More than 70 percent of US brands have a presence on social media. But in 2019, conversations with brand managers aren’t so much focused on “which platform?” as “which tool?”.
This question is similar to another shift in recent years: we’ve gone from asking “which hotel do you book?” to “which booking service do you use?”. Why? Because using a third-party site to manage, compare, and book our vacations facilitates and standardises the process. The same applies to social: with social media being widely accepted as a necessity, and with widely differing uses and features on each platform, the situation lends itself to a reliance on tools.
This is especially true for brands that need to manage a global, often complex, social media presence.
Brand strategy for social has to account for different content formats and publishing rules, different interfaces and management options, and different metrics and analytics available to them on each platform. While it’s recommended to adapt your approach to social to each platform, including tone of voice and type of content, it’s also impractical to need different ways of working altogether. Platforms have, for the most part, taken a rather lax approach to this situation: not only in terms of facilitating management across platforms, but also in terms of creating an intuitive user experience on their own sites. Any features tend to be geared towards personal use rather than the management of multiple accounts, brands, and agencies within one hub. Even ad management, the one area that has been fine-tuned to gather revenue, is best managed in turn by a media agency.
Facebook offers an interesting case study in terms of its approach to business.
Like Twitter, it has a Business Manager (FBBM) that offers benefits to brands beyond the personal use interface and is arguably the most developed from a platform perspective. This is in stark contrast to Instagram, also owned by Facebook, that has historically been entirely focused on mobile-use with few browser-friendly options adapted to business needs. This is slowly changing, as earlier this year Facebook announced the inclusion of Instagram direct message management outside of the app, but only if your Instagram account is linked to your Facebook account. This points to a concerted effort by Facebook to increase reliance on a Facebook account and, in turn, FBBM for brands. Yet this push comes with complications: Facebook is also the most capricious of the platforms, with updates and changes that have vast impacts on permissions, and some tools that decide not to develop for features altogether. FBBM also interestingly relies on personal user accounts, which is a point of tension for most businesses that may not want their employees to connect their personal Facebook accounts with company pages. With Facebook’s strict policy on fake accounts, it can create a catch-22 for brands looking to optimise their use of the platform.
For global brands, third-party tools are relied upon to fill the gaps.
For global brands, third-party tools (such as Sprinklr and Sprout Social) are relied upon to fill the gaps. These, much like booking sites, standardise set up and access while offering appealing benefits like analytics and team collaboration. While platforms are aware that many brands can only afford to implement a social media strategy thanks to a third-party tool, this doesn’t make their partnership a partnership of equals. Platforms routinely launch updates to their processes and APIs that will throw off and often break tools entirely. Some platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, offer a “partner” status to tools, and while this does come with certain benefits, significant advantages beyond the PR of it aren’t always notable. This does mean that some tools offer competitive advantages, though there is yet to be “one tool to rule them all”.
While platforms could certainly do better, tools can offer competitive advantages for businesses wanting to manage complex strategies and processes. Ultimately, your best bet as a brand is to have clear guidelines for each platform, and marry an efficient tool with a specialised agency to manage it for you.