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The 80-20 Rule of Social Media Marketing, And Why It’s Wrong

The 80-20 rule of Social Media Marketing is wrong.

There, I said it.

Now, in defense of us marketers, we didn’t always know it was wrong. In fact, we were often told it was right, and that we should always follow it when planning our content. We often even recommended it to others as if it was right. Some of us are even still recommending it.

But it’s wrong.

If you’re not familiar, the 80-20 rule says, in effect, that every 8 out of 10 pieces of content that you push out should be “non-promotional” (i.e. from someone else besides your brand, and/or about something else besides your brand), and the remaining 2 should be “promotional” (i.e. from your brand, and/or about your brand).


fV_Ban 80-20


Three Reasons Why The 80-20 Rule of Social Media Marketing Is Wrong.

  1.  Dividing content that is pushed out by your brand into promotional and non-promotional is nonsense; just a semantic shell game. It’s all promotional.
  2.  Any formula that has anything to do with creative content is always wrong. Period.
  3.  You can’t regulate, standardize, or codify balance.

The first item is, to me, is an obvious marketing truism. It’s all promotional. The second goes beyond even marketing; it’s a universal truism. And as to that last one, that’s something I learned from the wine industry. Want to know what wine people really think when your first comment on a wine is about the alcohol level on the label? Hint: It’s not what you’d like to believe. They don’t think you’re insightful, penetrating, and discriminating; they think you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because anyone who knows anything about wine knows it’s all about balance. And balance is by definition contextual.




Generative vs. Curatorial Balance

Instead of Promotional vs. Non-Promotional, consider it this way: Generative vs. Curatorial. The former is that which you create and share, the latter is that which you find and share.

To understand this, consider “Curatorial” in light of the brick-and-mortar understanding of a curator. A curator seeks to establish a specific reputation for a specific organization, by virtue of that which they find, and share, on behalf of that organization. In the case of a museum or gallery curator, they make their mark in the art world by virtue of the art they choose to exhibit. This is Strategic Curation. (And note, it is a creative endeavor. A different sort, admittedly, than that of the “artist,” but a creative endeavor nonetheless.)

This is why I prefer Generative vs. Curatorial to Promotional vs. Non-Promotional. Because, as noted above, it’s all promotional.

Now, back to balance. Specifically, The 4 Ms of Content Balance.




The 4 Ms of Content Balance

When I consult with a new client about their social media program, the first things we talk about are THEIR goals, because they are what will drive the ultimate balance we’ll be pursuing. No social media program can succeed unless it’s directly and sensitively calibrated to the mission and goals of the business. As a really simplified way of understanding this, here are a couple of obvious generalizations: if your brand is all about thought leadership, you’re going to need a great deal of generative output. Conversely, if you’re involved with trade shows, you better be strong on curatorial. M1: The Mission.

Once you get into curation, caution is advised. Why? Because there is no such thing as “neutral curation.” Mind you, a share is not necessarily an endorsement in the traditional sense (in that by sharing, you’re not necessarily saying, “I agree with this”), but it is a statement about your brand. So it’s thin ice to skate on, but played well, it can be amazing. (Remember too, that reciprocity goes a long way in social!). Plus, in our post-post-post-modern world, we are defined not by who we are, but what we surround ourselves with. In consumer advertising theory, this is the “we are what we buy” mantra that gave us “lifestyle brands.” In social media, this quickly becomes, “we are what we share.” Thus, aggregation IS messaging. M2: The Message.

When approaching curation, there are additional layers of nuance to consider that go beyond simple questions of “who wrote it” and “where did it come from.” Consider platform specificity: what works on one platform may not fly on another. Simple example again, but a curated work heavy on irony may play well on Facebook but die on LinkedIn, and a tweet pointing back to your own blog may generate real engagement, while a tweet pointing back to your own case study may not. The point being is that, contrary to Marshall McLuhan’s famous maxim, the medium is not actually the message. But, it will affect it; meaning, the medium impacts the message. M3: The Medium

Most important of all, are the people, and the space. WHO are you marketing to? Who are they? Where are they? What do they do? Where do they do it? Who do they do it with? Who do they talk about it with before, during, and after? This is the source material of Strategic Targeting, and social media is all about strategic targeting. Meaning, if you don’t know the marketplace, don’t go to market. M4: The Market.


The 80-20 Rule of Social Media Marketing, Translated

I’ll conclude with a bit of advice: if you’re looking to hire someone to work on social media for your brand, and they tell you to embrace the 80-20 rule, be concerned. It’s as simple as that. Because what they’re really telling you is they don’t want to do the real work required to figure out YOUR brand, YOUR demographic, and YOUR strategy.

The point being, there IS no ultimate right answer.

But, there is a right answer for each brand. You just have to figure it out. And no formula, 80-20 or otherwise, is going to do that for you. It’s simply going to take time, trial, and error; define, refine, and finesse. But if you’re willing to work hard, pay attention, and engage in deep-dive listening and learning, you’ll get it. You’ll find the right content balance.

About the Author:

Mark is the founder and ceo of HRmarketer.

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