While working on the 4th edition of my Social Media Strategy book (Coming February 2024!) I compiled a new concise and updated list of free tools and resources. These sources are all regularly updated and are the most relevant to creating and implementing social media strategies.
Some are frequent reports with updates and others are evergreen articles that have ongoing updates by the publishers. I also have free tools that can be used to develop strategies or use as class exercises. There are key industry news blogs and podcasts to keep up with current news and updates. I also include a list of strategy and platform courses with professional certifications.
They’re organized by categories of Reports, Data, Tools, News, and Certifications.
On July 5, 2023, Meta introduced a new social media platform Threads. Threads is an app from Instagram where users post threads of short pieces of text, photos, videos, and links, reply, and follow other users they’re interested in. Like other social networks users have profiles, but what’s unique about Threads is that it’s quick and easy to create a new account by importing your Instagram account and profile.
Because Threads limits posts to 500 characters, photos, links, and videos under 5 minutes, I consider it a microblog. It is designed more for sharing text updates to participate in real-time public conversations comparable to Twitter (X) versus its parent photo-focused sharing app Instagram.
The Threads feed includes threads posted by people you follow and recommended content from creators you haven’t discovered yet – an AI algorithm like TikTok’s For You. After requests from early users, Threads recently introduced a new Following feed tab to see chronological posts from people you follow similar to Twitter’s (X’s) For You and Following tabs.
The First Week of Signups Were Impressive.
Brands, celebrities, and influencers found the Instagram connection especially appealing in being able to bring their Instagram followers with them. It’s less of a barrier than building everything up from scratch like other new social platforms. This could be part of the reason for the platform’s early success of reaching 100 million users in less than a week (Twitter(X) has 368 million). This surpassed ChatGPT for the fastest adoption of any online service.
Early celebrity and influencer adopters included Oprah, Shakira, Kim Kardashian, and Mr. Beast. Early brand adopters were Rare Beauty, William Sonoma, Netflix, and Gymshark. Early publishers to join included Vogue, Vice, and Rolling Stone. While advertising is sure to come, the early days on the platform are like the early days of social media where everyone was vying for followers via organic posts and reach. Brands like Anthropologie used promotions such as giving away gift cards to grow followers and engagement.
Instagram Threads features:
Profiles are connected to Instagram accounts and can be public or private.
Post limits are 500 characters with links, photos, videos under 5 minutes.
Users see threads and replies of people they follow in the feed.
Main For You feed is an AI algorithm based on creator discovery.
A second Following feed has been added with a chronological feed.
Users reply to posts or like, share, quote, or repost, but no direct messages.
Designed to be less negative news and politics oriented with no hashtags.
Is Threads The “Twitter Killer?”
It’s hard not to talk about Threads without mentioning Twitter or what is now called X. Many of the features of Threads are very similar to the platform formally known as Twitter with its focus on short content “threads” not unlike short content “tweets” or what may now be called “X’s.” There’s been a public feud between Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk which may be driving this battle between the two social platforms. In fact, Musk’s X Corp. has threatened to sue Meta over these similarities.
Meta is open about pitching Threads as a “friendlier” Twitter (X) that’s not a place for news and politics. Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said, “The goal is to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter.”
Will Threads Be Less Negative?
Some of the features to “tune out the noise” include hidden words to not see posts that contain them and filtering out replies to threads with certain words. You can also unfollow, block, restrict, and report profiles. Many have felt that Twitter has increasingly become a more negative place. In fact, academic studies have found negative tweets increase the probability of retweeting and viral spread.
Musk has also indicated he is taking Twitter into a freer speech direction with less content moderation. Meta is contrasting this with messages that Threads will strive to make a friendly and more positive platform with content moderation. The first indicators did seem to indicate a drop in Twitter traffic (5%) in the first days of the launch of Threads.
Early Signups Don’t Guarantee Long Term Success.
Of course, quick adoption by large numbers of users doesn’t automatically translate into high engagement or long-term use. The social media platform Google+ had high user numbers. Everyone who created a Google account (Gmail, Drive, YouTube, Blogger) was automatically signed up for Google+. But that didn’t translate into everyday use. Google+ shut down in 2019 due to low engagement.
In deciding to make Threads a part of your social media strategy be sure to check current activity levels before investing significant resources. It will take time to get a feel for how Threads will make itself unique from Twitter’s real-time dialogue and driving the news characteristics. If it does grow an audience ads will soon follow. When advertising does become available Threads ads should be integrated easily into Meta Ad Manager.
It will take time to see if early user numbers turn into active daily and weekly users. We’re already seeing indicators that engagement and users might not last. Since the July 7th peak Threads’ daily active users are down nearly 70% to 13 million from 44. The average daily time spent on Threads is just 4 minutes. This is in contrast to Twitter (X) which has roughly 200 million daily active users who spend an average of 30 minutes on the platform daily.
