It’s time to activate plans for the post-social media environment

It’s time to activate plans for the post-social media environment

“Join the conversation” was a dominant theme in the rise of social media and a lot of us believed it was possible, but recent events have proven that boundless optimism and trust were misplaced.

There’s been a long list of tipping points, but things seem to be reaching terminal velocity. The privatization of Twitter and decision to change verification from a symbol of trust to a status symbol started a chain reaction that undermines public (and professional) faith in the forum. Meta is now following suit and further subverting its content algorithm to the pay-for-play model.

Media professionals have spent years saying they want to beat the algorithm, but that always meant we wanted to find the best ways to promote our content and our brands to reach the most users. Some companies paid for short-term reach, but that was always a long-term failure because the budgets would run out and then the algorithms would realize that the quality of the content didn’t support the reach that had previously been given.

And how silly does all that spending look today, when we’re standing at the precipice of a post-social media environment?

Both Meta and Twitter have conducted massive layoffs, completely decimating their media partnerships teams. What stronger sign could there be that they are no longer interested in sharing their megaphones with us?

It’s as if the platforms don’t see that every step they take toward enriching themselves and consolidating their business will harm the engine that creates the content necessary for their platform. (Admittedly, there are legacy media companies that also fail to realize this)

Chasing trends is nothing new for these companies. When TikTok emerged, they all spawned clones, just as they’ve all adopted versions of Snapchat’s stories.

Regardless of what the future holds for Section 230 in the Supreme Court or the halls of Congress, I believe social media platforms are signaling a change in how they will treat content creators who work outside their stable.

So instead of social media, which is increasingly out of control, newsrooms need to focus more on the digital content we can control.

  1. Our native sites and apps need to be consistently top-tier. Their technology needs to be good, reliable and modern but the star needs to be high-quality content. We can continue to incorporate many of the lessons that came from social media about presenting content to audiences in an enticing way, but we need to consistently deliver content experiences that are worthy of our brands.
  2. While optimizing audience-facing elements, we also need to be extremely focused on search engine optimization. Search engines are constantly changing, like social platform algorithms, but they are reemerging as the dominant power brokers of the internet. Our technologies should enable content producers to address the search algorithm criteria while simultaneously crafting user-facing content that informs and delights.
  3. Push alerts have a path direct to the audience. They’ll open that path if we do No. 1 correctly but they’ll close it if we abuse their trust with spam or promise content that we don’t deliver. Our alerts should be both interesting and informative, offering an important fact while also inviting the recipient to come in for more.
  4. Email newsletters have a narrow but valuable window of opportunity. Most emails are ignored, but those that are done right can become powerful brand drivers. The best in my inbox are truly newsletters, with writing and images that are appropriately summarized for short reads. Messages that are more often ignored are what we used to call “treats,” which feature some number of links, like a home page in an inbox. The unanswered business question is how to adopt unique, readable newsletters while still supporting the effort required to create them.
  5. Encouraging link building is usually a small-scale traffic driver but it can be a long-term way to build a website’s clout in the eyes of social media. It’s so important that public relations firms have made a whole business out of trying to subvert our reputations by convincing us to build links to their clients. Can we take advantage of the same mechanisms by creating interesting, quality content that breaks new ground and is worthy of citation?
  6. Take social media and other digital lessons to legacy media. We’ve been witness to years of strategic refinements in how content is organized, presented and delivered, but few of our legacy platforms have really put those lessons into use.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that newsrooms, public figures or businesses should make an immediate exit from social media. A form of symbiosis has emerged between our businesses but the social media platforms are throwing the homeostasis off balance.

We may eventually reach a new balance but our newsrooms and organizations need to act strategically now to avoid being dragged down by the selfish social media barons.

We need to recognize their business interests as being often different from our interests or those of our audiences. We need to realize that social media users are being increasingly assaulted by spam, vitriol and reasons to distrust.

To strike a new balance, content creators need to reallocate time and energy toward building value for users, rather than chasing algorithms.