Social Media as a Destination, Not a Road

Forgetting Hacks, Clicks, and Analytics to Create Engaging Content for Your Association

Facebook has changed its feed algorithm 17 times since the beginning of 2017. Twitter rolled out a new algorithm over the summer of 2017 only to scrap it months later. Snapchat removed its Stories page in November.

Instagram makes its changes more silently. When it started “shadow banning” users for overusing the same hashtags repeatedly, users didn’t necessarily know this. If they suspected something based on their shrinking numbers of “likes” on their posts they might have investigated. If so, they might have found out what was going on and adjusted their practices. Or, they might just continue right on with the hashtag spew they’d been trained to do, perhaps just assuming that things were changing in what people wanted to see.

Why all these changes? At least part of the reason is money. These are high-flying tech stocks. They make money from ads. Facebook, especially, keeps changing in order to thwart our attempts to “hack” the algorithms in order to get more views or engagements with non-paid content.

And thus we get another round of blog posts and speakers and books peddling all the “hacks” you might use to beat the system, things around the number or length or repetition of posts, the hashtags, the times posted, pictures or not, keywords in posts that will make people click, etc. Social media marketers end up chasing these tactics, hoping that eventually their Analytics will help them figure out which of these hacks work and how to repeat that hack juuuuust enough to work but not annoy the users. Then it all changes again and we start the Sisyphean cycle anew.

How accurate is this picture of our practice in social media marketing? Are we really mostly making content to drive people to more content … which exists to drive people to more content … which exists to … ?

Let’s hop off that tactical train to talk about strategy. Think, if you will, about your association’s last social media post. Don’t think about the hashtags or the click rate or the metrics. Imagine a person who has just found your organization reading that post. What are their impressions? We keep building roads for people to induce them into seeing our stuff. But are we building a destination for them when they
get there?

So much chatter about social media marketing has been done in order to convince marketers that they can be smarter than enormous corporate technology machines and just get stuff for free. If you can’t, in the end, sustainably beat the algorithms, then we are obviously wasting our time. But even if we can, when people like you or me, who do this stuff and listen to the same keynotes and read the same blog posts, when people like us see a post, we can see what it really says: Our organization’s social media content is nothing but advertising attempting to manipulate the system for free.

You might cringe upon reading that. You might reject the idea that your public looks at your attempts to hack the system to get results for free makes us, well, freeloaders.

Okay. So let’s take a step back. Once we get those eyeballs, what are we doing with them? What are their impressions of your last social media post? If you knew, for sure, that someone right now was looking at your last post and that was as far as they were going to go in their “research” on your organization, how would you feel about what it is they saw?

For example, let’s say this is the post: “Your email marketing shouldn’t take Sunday off.” And there’s a link to a very short blog post glossing some recent findings on click rates on emails sent on different days of the week.

Okay. How do I, the person holding my phone, feel about this association I’ve just met in this way? Here’s a few reasonably likely impressions:

  • They are really interested in email marketing.
  • But not enough to write a longer piece giving me any takeaways beyond the obvious. Like, what is the second-highest day, for example?
  • Maybe they think I am interested in email marketing and can use this information.
  • But why is this the only marketing post in their feed in the last month or so?
  • Even though they tell us “Sunday” and not clickbaity “You won’t believe what day is the WORST to skip in your email marketing …” this still feels a bit like they just want me to click it.
  • What does it mean if I “like” this post?
  • And is it bad if I do, since this post has so many less likes than their other posts?
  • Is there any way to comment on this besides saying “Yes” or arguing with them?
  • If I share this post, what will people think when they see my share?

Perhaps people will just move along so fast and those kinds of thoughts will remain implicit. Whatever happens, it seems like your organization has blown it with this social media user. Your first impression, even if it doesn’t drive me away, certainly doesn’t solicit my continued attention to your social media content. If this is the first time I found your Facebook page, would this kind of post make me “like” your page?

What would it take for me to stay for a bit, to interact, to return?

How about a recent Instagram post: “#TBT to the trade show floor! What we    about [it] is that you’ll see smiles and hugging each day! How many smiles and hugs can you see in this picture?” that is accompanied by a picture of the event? Am I going to look for smiles and hugs? If I see them am I going to like the image? Here are some additional things I might think, if I pause to look at the smiles:

  • This organization seems to like their event.
  • The people at this event seem to like their event.
  • In fact, some of those smiles and hugs are awkward. This is not staged.
  • Someone at this organization is spending the time to create original content.
  • This original content does not drive me immediately to something that will measure my click rate. It just exists for me here.
  • There’s a lot of people liking this post.

We need to stop building roads and actually build the destinations at the end. We have to stop designing only for clicks and not people. The first post we looked at is a road (except for the small number of people who happen to be passionate about email marketing and who found themselves on an association which has nothing to do with that’s page). The second is a destination. It expresses who the association is, and just a bit of its mission and values, while also offering something a bit entertaining (just a bit, but it stands out in a social media stream of roads asking for clicks) but also a touch goofy and awkward. Human.

There are humans on the other side of one of these posts. There are robots behind the other.

None of this is to say that candid shots from the show floor are the next gold mine in association social media. And none of this is to say we can’t have roads (sometimes we have to advertise our events, services, or membership). What it does say is that we should take stock of who our social media presence says we are to people meeting us for the first time. You wouldn’t be reading this if social media wasn’t a critical vector for your association in making new connections (otherwise we’d just rely on our membership email lists we now know we should ping on Sundays!). Pictures? Humor? Video? Behind-the-scenes? Inspiring thoughts? Data? Controversies? There are plenty more potential ingredients. But the final mix is a marketing and public relations decision that should be respected as an outcome, not merely as a vehicle for getting people to click to the “real” marketing.

Many of us have overdone the media part of social media. We need to remember the social. And in the world of associations, isn’t that notion even more fundamental to our goals and missions?

Author Dr. Steven Vrooman, PhD, is Professor at Texas Lutheran University. He received his MA and PhD in communications, writing his thesis on a web-based social movement. His TED Talk, “Our Brains Are A’Twitter,” explored what social media reveals about the ways we have always processed and failed to process information. Learn more and contact him at Learn more about creating meaningful social content at Steven Vroomans’ Tech Talks keynote “Building Sustainable, Strategic Social Media Marketing” on March 22 in Austin. For more information and to register, visit
Photo credit: Dragon Images/

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