Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why one-size-fits-all-social no longer works

By Emily Williams, Strategist at Born Social

Think back to the hazy days of 2006. Chances are you had a Facebook account, and maybe you’d dabbled in a suitably embarrassing MySpace or Bebo page. Social media was something you used to chat to friends and ads were on TV. They were simpler times.

Press the fast forward button to 2021, and the picture is very different. Brands are now born and made on social media. Platforms that were in their infancy a decade ago – and many that weren’t even a twinkle in a developer’s eye – are now the making and breaking of brands in 2021. Covid has of course accelerated this process. According to McKinsey, we’ve been catapulted forwards 3-4 years in digital transformation.

And this presents a new problem. How do you pull together all these new threads and build a brand on social? It’s no longer just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram battling for our attention – it’s Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, Clubhouse, Reddit, TripAdvisor… and many more.

The fact is, one-size-fits-all-social just doesn’t cut it anymore. A social-first brand needs to build scale in layers, using a complementary mix of channels and formats brought together by a core idea.

Brand building on social media

When you’re talking about brand building, it’s worth using that remote control again to rewind back to 1971 and Stephen King, author of the planning cycle. He tells us that a brand is a ‘coherent totality, not a lot of bits’. Unfortunately for us, brands on social media are quite often… just a lot of bits. Disjointed, pulling in different directions, with a brand at the centre trying to force uncooperative threads into a coherent narrative. And that just doesn’t work. Not in today’s channel landscape.

2020 saw the social ice age thaw as needs changed and our whole lives shifted online. TikTok exploded. Clubhouse became a hype machine. Dispo might be the next one on the horizon. And social gaming went truly mainstream – with Animal Crossing at the beginning of the pandemic, with Among Us over the autumn and Fortnite and Roblox as a constant backdrop. Social is in more bits than ever.

But what’s the solution for brands in 2021?

In a fragmented landscape, you have to work with your environment, not against it. We know from Byron Sharp that brands grow when they increase their penetration – it’s all about casting a wide net, and consistently reaching all buyers within your category, not just the low hanging fruit or your fans and engagers.

But, in today’s environment the competition for people’s attention is fierce – and it’s spread thinner than ever, with the average person having exactly 8.3 social media accounts (rising to 9.4 accounts for 18-24 year olds).

This fragmentation of attention means there’s no longer a one-stop-shop to achieving scale and growing your brand on social. Gone are the days where you can pin all hopes to a hero Facebook video.

To build a social-first brand fit for 2021 and beyond, it’s about rising to the challenge and seeing the diverse, fragmented, exciting environment of the online world, as an opportunity.

So how do you get there?

1) Understand your formats

Specs dimension, video length… we need to think beyond the simple static posts to how we can hack the formats offered to us.

Chipotle do a great job of this – their Queso Cup campaign built in elements such as the longest possible Instagram Story (100 frames), which contrary to all logic drove a 70% completion rate. Perhaps because it featured super slow-mo footage of a tortilla chip being dipped in hot cheese. Over the week of the campaign, Chipotle had a 700% increase in profile views and a 400% increase in organic reach.

2) Understand your audience mindset

On Facebook and LinkedIn, you’re connected to your real-life and wholly accountable for what you say. On Instagram, you’re connected to real-life but have license to reach people you don’t know. But go to Reddit or Twitch, and anonymity is the name of the game – you’re free to be whoever you like.

So, think about the content that your audience wants to see in different places. Instagram might be more aspirational. Facebook is more about news content and social proof. And Reddit might be something completely left field, but completely right.

It’s not about creating one ad for one way of thinking; it’s about having a strong core idea that can translate. It’s about understanding the different mindsets your audience are in across their 8.3 different social accounts – and creating accordingly.

3) Understand platform behaviour

TikTok has a different language to Twitter. LinkedIn has a different language to Instagram. Understanding cultural nuances between channels is essential if you’re looking to integrate your content into platforms natively.

Part of this stems from knowing what you’re getting into – platforms like Reddit and Twitch seem opaque before you spend a little time there. It’s about putting in the legwork. The social-first brand understands the contexts – and the content they create won’t get a ‘silence, brand’ reaction.

Your audience’s attention is split, so reaching them in different ways across those different touchpoints captures more eyeballs than a single video in a single place. You’re reaching all buyers within your category. You’re creating scale in layers.

The way forwards: Channel Clusters

This is the opposite of one-size-fits-all; it’s a creative idea that adapts format, behaviour, and mindset across different platforms natively and confidently. The end result might be one creative idea that’s realised through an AMA on Reddit, working with a streamer on Twitch and an instant experience on Facebook. Within this cluster of channels, you start to create a coherent totality. A decentralised brand, but one made greater than the sum of its parts.

Think of this as an opportunity. The creative potential is huge.

And if we just click the remote control just one more time and fast forward to 2030… social will be in an entirely different place by then, too. So why not roll with the times, ditch one-size-fits-all, and embrace Channel Clusters?