Communication: How to reclaim relevance on social media for 2019

Sharon O’Dea

Sharon O’Dea

Article by Martin Paludan & Sharon O’Dea

In 2018 many people have re-considered their love-hate relationship with social media following the scandals surrounding Facebook. Digital strategist and award-winning thought leader on social media Sharon O’Dea recommends that communicators and marketers try and do the same for 2019:

 “We can’t retreat from social, even when it seems like a big mess. If we do, the conversation will go on without us. We can only aim towards building trust by being relevant and not resorting to shouting-tactics.”

 To Sharon the choice for communicators is quite obvious:

 “Think of it this way. Would you rather be speaking to 10 people who are sitting right in front of you, hanging on your every word? Or shouting at 500 people walking past you, where the best you can hope for is a glance?”

Relevance instead of reach isn’t an entirely new claim, but listening to Sharon, 2019 might be the year where communicators will have increased motivation to live by the values we preach.

Re-thinking our investment in social media

Facebook is by no means dead and buried - but it’s changed, and brands need to adapt to how the platform in used today. Commercial pressures mean organic reach has dwindled still further, while Facebook have tweaked their algorithm towards less company content and more content from friends. In short: it’s now next to impossible to get reach for brand content without paying for it. But the rich data the company holds on consumers means this paid amplification can prove a worthwhile investment if well-targeted.

 The Cambridge Analytica scandal this year has led to people losing trust in the platform and being more mindful of what they share. This has led to a shift away from public posts to more private modes of sharing such as Stories and Messenger.

 On the face of it, this makes little sense; Facebook’s collecting data on you whether you’re sharing via wall posts or Messenger. And don’t forget Instagram and WhatsApp are owned by the same social behemoth.

 But the shift in user behaviour means these platforms are of growing interest for communicators and marketers.


People now spend more time in messenger apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp than they do on social networks. Brands can leverage this by bringing their messaging into these channels.

Messenger holds many advantages over advertising in the Facebook feed while offering the same measurement tools and targeting capabilities that communicators and marketers have grown accustomed to with Facebook.

The bonus of Facebook Messenger is that it allows communicators and marketers to interact more directly with both existing and potential customers. The potential is nicely summed up with these numbers from a 2018 survey:

  • 2 billion messages are sent between people and businesses each month.

  • 53% of people are more likely to shop with a business they can message directly.

  • 56% of people would rather message than call customer service.


Unlike Facebook, Instagram is still growing rapidly. In 2018 Instagram has gone up from 800 million to more than a billion users, which actually tends to suggest that people are choosing Instagram as an alternative to Facebook.

One of the interesting things about Instagram is related to the types of content. Where Facebook has in the last couple of years been heavily geared towards video, Instagram is still centered on pictures:

“Publishers shifted their resources away from words and pictures to video after Facebook’s stats showed this type of content generated vastly greater engagement. It’s since transpired this advice was based on poor data. Video isn’t the magic bullet that has been claimed.  But this measurement scandal has further damaged Facebook’s reputation with marketers”.

Consumer preference for ‘snackable’ content that doesn’t demand attention in the way video does explains the continued growth of Instagram.

 “Instagram is still very geared towards pictures, and along with the filters, this adds to a somewhat more harmonious experience - another thing that Facebook really isn’t capable of delivering these days. Instagram is also still largely free from the sort of political content that has made Facebook and especially Twitter a toxic place for so many people to spend their time”

Influencers is still an underused area

Sharon recognizes that we have been talking about influencers for some time, but many organizations still haven’t realized the full potential of having trustworthy people speaking on your behalf:

“Even though we have been talking about paid influencers for several years now, it is a highly underused area in many industries. Influencers is a very easy way to find and engage with a relevant audience, while at the same time building the sort of credibility around your brand that paid advertising. People are more likely to recall and believe a message when it comes from someone they know personally”

Social amplification networks

Influencers - either paid or engaged through a quid pro quo programme - can build credibility if we manage to tailor messages that create the impression that the influencer actually does like the brand - and not just the money they are getting paid for liking it.

“Another area where communicators in 2019 might see an even bigger return on investment is social amplification - that is, sharing your external messaging with your own staff so that they can share it with their networks, generating greater reach and impact than company pages will ever get.”

Social amplification platforms such as Social Chorus or LinkedIn Elevate provide new promising opportunities for sharing. LinkedIn Elevate allows communicators to feed content to employees and at the same time enabling the very same employees to easily share that content on LinkedIn. All within the same application. This allows communicators to distribute a mixture of internal and external content to employees. Potentially empowering the employees and transforming them from cogs in a roaring sharing machine to gatekeepers who decide what is valuable, and should be shared externally, as well as to what extent. Quite possibly resulting in much more authentic sharing.

Social amplification tools take the friction out of finding and publishing content for both companies and employees. As Sharon puts it:

 “People can be nervous about being an advocate for their company online. They worry they’re sharing the wrong thing, or they’re not fully on message. A good social amplification programme isn’t just about bringing tools in, but ensuring there’s a true value exchange for all parties. Companies can help their staff to build their digital footprint and profile, positioning themselves as experts and sharing useful content with their contacts to maintain relationships with clients and contacts.”

 In many ways creating relevance on social media in 2019 could be seen as a question of reaching customers through the people who are actually relevant to them.  

PS: You can meet Sharon at the Boye 19 Brooklyn conference in May