Total users are down as well. Just three weeks after a record high of 100 million users, Mark Zuckerberg reports that over half of Threads users have already stopped using it. Zuckerberg and Instagram CEO Adam Moseri do say they are working on new features to hook users and entice them to come back.
The sudden name change from Twitter to X may motivate more users to join Threads. Initial reactions by many X users have been negative and branding experts indicate it may be a mistake. Insiders report it’s part of Musk’s plan to create an “everything app” that will become a moneyless marketplace, public square, and video content factory all in one. It’s also unsure if the X name will stay as Meta, Microsoft, and other companies own trademarks on X.
What’s The Bottom Line on Threads?
When investing your time and money in a social media strategy try to look past the hype. Even the largest companies have limited budgets and resources. In evaluating any new social platform or current platform it comes back to basic strategic thinking. When deciding to add a social media platform or leave a current one consider these questions:
Who is my target audience? (current users, potential users)
How active are they on Threads/X? (daily active use, time spent)
What objectives am I measured by? (engagement, sales, leads)
Can I achieve those objectives on Threads/X? (more than another platform)
Do I have time/budget for experimentation? (not dependent on results)
What has been your experience with Threads? What do you think the future of the platform will be for social media strategy?
I typically focus on the positive use of social media to help organizations achieve objectives. I’ve also discussed how social media professionals must act ethically to build trust in brands and their professions. I haven’t talked about the negative aspects of social media itself.
Yet, evidence of the negative effects of social media on mental health and society is increasing. Is there something unique about social media as a technology and a form of communication that may be causing negative, unintended consequences?
The Medium Is The Message.
In 1964 Marshall McLuhan first expressed the idea “The medium is the message” in Understanding Media.He said, “The ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” The idea is that a message comes with any new technology or way to communicate beyond the content. The characteristics of the medium influence how the message is perceived.
In 1984 Neil Postman furthered the idea in Amusing Ourselves To Death. Postman said, “The medium is the metaphor.” He observed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture where the medium influences “the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations.” He was concerned TV and visual entertainment, consumed in smaller bits of time, would turn journalism, education, and religion into forms of show business.
Is Social Media The Message?
A key to a successful social media strategy is understanding each social media platform has unique characteristics in the form of content (video, image, text standards, and limits) and in the algorithm that determines what posts are seen by who.
These characteristics and metrics create incentives that motivate behavior. In social media that can be engagement (likes, comments, shares, views), sales (products, services), and advertising revenue (audience size, time). The distinct characteristics and incentives encourage the creation of certain types of content and messages over others.
The message of the medium becomes what the platform and its users say is important – what increases response metrics. It could be “a curated, filtered, perfect life”; “an authentic, 100% transparent sharing of personal struggles”; or “criticisms of out-groups to signal tribe membership.”
As an exercise fill in the Table below.
Consider each social platform and the content that gets results. Are there noticeable patterns or themes? From your observations describe what you believe is the overall message the platform is sending.
Could social media also send its own message by guiding the type of content that gets posted and disseminated? Consider the types of content that get posted and disseminated on social media versus other forms of traditional media and personal communication. What message does it send and what are the fruits of that message?
There are plenty of positives of social media. It enables us to connect with family/friends, find new communities of similar interests, promote important causes, get emotional support, and learn new information, plus it provides an outlet for self-expression and creativity.
A study found that social media can play a positive role in influencing healthy eating (like fruit and vegetable intake) when shared by peers. Yet, the same study also found that fast food advertising targeting adolescents on social media can have a negative influence on unhealthy weight and disease risks.
Negative Effects of Social Media Research.
Below is a highlight of recent studies. All research has its critics and many point out that social media isn’t the exclusive cause of all negative consequences. Social media also has a lot of positive effects on individuals, businesses, organizations, and society. But we should consider its negative effects – something more people are noticing, studying, and feeling.
Algorithms influence moral behavior when newsfeed algorithms determine how much social feedback posts receive.
Users express outrage when in ideologically extreme networks where outrage is more widespread.
Algorithms encourage moderate users to become less moderate with peers expressing outrage.
Social Media Affects Youth Mental Health.
A 2023 U.S. Surgeon General advisory warned social media can pose a risk to the mental health of children and adolescents. Now 95% of 13–17-year-olds use social media an average of 3.5 hours a day. While acknowleding social media benefits, the advisory warned it may also perpetuate body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, social comparison, and low self-esteem.
The advisory warns of relationships between youth social media with sleep difficulties and depression. Other highlights include:
Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours a day on social media double their risk of depression and anxiety.
64% of adolescents are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate-based content through social media.
46% of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies – just 14% said it makes them feel better.
