Conde Nast, and other amazing content creators still need to distribute their content. Increasingly, people consume information from their feeds on Facebook and Twitter. If the content isn’t in the feed, it won’t be seen. It benefits the media companies to get the content out where the consumer eyeballs are.

JS: What does the trade-off between advertising and content look like in an era where people increasingly can – and do – avoid ads?

JIM: Media companies need to think about advertising and monetization. The only way media companies make money from Facebook is by driving users back to their site. Facebook and Twitter are only minimally adequate for monetization. If platforms are going to be sustainable, they need to figure out a way to do it.

Native advertising is important to companies from an industry perspective and from a commercial perspective, helping to get a message to customers in a way that they respond to.

The bottom line is that when content is created for an advertiser and put on a social network, it won’t get the same results than if something was created for the consumer. Just because an advertiser wants to do it doesn’t mean the consumer thinks it’s interesting.

We have done a whole lot of work around the sponsored editorial. We have flipped the native model. We want to take the content that is most resonating with consumers, and allow advertisers to sponsor that content.

What’s the biggest place to advertise? It’s the SuperBowl. Everyone is watching. We are taking that mindset and extending it to social media. We can learn something from the history of magazines, too.  Advertising from Sports Illustrated to Vogue takes a commercial message and associates it with high quality content by putting them side by side. That core idea has been validated for over 100 years: if you put a message next to high quality editorial content, audiences will have a favorable view of your brand because of the proximity.

JS: For startups, small organizations, and VC firms, what is your advice on effectively using social media?

JIM: Don’t kid yourself that your content is intensely interesting to the audience, it’s not.  Some may think, “But I have a vision of great content and message!” The brutal reality is that people don’t care. Not being well-calibrated to reality doesn’t do you any good. It could lead you down lots of rabbit holes. That’s true for us too, just because I have a message for the market, doesn’t mean the market is really interested in it.  Understanding your limitations can help govern your distribution.

Pragmatically, I would encourage people to push heavily into video and live video. For the simple reason that Facebook is giving live video a disproportionate reach right now and you will get a significantly greater reach. Portfolio companies should each be thinking about how they become relevant to their target audiences.

But, successful reach requires sustained effort. You can’t have success in marketing through one-off attempts. Effective marketing is a day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month commitment to create messaging that fits well together, that is distributed well, and that is interesting to the audience. This is not an easy thing. Just like in life, there are no short cuts on social media.

Disclosure:  In 2013, Jessica was Manager of Communications for SocialFlow in its New York headquarters.