Should we be on [insert name of new or hot social network here] or [established social media platform]?
This is easily the most common question our digital strategy clients pose to us. And interestingly of late, the question tends to focus on two of the biggest social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram – often in terms of their ability to target the younger Gen Z portion of the consumer market.
Unfortunately, the answer is always the same — it depends.
In the case of Instagram versus Facebook, as well as most other consumer connection points, the data is pretty clear around which network is right for certain brands once we deep dive into the brands’ target audience.
How Do You Know Which Social Network Is Best For YOUR Brand?
That’s a great question. But before we get to that, here are three reasons you definitely should NOT base your social media strategy decisions on:
- Everyone else is doing it.
- I’m seeing it all over the news, in magazines, and online – everyone is talking about how Gen-Z is all over [insert name of social network here]
and my personal favorite …..
- Our competitors are on it.
Let’s take the last one first. Unless your competitor has shown a long history of ALWAYS being right about social media or consumer adoption and usage of technology, then it’s safe to say following their lead ISN’T a valid reason to choose any social media platform over another.
Remember, these networks are free to use but they do require an enormous amount of creative development and community management time to execute effectively and see positive results. This is especially true of Instagram with its focus on photographic content.
For most brands, Instagram will be your brand’s art museum.
For any social media platform to serve as an effective consumer connection channel, you have to invest in the platform before you can seriously expect to see any real tangible benefit or return-on-social-media-investment. And the quality of brand investments in social platforms differ from brand to brand.
That means, just because your competitor is or isn’t choosing to communicate with consumers on any particular social media platform, it may be for reasons other than the appropriateness of the platform as a communications channel to target your brand’s core consumer.
And everything I just said about why you shouldn’t choose a platform because your competitor does goes DOUBLE for “well everyone else is doing it.”
The social media marketing world is littered with examples of social media networks that promised to deliver something new, inventive or were “the place to be” only to flame out against the eternally burning sun that is Facebook, Twitter and the like.
Why You Shouldn’t Blindly Trust The Data
If I’m honest, most of the social media strategy conversations I’ve participated in are far too often driven by references to media articles or “research reports” or some conference session or social media webinar the other person recently sat through.
If you torture data long enough it will say anything you ask.
– Tom Martin, Founder of Converse Digital
And I’m not just saying that for effect. It’s true. I see it every day and so do you. Journalists, bloggers, speakers, “thought leaders” (sorry just threw up a little in my mouth typing that but hey, it’s what they call themselves) all practice the ancient art of data torture in their never ending quest for more eyeballs, more clicks, more whatever.
Heck, I bet you’ve even done a little bit of data torturing in your day.
How To Torture Data Like a Pro
Let’s have some fun shall we?
You see torturing data is super easy. You just have to suspend your critical thinking genes and hope that your audience will do the same. Let me show you a few examples of this in action using real world examples plucked from today’s media and recent presentations or “research reports” I’ve read myself.
But what this May 2021 New York Times headline and sooooo many just like it don’t tell you is the “strongest ever year-over-year reading” isn’t real. It’s what statisticians call an “artifact” that in this case is the product of a “Base Effect.”
I know… I’m not a huge math guy either but stick with me because this is important.
A Base Effect happens when there is a data anomaly in an otherwise rather uniform data set that produces a false truth such as the one the NY Times calls out in its headline. The simple truth is that while yes, the CPI in May 2021 is 5% higher than May 2020, it’s an artifact vs a truth.
We have to remember that in May 2020 the United States was in month three of the Covid Pandemic. In fact, because of Covid and the national shutdown it caused, the CPI actually decreased in March, April and May of 2020. Not only did the CPI index drop to its lowest point in May 2020, it was the first time in the history of CPI tracking (since 1913) that the CPI index fell three straight months in a row.
But let’s give the Times a tad bit of credit because I’m a fair kind of guy. They did put a disclaimer below one of their charts that read:
Some of May’s jump can be explained through what’s known as base effects — prices fell significantly last spring, so the increase now from the year prior is larger.
So while they led with tortured data, they at least acknowledged that torture…. but they left it up to you to figure how badly they tortured that data.
Gen Z Gravitates to Instagram, SnapChat & TikTok
How many of you have sat through an agency presentation, webinar or conference session where the presenter said something along these lines? Or maybe you’ve read any of the hundreds of articles published by data torturing media outlets claiming the “death of Facebook” amongst Gen Z social media users.
I know I have… and like the USA Today article above notes, the claim is based on a pretty highly regarded data source – The Pew Research Center – one of my favorites actually.
But here again, it’s a classic case of data torture. And the worst part is that Pew is guilty of participating and even propagating this particular torture technique – Confirmation Bias.
Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon in which a person tends to accept those references or findings which confirm his/her existing belief in things. And in my experience, confirmation bias tends to lead to poor decision-making.
So let’s look at the actual data on social media platform usage by generation from the referenced Pew report.
Pew Research Center https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/
So if I’m reading this chart correctly, 65% of Gen Z uses SnapChat, 71% are on Instagram, and 48% are TikTok’ing. Ok… so you could argue that TikTok number is a bit of a stretch.
But that’s not the big reveal.
Go back and look at the Facebook line in the chart. 70% of Gen Z uses Facebook. That’s larger than SnapChat, on par with Instagram and 46% larger than the TikTok audience base.
And that is Confirmation Bias. I can only assume the author of the Pew report wanted the sexiest promotion angle. And lets face it, there is nothing sexy about saying “Gen Zers still love their Facebook.” So the author conveniently ignores the Facebook data just like so many reporters, bloggers, speakers and yes, sadly agencies.
When Data Is an Inconvenient Truth
In my world here at Converse Digital, data is never an inconvenient truth. Data is an input, an opportunity, a guide to a successful outcome. But unfortunately, I’ve seen too many presentations and sat with too many prospects to believe that our commitment to the welfare of the data we use is commonplace.
Too many sales and marketing professionals are playing way to loose with the data used to support recommendations to their clients. To them I say, please stop. You’re not helping your clients and your hurting the reputation of an entire industry.
To the clients of those sales and marketing professionals I say, ask questions, apply logic, and push your sales and marketing partners. If the data they’re sharing doesn’t pass the critical thinking test, push back until it does.
Oh, and for everyone that was hoping for a quick answer to “Facebook vs Instagram” – like I said, it depends. But the good news is, you have the data. And in the right hands, that data will show you the answer you seek.