Back in the old days of social media (lets say 2009 to 2014), if you created and shared great content, engaged and were active, you could quite rapidly get noticed and build a following. You got credit for your sheer hard work. Now things are different and even if you hit social incredibly hard in terms of volume and even though you might have amazing content to share, the simple fact is that unless you pay to play, it seems that only 10% of your content will be seen by your followers let alone the general public streams (if you are on Twitter for example). So if you are trying to share your message widely, you have to pay the platforms for what I call amplification (a new form of advertising?) of your content so its gets seen by a wider audience who may wish to then follow you, one of the main metrics people use, rightly or wrongly, to judge the influence and attractiveness of you.

half-and-half

This is really a tax on social media which after effectively 10 years of development has grown up from its pure free/lets all share and connect play to more of a marketing media play (finally the media in social comes real?). Now, if you are just sharing stuff on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest to be social with friends and colleagues, that’s fine (if they tune their feeds to see you – knowingly or unknowingly) but if you are trying to build a personal brand either to get across your cause, get noticed, sell your services/products/company, then you had better consider sponsored Tweets, Facebook advertising, LinkedIn sponsored posts to supplement your efforts or you may get frustrated with the time its taking you to make progress.

This of course leads us back to what PR and Marketing always did for the key spokespeople, experts or leaders in the company: paid a PR agency to get an article placed in the right publication at the right time, or paid a DM agency to create a campaign to target a segment of customers with a message to underpin a sales objective.

Also, and lets be clear, for those who are using LinkedIn to connect grow their network this social media tax does not affect them, and for those who mainly use Twitter as a news channel to listen or use it as the “new telephone” to directly connect with service departments to complain or to engage with people directly, again the tax doesn’t apply to these great benefits of the Social Media Channel benefits.

The other dynamic affecting the social media landscape of course, is the rise of private messaging for those who don’t want to public message (the kids moving to Snapchat, the executives too scared to share on Twitter moving to Slack and WhatsApp, families just doing group texts to sort their lives out on Messenger or WhatsApp) and who aren’t using social as a marketing channel. The figures speak for themselves as private messaging applications have now surpassed in terms of volume the social media channels. These messaging platforms are not affected by the social media tax.

However, if you have a motivation/passion to get your message out there and gain followers one firstly needs to get clear on the focus and subject matter you are going to share and create a plan including an outline editorial or publishing calendar. Then one needs to go and pitch to the marketing department (or whoever gets how personal brands can impact ‘The Brand’) to request some budget (or agree a monthly rate on your expenses as the platforms all work off credit card payments) to start to sponsoring some of your content (perhaps start with putting 50 pounds around 1 tweet a week). Remember, this is not just advertising in terms of flashing up an ad in the hope someone sees it and clicks, its putting your best stuff in front of a wider audience who, if they choose to follow you, means they like what they see and want to see more. They can always choose to unfollow you. This is why followers (on Twitter) is such a good indicator of influence. As you build your followers you grow your “social capital” which is of benefit to you and the firm.

Now there are some who say advertising on these channels around an individual and not the brand itself, will be seen as a “vanity play” and one should always build an organic following. Well that’s fine, but if you are time poor, want to make an impact with what you are saying because you believe in it and have a point of view – WARNING: IF YOU ARE JUST ‘PUSH’ MARKETING THIS WONT WORK, IT STILL HAS TO BE GENUINE, and believe that individuals acting as human champions/representatives of the brand is an important part of marketing, then taking an organic approach is going to be hard work. As one executive said to me the other day “to make any impact at this rate its going to take me to 2025”.

The good news is unlike the old days when you never knew who was reading your article the PR department placed in “Industry Weekly” or when a Direct Mail piece with a response rate of 1 or 2% was considered amazing, the social platforms let you target your audience much more precisely and the increase in followers (influence of your personal brand) is hopefully a long lasting and an increasingly important metric to justify all your efforts on Social media and paying the new tax.

This blog was first published by Bob Barker on LinkedIn. Follow Bob for more posts on Social Media and Digital Skills.