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Social Media Marketing: More Isn't Better

Quantity rarely trumps quality--especially on Facebook. A new study examines how publishing too frequently can alienate followers.
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Mae West famously said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful!" But is it really? Excess often leads to problems because a normally functioning system--whether the human body, an organization, or an ecosystem--becomes unstable. Push too far in one direction and you'll see something pushing back the other way.

The same is true for social media marketing, according to a recent report by social media software management vendor Expion. An analysis of 16,000 Facebook posts for 50 top retail brands during the first half of 2013 suggests that an emphasis on quantity over quality won't go far.

Marketers often push for volume. They want to maintain a "relationship" with customers, so they claim. In reality, they want to increase the number of sales and marketing messages, thinking that this will grow business.

As a group, the 50 top retailers had increased their collective posts over the last few years. Volume increased from the first half of 2011 to the second half of 2012 by about 50 percent. The number of postings was roughly flat between the end of 2012 and first six months of 2013.

The average number of fan actions per post also increased over time, roughly mirroring the increase in the number of posts, but then dropped between the second half of 2012 and first half of 2013. The Expion graph below shows the trends.

customer acquisition

On Facebook in particular, you might understand why companies increase volume of posts. Not only is there the underlying sense that more is better, but a recognition that not all people will see all posts from brands they like. And there seems to be a positive correlation between volume and reaction--for a while. But then notice the reversal. Also, Expion saw the biggest decline in the growth of brand fans on Facebook and the total number of fan actions for those top 50 retail brands.

content volume trends

As the company writes about the trends, "...either fans are less engaged or retailers are publishing less-appealing content." According to Expion's numbers, only two of the top 10 high-volume brands saw a growth in fan actions, with the other eight seeing a decline. Here's a suggestion: companies are exhausting consumers.

Think of your own experience on various social media. What happens when you have one person or entity creating a large volume of posts? Chances are you get tired of them, even if you do like the material. It's like having nothing but creamed spinach to eat. You might like it now and again, but it becomes numbing as a constant staple.

Something similar happens in posts. Someone may be a prolific poster, but eventually you can get to the point that it's too much. Your eyes drift over the mass of words because they've become an abundance of creamed spinach.

Marketers should use key analytics wisely. When you reach a point that engagement starts to slow, certainly check the quality of the posts. But try backing off the volume some.

Last updated: Aug 27, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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