Take out your phone and open up Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Seriously, take it out.
What do you notice? On mine (I’m using an iPhone), I see similar little circles at the top of each platform’s screen. These circles represent the “stories” feature. If you are not familiar with stories, it gives users the ability to share photos and videos with friends for 24 hours. Once the 24 hours is up, the post expires and deletes itself. This feature was original to and made popular by Snapchat, but it has now been integrated into other social networks including Instagram and Facebook. Feature cloning is rampant in the social media world. It seems that every time a unique feature is released on platform A, a few months later a similar one is available on all of its rivals.
Now I do not think copying is necessarily bad. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and as a user it is great to have a feature you love on one site show up on another. However, this cloning is ultimately creating homogeneous platforms, which leave marketers trying to decide what features and platforms will be the best use of their time and money.
When platforms were younger it was easy to pick. Artsy and immediate content went on Instagram and behind-the-scenes scoops went on Snapchat. But now that Instagram can do what Snapchat does, should I focus my efforts on Instagram? Will friends (audiences) get bored if I share the same content in the same way on each platform? Is it even worth my time to be posting to all these different feeds within the same network? Some marketers might use the following logic to guide their decision:
If a feature is successful on platform A, then utilizing it on platform B will also result in success.
I caution against this sudden conclusion because each platform has grown and cultivated its own unique user group, and each user group thinks and acts differently from one another. The above conclusion does not account for a platform’s user culture, which includes things like the average age of the users and behavioral use of the app. As a marketer it is important to understand these user group differences so that you can better inform and execute your own strategy. Therefore, to avoid the above mistake, here are things to consider and do before you make that new (very similar) feature the focus of your marketing plan.
How is my target audience using this platform?
Analytics may give a few insights into what type of topics your audiences like and the format they like it in, but it doesn’t give you the big picture. Understanding why users like each platform and what they innately do on it can help you determine what features will be useful in spreading your brand message.
You can find these answers in industry publications like Social Media Today, Ad Age, and Marketing Dive. In addition to those news sites, it is a good idea to follow brands with similar audiences to see what new tactics they introduce and how their fans interact with it.
You can do the research and hypothesize outcomes, but you won’t truly know if something will be successful until you test it. So if you have a hunch about a new feature, test it – but don’t forget to compare the results and efforts against KPIs.
Social media homogeneity is ultimately giving marketers more ways to reach audiences with creative and authentic messaging. In order for that message to be effective, one has to have an understanding of the differences between each platform and its unique user group. Conduct research to understand each platform’s user groups and combine those findings with audience analytics to inform your planning decisions.
How do you decide whether or not to start using a certain social media feature? What are some of your favorite or most successful efforts? Share with us below!