A 2023 survey of U.S. teen girls reveals 49% feel “addicted” to YouTube, 45% to TikTok, 34% to Snapchat, and 34% to Instagram. Yet another survey of teens found they believe social media provides more positives (32% mostly positive) versus negatives (9% mostly negative). They feel it’s a place for socializing and connecting with friends, expressing creativity, and feeling supported.
Bubbles, Chambers, and Bias.
Why are we seeing both positive and negative results? Social media’s unique environment can be very supportive, keeping you connected and helping you express yourself. It can also encourage you to improve your life like peers getting you to eat healthier and improve society by making people aware of important causes.
The same social media environment has also created filter bubbles and echo chambers. Technology can knowingly or unknowingly exploit human vulnerabilities that may accentuate confirmation bias and negativity bias.
A filter bubble is an algorithmic bias that skews or limits information someone sees on the internet or on social media.
An echo chamber is ideas, beliefs, or data reinforced through repetition in a closed system such as social media that doesn’t allow the free flow of alternative ideas.
Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs.
Negativity bias is the tendency for humans to focus more on the negative versus the positive.
Social media algorithms make it easier to produce filter bubbles that create echo chambers. Over time social media chambers lead to confirmation bias loops of negativity incentivized by engagement metrics.
A detailed article from the MIT Technology Review seems to indicate the problem is it’s difficult for AI machine learning algorithms to minimize negative human consequences when growth is the top priority. Much of what is bad for us and society seems to be what keeps us scrolling the most.
Reducing harm may go against growth objectives and current incentive structures for tech companies to produce mega revenue increases. Social media companies like Facebook, now Meta, continue to say they are doing everything they can to reduce harm despite layoffs.
Social Media Fills Our Spare Time.
While the most popular reason for using social media is to keep in touch with family and friends (57%), the second is to fill spare time (40%). What do we fill our spare time with? With a high percentage of social media revenue depending on advertising (96% of Facebook’s and 89% of Twitter’s) newsfeeds fill with what grows engagement to serve more ads to increase revenue.
That seems to be sensationalized content that stokes fears. Shocking content hacks attention playing into our negativity bias. Perhaps Postman’s prediction of everything becoming show business is true. We’re all chasing TV ratings in the form of likes, comments, and shares.
Recently Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg challenged each other to an MMA fight. What greater spectacle than two billionaire owners of competing social media platforms fighting each other in a PPV UFC cage match? Italy’s culture minister even said that it could happen in the Roman Colosseum. I wonder what Neil Postman would say if he were alive?
Journalism Isn’t Immune To Engagement.
As news moves online organizations chase clicks and subscribers through social media. With so many options, news subscribers increasingly seek sources based on confirmation bias. Andrey Mir in Discoursedescribes a shift to divisive content, “because the best way to boost subscriber rolls and produce results is to target the extremes on either end of the spectrum.”
With 50% of adults getting news from social media sites often or sometimes their stories no longer compete with just other news sites. Stories compete for clicks with the latest viral TikTok and YouTube influencers’ hot takes. A study in Nature found news headlines with negative words improved reading the article. Each negative word added increased the click-through rate by 2.3%.
Are There Legal Limits Coming?
The U.S. Supreme Court sent a case back to lower courts that would have addressed whether social media companies can be held accountable for others’ social media posts. A 1996 law known as Section 230 shields internet companies from what users post online. Lawsuits have been filed alleging that social media algorithms can lead to the radicalization of people leading to atrocities such as terrorist attacks and mass shootings.
The Supreme Court ruled there was little evidence tying Google, the parent company of YouTube, to the terrorist attack in Paris. The lower court ruled that claims were barred by the internet immunity law. Many internet companies warned that undoing or limiting Section 230 would break a lot of the internet tools we have come to depend upon.
While no legislation has passed there seems to be bipartisan support for new social media legislation this year like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). KOSA would require social media companies to shield minors from dangerous content, safeguard personal information, and restrict addictive product features like endless scrolling and autoplay. Critics say KOSA would increase online surveillance and censorship.
Can Algorithms Change People’s Feelings?
A Psychological And Cognitive Sciencesstudy found when the Facebook News Feed team tweaked the algorithm to show fewer positive posts, people’s posts became less positive. When negative posts were reduced people posted more positive posts.
Postman said we default to thinking technology is a friend. We trust it to make life better and it does. But he also warned there is a potential dark side to this friend. To avoid Postman’s fears, perhaps we need to return to McLuhan who said an artist is anyone in a professional field who grasps the implications of their actions and of new knowledge in their own time.
What do you think?
What research is there for or against the negative effects of social media on mental health and society? Should anything be done to combat the negative consequences? What can be done and who should do it?
ChatGPT was released to the public six months ago and quickly became the fastest application to reach 100 million users. OpenAI reached this milestone in just two months compared to TikTok’s 9 months and Instagram’s 2 ½ years.
