Zombies are Eating your Audience – Here's How to Fight Back

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This is the story of a major national retailer. A national retailer that cut one too many corners in growing its social media channels, and inadvertently created the Social Zombie Apocalypse. VP Marketing & Product at Photofy, Casey Petersen, recounts the grisly tale and shares five tips for fighting the undead.

Truth be told, many of us are plagued by an undead audience. We see their bodies, but they lurk in the shadows, not actually buying anything. They never speak. They never wave and say "Hi." As a matter of fact, anything that would clue us in that an actual human being is present there is totally absent. We simply march on, proudly reminding everyone that we have 30 million followers. Yes, we are dragging the undead corpses of 29,996,500 of them behind us through the mud… but 30 million! It’s a big number!

We've all heard the ‘smart people’ telling us how to do social in 2018: Video! Influencers! Local-geo-incentivizationalized, shopability-enabled, socially-aware, AI-powered, branded, marketing content!

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Walmart checked every box on a recent post – a major teen star, a connection with a media company, video, and even a contest. Plus A.I. (Seriously, everyone does A.I. Haven't you heard?) And from their 30+ million followers, only 665 people interacted with the post. I'll do the math for you: that is less than a .002% engagement rate. As a matter of fact, if you look at Walmart's non-promoted Facebook posts, we can assume that only roughly 3,000 people from their audience are actually alive.

What's the harm in buying undead followers? You need reach right? More eyeballs for my content is never bad…Traditional zombies may eat brains, but the social media undead eat eyeballs.

Before I sound like I'm ragging on Walmart, let me say this: I love Walmart. I grew up in a small town in south Arkansas. Walmart is not just a retail location in these towns; it's the town social center. Walmart used to make some really boring content. Recently, however, their content has been really good.

How can a company with over 30 million followers that is making fun, compelling content do so poorly? The undead are devouring the users who actually want to see this content.  Walmart would do significantly better with 100,000 followers who love the content, and would most likely end up with higher engagement numbers overall, along with a significantly higher engagement rate. Those things would equate to higher sales and lower acquisition costs for shoppers.

How can we fight back against the undead hordes and prevent the Social Zombie Apocalypse? I'm glad you asked. Pick up your favorite sawed-off shotgun or Zombie-chopping axe, and follow these steps:

  1. Stop buying followers. Stop it now. They're most likely undead. And we all know the Zombie contagion spreads. Whatever you're saying in response to this statement that sounds like a reason why you need to buy followers in your specific situation, the answer is, "No. Stop it."

  2. Promote your best content to a targeted audience.Great content attracts an engaged audience. However, it's okay to promote your content to new audiences that would find it useful or entertaining. A great place to start is with friends of followers.  Your new promoted audience will have the opportunity to follow or like you if they like your content.

  3. Play small. A large audience is not a predictor of online success. You have an audience of 1,000? Build relationships with them like the actual human beings they are. They'll stay engaged. They'll shop more. They'll become advocates for the brand and share your products with their friends.

  4. Engage. Stop reading this and find your top 10 most engaged followers. Send them a gift, coupon, or even just a special note. Find an image a customer shared on social and show them off proudly as one of your favorite customers. Find a forum where people are confused about one of your products, or heck – even a competitor's products, and teach them how to use it. 

  5. Make content people want to see.Engaging as a human is a really big part of the battle – however you do still need to understand your customers and create content they enjoy. Think about how people want to consume content and give them content that makes sense in that context. For instance – your customers are looking at your content on a phone. Period. Don't serve them content that works better on a desktop. 85% of your customers watch video with the sound off. Don't give them a video of a random person's face talking with no other visuals or captions.

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The undead plague is currently attempting to infect your followers. You've probably seen it – less reach, less engagement, and lower sales. Don't abandon social. Double down on celebrating and engaging with the humans in your audience. Relationships will always bring a return, and will insulate you from zombie invasion.

Build relationships. Be a human. Don't be a zombie marketer, and you won't have zombie followers.


Casey Petersen is the Vice President of Marketing and Analytics at Photofy, and has been a leader in digital marketing for retailers and CPG’s for over 15 years.

Prior to Photofy, he led Analytics, Strategy, Owned Content Platforms, and Paid Media for Collective Bias and consulted extensively with startups and brands looking to build content-focused strategies. His passions are data-driven content marketing, planning trips to Disney World with his kids, and the Astros.

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