The Next Big Thing: How to Evaluate New Social Media Channels

The Next Big Thing: How to Evaluate New Social Media Channels

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, marketers are always hearing about the next big thing. The new social media channel or app that’s going to change the game.

Chances are (being the savvy digital marketer that you are), you already have a strong social media and content marketing strategy. How do you decide if these new tools fit into your strategy? How do you know if they’re worth your time?

Be a user first.

My first piece of advice for testing out new channels is always to take them for test drives. If you hear about a new site, sign up. If you see a new app trending, download it.

As a user, observe how people interact with each other and how they interact with businesses. (Are there even any businesses using it yet?) That way, if you decide to set up an account for your businesses, you’ll have a better understanding of the community and how they use the network. It’s a good way to make sure you’re using the tool to communicate, and not just to sell.

Don’t dismiss the audience.

One of the most common questions marketers will ask when evaluating new social media channels is, “Is my audience there? Are they using it?” But don’t be too quick to dismiss new channels for this reason alone.

Instead, ask yourself if this presents a new opportunity. A chance to reach new, fresh eyes. Remember, you are not just trying to duplicate your Facebook or Twitter audience, you’re trying to expand your reach to a new audience that maybe otherwise isn’t connecting with you.

You should also keep an eye on a channel and reevaluate it regularly. The audience and the content that’s shared there may change over time. For example, when Pinterest first launched in 2010, it was most popular with young women looking for fashion advice and DIY tutorials. That is still true, but seven years later, those same users might be looking up parenting tips, too.

Know your goals.

In marketing, it always comes back to your goals. What are you trying to do, and does this new channel help you get there?

Social media marketing often leaves more of a long-term footprint, so it can be difficult to see how a new channel or medium is going to impact your bottom line in the short term. In that case, start by considering the basic functions and features of the tool.

For example, if your main goal is to drive traffic to your website (perhaps you run an e-commerce website or your business model is transactional), then Instagram with its limited links off-network isn’t going be your best option.

Yes, this is simplifying things (for the right brand, Instagram can definitely drive traffic and is great at building brand awareness), but when you have to make a decision on how to best allocate your limited resources, sometimes it comes down to utility.

Think about the content.

There was a time when posting on social media was almost like checking off a list. Once you had a blog, adding a Facebook page or a Twitter account (or LinkedIn or Google Plus, etc.) wasn’t a great leap. You created an account, filled out your profile and started posting.

Sure, character counts varied. Or maybe you added a hashtag. But you weren’t exactly reinventing the wheel each time. (Or at least it was easy enough not to.)

In the last few years, it isn’t the number of new channels that has marketers stunned, it’s the new forms of content being shared. The popularity of Instagram, along with changes to Facebook and Twitter, have made visual content, and video in particular, indispensable. And now Snapchat, Facebook Live and Periscope are pushing it even further with a move toward live video. (And you can’t schedule that ahead of time….)

The best practices vary from channel to channel. Take something as “simple” as creating a video, for example. If you’re creating a video today, you need to ask a series of questions: How long is it? How fast is the pacing? Is it vertical, square or horizontal? Does it rely on sound? Is it live?

Keeping up with the latest best practices is hard enough. Figuring out which new forms of content your team can accommodate is a whole other hurdle.

Take a good, hard look in the mirror.

New channels are always exciting, but before you jump on the bandwagon, it’s important to take a honest look are your own resources and capabilities. Many would argue a dormant account is worse than having none at all. Do you have the time and the tools necessary to keep up an account?

Despite being “free,” we know that managing content and social media takes an immense amount of time. And new channels are often a hard sell internally because you’re diverting time, tools and attention to something that doesn’t have a strong use case yet.

The best way to make your use case is to be well-versed in the pros, cons and opportunities the new channel presents. It’s part of our job as digital marketers to be at least somewhat aware of what’s new and what’s next, even if it isn’t right for our business yet. Don’t wait for some “social media ninja” on Twitter to tell you that your business needs it. Make the decision for yourself.

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Danielle Hohmeier

As Senior Marketing Manager at Atomicdust, Danielle Hohmeier develops focused and effective social media and content marketing strategies for clients. This includes identifying the audiences, appropriate channels and key content categories, and finding SEO and SEM opportunities.

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