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[NEW STUDY] Social Media Engagers Are Not That Engaged

It’s tough being a social media marketer. You have to deal a landscape that’s constantly shifting, all while being creative and engaging an audience. What worked today may not work tomorrow, and there are millions of theories about why that may be.

Which is why reports based on empirical evidence can be so handy. One produced by Memo is an excellent example, and it shows that social media engagement is changing.

Why is the shift occurring?

One reason for this is that algorithms have changed to de-prioritise news items in an effort to stop the spread of disinformation. At the same time, we’ve also seen a shift away from social sharing to news feeds to engagement in closed groups, which hurts engagement levels.

In short, people are posting to their feed less, and using features like groups or messaging to send their friends private messages.

The rise of short-form video has led to users viewing social media platforms as a source of entertainment and interacting with friends in more private ways.

The study’s key findings

That context reflects one of the key findings of the Memo report, which looked at 26,000 news articles published between January 20 and February 20.

Memo

“We examined the correlation coefficient between social engagement (total reactions, comments, and shares) and readership (unique visitors to news articles)… across all the articles and topics we analyzed, we… no clear connection between social engagement and actual readers of the news. On top of that, for the majority of news, less than 1% of readers (article traffic) comes from social media.”

For marketers or brands who want to drive traffic to articles hosted on their website or elsewhere, the research is pretty clear: social media is offering diminishing returns and it may be time to re-think your strategy in that regard.

Even when there is good engagement, the report shows that most people aren’t reading the actual article – they’re just reacting to the headline. Even most commenters are reacting purely from your headline or caption, so while your reach and engagement might be hot, clicks are not.

Of course, extra engagement is good for brand awareness, which is great – as long as that’s your goal.

In only three areas, engagement and article traffic started to creep towards a ‘moderate’ level. Crisis, such as incidents like a mass shooting, politics, sports and athletics – all of which make sense.

Social engagement was also higher per article among negative articles, which is a pretty sad indictment of where social media is today.

A good example of this is the backlash over Kellogg’s CEO telling cash-strapped people to eat “cereal for dinner”. In a modern-day take of Mary Antionette’s ‘let them eat cake’ line, the negative publicity caused by the statement caused a nearly 3x jump in reads of articles covering the furore. 

For context, Kellogg has been running a “cereal for dinner” ad campaign for a while, which has been largely ignored as its focus was on spicing up a monotonous dinner routine with some cereal. However, when a super-rich CEO announced that people struggling with the cost of living should eat cheap cereal for dinner, and did it from the lobby of a 5-star hotel, things took an ugly turn.

The content most favoured by social apps

Despite the results, it’s clear that social media is still an important marketing tool. The trick is navigating its changes to make the most of it. Video has caused a major re-think of how social media sites look and feel, with Instagram and Facebook making changes to prioritise Reels in the fact of competition from TikTok and YouTube Shorts.

Users are turning to social media to be entertained, which has implications for how businesses should navigate these changes. As people are sharing things less, marketers need to create messaging simple enough to be remembered and passed on. Trying to be entertaining can be difficult, but the reality is that’s what people want and expect to see on social media.

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