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Four myths about social media that really need to go away

I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that social media in 2022 is considerably different from what it was when we first jumped from MySpace to Facebook. Social media was new, exciting, and not quite so useful as it is now. But, it did grow up into the centralised home to everything that we know and mostly love these days.

What has changed is that social media went from a quirky waste of time for business to a “must have” for every kind of brand and business.

Naturally, as social media has matured, so too have the conspiracies and myths around its use and, sometimes, misuse. Some of the most persistent myths comes from over a decade ago. I’m not sure whether it’s lazy thinking, old blogs or just pig-headedness that keeps these myths alive. But they love to keep on going.

Yet, as a business or a marketer, you really need to sift through this mountain of information about social media to find what’s real and what’s rubbish. And that’s where we’ll head now. Down a rabbit hole of weird assumptions about social media that really don’t stand up in 2022.

Myth 1: You need to post at specific times

It might seem obvious that posting at particular times would mean better reach and engagement, right? Well, not really. At least not in the way you’d assume.

Back in 2008, Facebook had a chronological feed. So you’d see something called a “timeline” rather than a “feed” like we have today. So, gaming the system to get more attention would just be a matter of guessing when people are most likely to be online (generally during work breaks and after work) and post your stuff at those times. Easy, right?

Then Facebook got popular, so the firehose of posts went from just a few friends and businesses that you followed to a flood of family, friends, businesses and spammers from hundreds of sources. So, in 2009, they had to change the timeline to an algorithmic feed that then took an educated guess at the stuff you most wanted to see, rather than just what was coming out right there and then. Seven years later Instagram did the same thing when it got too big for a timeline. And businesses on both platforms have been whinging about it ever since — forgetting that it wasn’t the feed that changed things — it was the fact that the networks got so popular.

So it would seem that posting at specific times would be pointless.

Except that it isn’t completely.

Almost all social platforms favour content that is new and novel. So, your posts are most likely to get most of its engagement in the first few hours after you post. Therefore, the more engagement you get in those first few hours, the more relevant and popular your content appears to the platform.

And this is where timing your content to better suit how your audience uses that social network, can really help lift your engagement over a period of time.

So while the specific time that you post isn’t quite as important as it used to be, there is still an art to “timing” your posts.

Myth 2: Using third-party tools to publish reduces reach

This one comes up again and again.

As the networks got complex and an industry of marketers emerged, we needed tools to manage our posting across multiple networks and accounts. And in 2011, that meant working with some really dodgy tools that kinda/sorta were allowed to operate by Facebook and other systems. But as usual, when dodgy tools get used by dodgy marketers, the networks are going to limit things. And that meant, that for about 6 months Facebook limited the reach of posts sent through these third-party tools.

That 6 months has grown into a persistent conspiracy theory amongst marketers even though a new way to connect those tools to Facebook that makes it more legitimate was added in early 2012. A decade ago. But hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Tonnes of reputable studies have proven time and again that there is no penalty for posting from third-party tools. And the networks only see posts from these tools as posts from your account as you are logging in using a legitimate username and password through an approved app — so it would make no sense to penalise that.

Myth #3: Social media is chaos and should be as spontaneous as possible.

This one seems to have come from an observation that social media tends to have trends and movements that suddenly go viral after springing up out of nowhere. The hot topics list on Twitter helps to back this up. If something new comes up that lots of people are interested in, it blows up.

The truth is that most hot topics that aren’t based on news stories are planned well in advance of “blowing up” on social media. There are entire industries of social media planners, public relations experts and marketing teams that spend months, even years planning and perfecting a campaign before sowing the seeds of their topic, product or service into social media.

What is spontaneous and a little chaotic is the response to these campaigns. For every tweet that goes viral or TikTok that blows up, there are thousands that never do. Companies as large as BP, Telstra and even the Commonwealth Bank have spent millions on trying to be cool and relevant on social media only to have almost everything that they fall flat.

So the truth lies somewhere between extreme planning and reactive chaos when it comes to what works on social media. You can only really try new things to see what works and then attempt to replicate that success again.

Myth #4: TikTok isn’t a place for brands because brands aren’t funny

Any conversation about social media needs to include TikTok these days. It grew to a household name much faster than any other digital tool before it. And it’s here to stay. That’s why most marketers see it as a core part of their plans moving forward.

Unfortunately, this attitude has also pushed forward the idea that a business should be serious and not funny on TikTok in order to be “brand safe” and not offend anyone. A decade of cancel culture has helped to foster this caution, even as TikTok grows and grows.

And humour really is a core value of TikTok’s creators and consumers.

It’s really the most skilled and strategic businesses that can marry their products with humour in order to produce a TikTok that anyone really cares about. And that’s why there are so few examples of this outside of gadgets and cheap consumer goods. Service-based businesses are terrible at this stuff. They just can’t see any way to present themselves in a way that is interesting. Which is the same problem they’ve had on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest and… you get the point.

If you’ve never been able to find your voice on Facebook without that voice being highly formal and full of lists of your features and benefits, then you won’t have a chance of doing it on TikTok either.

Something will have to give. And that probably needs to be your hard-line limits on who and what you think your brand is about.

Conclusion

There are my four most persistent social media myths that need to burn. Social media is still not a complete science but we do know that it requires some work, some planning and some guesswork. Experiment with new ideas, analyse the results and adjust your approach to double down on what works and throw out what doesn’t. It’s the only way to discover what works for your business.

Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a Facebook Blueprint Certified Lead Trainer, a Community Trainer with Facebook Australia, a digital advisor with Business Station, an accredited ASBAS Digital Solutions advisor and presenter, and the editor at The Small Marketer. You can watch free 1-hour webinars and grow your digital skills at Dante’s YouTube Channel.