With 2018 looming, we sat down to take a look at the state of social media in the outdoor industry. There is no doubt that social media is still seeing significant growth, but what we have noticed is that growth has started to slow among some of the major channels. We speculate that this is a result of platform maturity rather than a reflection of a trend of declining popularity.
With 2.1 billion active users on Facebook, and ~800 million users on Instagram, these platforms are beginning to hit their maturity levels. What do we mean by “maturity”? In the early days of any social network's life, we see huge amounts of users creating profiles, following suggested users and brands, and seeking out those brands they trust will provide quality content. The success of a platform is determined by how many people join, and consistently contribute to making an active community.
When looking at several major outdoor sports brands, we have noticed a significant slow down in growth. Nike, for instance, has gained 5.3 million Instagram followers in the last 6 months comparatively to an average of 12.5 million followers over each of the previous 6 month periods. Though 5.3 million followers is a number that most brands would kill for, it means that growth is slowing from 71% to 8% of total followers every 6 months.
The other glaring statistic is follower engagement. This is where the proof lies in social media becoming a true "pay-to-play" environment. When scrolling through any major outdoor brand's Facebook feed, it becomes very obvious that the content is either not reaching the fans, or the fans are uninterested. Take Arc'teryx, where 347,000 Facebook users have "liked" the brand, yet their posts are netting between 50 and 1000 engagements - That represents a 0.1 to 0.2% engagement rate.
The statistics are causing us to us ask the question: Has the time has come to move away from followers as a success metric on social media? This doesn’t mean that followers are no longer important - what it does mean, however, is that there are more effective ways to reach your audiences than simply sharing organic content through your social pages. No, we are not suggesting that you forget about your loyal followers that have flocked to your social channels over years of growth, but it could help to expand your reach past your followers through paid distribution.
Facebook and Instagram both offer options to target users for page growth, which can be helpful for newer brands or brands still seeing growth, but we suggest that you keep a close eye on how your audience is growing and pay attention to when your page might hit be approaching maturity. Often, focusing your ad spend on promoting your content and messaging can be far more effective than promoting your social page itself.
Despite the changing social landscape, there are still several prevailing strategies that you can focus on to ensure success through 2018:
Have a solid content strategy
Content is the backbone of all social strategy. Without content that appeals to your intended audience, you social posts are bound to fall flat. Whether your content is reaching your dedicated followers, or a new audience, quality content will grab audience attention. Your content strategy should also extend beyond your own channels, and identify any partners, influencers, or consumers that would be willing to share your content to the greater community.
Understand your audience, and how they behave on social media
Much like you have a firm grasp on who the audience is for your brand, it is important to understand what subsection of that audience is active on social media. 2017 has brought us analytics in Instagram, as well as enhanced Facebook analytics. It is easier than ever to understand your following on social media - make sure you are in tune with who your audience is, and how best to speak to them.
Leverage a solid paid strategy to deliver quality content to you audience.
Social media is a pay-to-play arena. There are becoming less and less ways to effectively reach your audience organically, and paid distribution is becoming critical. There is a definite sweet spot when you bring together content targeted at the right audience and layer on a paid strategy to properly extend the reach of your content. A little bit of budget can go a long way in making sure that content creation efforts are actually paying off.