Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How to turn OFF, tune OUT and DROP your audience

By Katy Howell, CEO of Immediate Future

Ok, So no one wants to seriously tune their customers out. Especially on social where we chase likes and shares like we were panning for nuggets in a goldrush. And therein lies the issue. We are so desperate for the wrong metrics we’ll do anything. Even things we are not proud of, just to get a follow. 

But it fails. It always fails. 

At the end of last year, there was a trend for getting into LinkedIn Groups and liking and commenting on each other’s posts. Vocal advocates abounded, stating that this gamed the algorithm and made sure your content got seen by more people. And it sort of worked. 

For a bit. 

Then audiences got wise to the crappy content rising in their feeds. Comments of “nice article” and “great stuff” gave the game away. And the algo was changed. More importantly, the brand, if remembered at all, gained a shit reputation. 

You cannot cheat your way to success. And this is the curse of growth hack marketing. They’re sold by snake oil gurus: like get rich schemes, they focus on our greed for a reaction, an engagement, proof that someone cares. 

On social media, hacking is further distorted. Social has such a low barrier to entry that anyone can set up a profile. Even those with no marketing experience and no understanding of their audience, can be on social. The people who chase vanity metrics, like the LinkedIn comment exchange groups that are set up to chase the like and fool the algorithm. Those that use link bait to drive traffic, even if that traffic will never buy. And the charlatan influencers who charge to raise your profile, without declaring they are paid to do so to your audience that will stop trusting you. 

Your customers have learnt the hard way that you don’t care about them. Poor relevance, crap content, lack of value – these all negatively reinforce reasons not to engage. And after almost a year of being stuck at home, in front of a screen, we have stopped clicking, liking and interacting. And so engagement declines.  Worst still the more it declines, the more brands try more tricks and games to garner reach. 

The saddest part is that growth hacking was never meant to be about beating the system. It’s an approach that uses original, and sometimes unconventional, tactics to grow a business fast. But that doesn’t mean it is a shortcut. Far from it – it is a smart agile way of marketing to drive the best performance you can. And that performance is rooted in business value, not vanity measures.  

First off, you only hack once you have a goal or strategy in place. Without one you will jump from one cheap stunt to another. Then you ensure an operational process that starts with your audience and ends in a rhythm for quality, VALUABLE, content. 

A hack should really be a test and learn execution. A chance to hypothesise an idea or tactic and then experiment fast. For instance, deploying the same creative idea in different formats in a short window of time to evaluate which captures attention. Measure it, analyse the data and deploy the mechanic that works. 

Oh my! That sounds like multivariate testing. Erm, that is because it is. It is multiple tests running fast. It requires an agile team, a fast deployment and quick decision making on results, from those that understand both social media and marketing. 

Social marketing is as much about this optimisation, as it is the ideas. It is small content, that needs tweaking and refining endlessly. For instance, you can see if Canva works better than a photoshop design, you can understand what buttons work for your audience in a Facebook shoppable ad, or you can trial copy length. All are test feasible, and all are essential. 

Why bother? Two reasons first the platform algorithms and functionality change a lot. Always without notice and mostly without explanation. You have to test the format updates and you need to keep an eye on results to spot the algo changes. Secondly, your audiences are fickle. This week they want a #SeaShanty and next week it’s #DogDJ. Beyond the flip-flopping from trend to trend, there are underlying behavioural changes. 

These days, consumers are less likely to click out of a social feed, they want deeper content (video or longer posts) in their feed. If they do click out, the content has to be really worth it. Or they will leave. 

I don’t know about you, but since lockdown I am hanging out on LinkedIn a lot more. I get the endless connection requests where it’s clear the intro is a template and that the only reason to connect is that we have a ‘network’ in common. As soon as you connect, they sell to you. 

And it’s creeping across Facebook and Insta. Customers are voting with a behavioural change. They are ignoring you.  

The other issue with a hack is that it skitters across the surface of marketing. It doesn’t try and understand the audience, it doesn’t even try to be relevant. It’s a mud and wall tactic, where those that use it, don’t even check if it is genuinely delivering results. Hence, they continue to send out templated connection requests. 

Constant testing, on the other hand, is the heart of social marketing. And that means constant measurement – with a focus on evaluation, decision making and action. This is where the value is and the high growth actually sits (as in business growth not social media followers’ growth).

So don’t buy into the hack. I think audiences have ignored the brands that have done it so far, but tolerance is low, and frustration abounds. It won’t be long before these sharp practices are called out and you’ll risk your reputation alongside poor performance.