The result of this enormous attention is that the world has quickly become aware of the advanced capabilities of generative AI. As of March 2023, 87% of consumers had heard of AI and 61% somewhat understood what generative AI is and how it works.
ChatGPT generates text from text prompts through a chatbot, but that’s not all generative AI can do. The popularity of ChatGPT also brought attention to OpenAI’s image generation tool. DALL-E 2 generates images from text prompts through a chatbot.
Despite the mass attention, AI tools have been around for years.
That post also talked about how AI was used in chatbots to simulate human conversion, in predictive and prescriptive analytics, and in content generation. Examples included Patern89 which has been using AI to analyze content combinations and placement for optimization since 2016. Another example was Clinch which has used AI for content automation and personalized dynamic ad content across channels for years.
Since ChatGPTs release, there’s been a race to integrate generative AI.
The race began with ChatGPT being added to Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Then Google announced plans to integrate its generative AI Bard into Google search. Other platforms quickly announced integrations with OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard such as Salesforce, Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Adobe. Microsoft and Google are even integrating ChaptGPT and Bard into Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace office software for writing, spreadsheets, and slides.
Yet they’re not the only options. Other generative AI tools include Jasper.ai and Copy.ai, for writing, and Midjourney and Stable Diffusion for image generation. Tools like Synthsia generates videos with human avatars and professional voiceovers from text prompts. Other examples of generative AI are summarized below.
AI content generation tool uses:
Content research/Data collection
Image (photo/illustration) generation
Video clip/Podcast clip generation
Transcript generation/Automated post prep
Ad/Post variation generation
Podcast/Voice over generation
Generative AI tools come with new skills and considerations.
A new skill with these next gen tools is prompt writing. Prompts are the natural language used to ask a generative AI tool to produce something. More descriptive specific prompts produce better results like prompts that describe the tone of writing or style of an image. Yet be mindful potential of copyright issues with prompts to create text or an image in the style of a famous person without their permission.
A new consideration is the data set from which you train AI. Generative AI tools like ChatGPT are trained on data from the open internet. This is what makes it so powerful, but this is also what can lead to copyright issues and sometimes create bias or incorrect results.
Other AI tools like Jasper.ai allow you to train on a specific dataset. For example, a brand could upload all its previous materials to establish a brand voice to write new copy. Adobe’s Firefly draws from Adobe’s stock library and tracks creator images used to ensure copyright compliance.
With the explosion of AI comes limitations and cautions.
Despite the mass adoption, this technology is in its early stages. There hasn’t been a lot of testing. Regulations, laws, and professional standards have yet to be developed. HubSpot suggests the following limitations, cautions, and warnings in using generative AI tools.
Cautions when using generative AI:
AI can’t conduct original research or analysis.
AI can get things wrong so you must fact check.
AI doesn’t have lived experience and human insight.
AI doesn’t ensure quality, strategy, and nuance.
AI can contain biases that are not caught by filters.
AI can have plagiarism and copyright issues.
Despite these cautions, alarm over societal harm, and escalating calls for regulation, the AI race is on. Even while companies, government, and scientists raise concerns, companies continue to integrate AI into mainstream products and services. Below is a sample of what’s been released or announced thus far.
Examples of Early AI Content Generation and Automation Tools in Major Platforms.
Generate drafts, replies, summaries in Gmail, drafts, summaries, proofs in Docs, images, audio and video in Slides, auto analysis in Sheets, and notes in Meet.
Do Consumers (Your Customers/Target Audience) Want AI?
Another consideration with artificial intelligence is the value consumers may put on human generated content and transparency in the use of AI. I began this article by saying that 87% of consumers are now aware of AI. In fact, 4 in 5 of them are convinced that it is the future.
Yet knowing something is the future and wanting that future are different things. The same consumer survey reveals that 3 in 5 (60%) are concerned or undecided about that future. What people are most concerned about is that AI will change what it means to be human.
As marketing communications professionals we need to stay up to date with all these technology advancements. We should use the latest tools to improve our profession and results for our business or clients. But we should also ensure that new technology is used responsibly and transparently.
Over 77% of consumers say brands should ensure biases and systems of inequality are not propagated by AI-based applications. Over 70% believe brands should disclose when they use AI to develop products, services, experiences, and content.
You Decide How To Best Use AI.
At its best, AI can help with the mundane, repetitive tasks of social media and digital marketing management. At its best, AI will enable you to focus on higher level strategic thinking. At its best, AI will not replace humans, but enable us to be more human.
It’s been 6 months since generative AI was brought to mainstream awareness. Companies are rushing to integrate this technology into everything they do. While we wait for regulations, laws, and professional standards to catch up, let’s use our own judgment in deciding when, where, and how best to use it.
This blog post was 100% human generated.
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