Social monetization is not a cut and dry proposition. It can involve many layers and a lot of trial and error to implement effectively. It is however, completely possible, contrary to what you may believe.
When thinking about social media monetization, there are two things in particular which almost need to be pounded into one’s head in order to be effective at it. The first is Optimization, across a broad array of metrics. You can break some of these metrics down by asking a series of rational questions:
How many followers do I have?
How many of them do I reach on a weekly basis (via social media, email or in person)?
Out of those people, how many do I drive to a platform I can monetize like my website, or iTunes?
Out of those people, what are my conversion rates, meaning how many people actually buy something or sign-up to a mailing list?
We can keep going even further and ask how many different types of products am I selling and what are my margins on those products?
The goal again here is optimization across all of these metrics, and there are of course many other similar questions that you could ask. Each metric itself has a number of optimization strategies that can be attached to it at any time to maximize results.
For example, if you want to reach more people every week, you can increase the amount of content you post, and use types of content that seem to get more attention such as videos. Some strategies, like this one, are rather obvious and others not so much. Sometimes there are tools you can use that will help optimize metrics, possibly just by making your life easier so you can do more. There are so many variables involved in this process. The trick is to try to explore as many as you can find and to layer optimizations on top of eachother. I never said optimization was easy.
Many of these metrics though are interrelated, and so an optimization in one department can be a win for the whole team that can have effects in other areas down the road. Keep that in mind. It’s a pursuit that bears fruit if done right. Overall there is no magic formula that will work for everyone. Every situation and every following is different, and if it’s not a daily work in progress, you may be doing it wrong. That might be why it works at all.
The other thing that has to be mentioned when talking about social monetization is Call to Action. It also seems rather obvious but is often forgotten or mis-used. A CTA could be anything from watch my new film, to enter my giveaway, to buy this cool shirt. Ideally your call to action is related to a monetizable business objective in some way.
Here is the key: If you’re releasing your content without a CTA, and you want to monetize it, you’re throwing that content away. It’s like casting your bait into the ocean without a hook. Worth noting, before you get a hook, I advise that you create a great experience to bring people to and that you have your products ready to buy, but if all of that is taken care of, you absolutely need some hooks (CTAs).
Facebook actually has CTAs built into their video platform. At the end of a Facebook video, you’re able to place a “Call to Action Button”. They give you a list of general CTA’s that you can use like Learn More, Watch More, Shop Now and others. I’m sure you’ve seen them. The key to the CTA really though is the link to your chosen monetizable platform.
Actually if you can skip the awkward verbal CTA and somehow allude to what you want people to do based on a photo or a video or some other content that you post, then even better, as long as you leave the link in the description! Facebook actually instructs that you do it this way on their blog. If you are too blatant about your CTA, Facebook’s algorithm can spot it and can shoot it down further in the newsfeed. Again, trial and error and optimization are your friends.
Hopefully by now you’ve noticed that this whole process is similar to something you’ve seen before – a sales funnel. It’s exactly that, it’s just that social media, like the internet in general, has its own rules. It can however be a great tool to drive conversions and Facebook at least has been solidly shown to convert, especially (not surprisingly) when using their ad model, but even when not (I promise I am in NO way affiliated with Facebook the company!).
I have personally logged data for thousands of dollars in transactions that were directly attributed to social media and have logged data for thousands of mailing list subscribers directly attributed to social as well. Again, if you make great content and you have an active fan base, Optimization and Calls to Action are how it’s done.
When it comes to how much you can make from social, that is a different story. From my estimates, the number to really shoot for for online following numbers is about 100k to really be able to sustainably support yourself and a small team. For example, if you can get 10% of those people to subscribe to a mailing list, and 10-20% of those people (1-2% of your entire following) to spend $100 or more/year, you’re doing pretty well. Other interesting metrics I’ve heard within the industry say that if you can get 1 million Youtube views per month, you can do just fine.
Now notice all of this hinges on if you have an active fan base. This is maybe the one problem that you cannot just optimize away. I’d love to say that it all has to do with the quality of your content, but that is not entirely true either. It’s a subject that I feel is not talked about enough and really deserves to be explored.
When it comes to reaching potential followers, whether via social media or search engines, there exists a hidden bias written right into the code itself. This bias stems from the machine learning algorithms used by companies like Google and Facebook who dominate content discovery. Machine learning is everywhere, and we should all be grateful that it is. It makes our systems more secure and weeds out unwanted bugs in so many products we use everyday.
However machine learning has an inherent data bias. It requires an input of data in order to learn anything in the first place. This bias, when it comes to applications like showing living individuals search results or newsfeed content, can play a crucial role.
Companies and creators who are bigger, have been around longer, and have more money behind them, have more data linked to them on the web. A post from a famous musician has thousands of likes and comments and shares. This all amounts to data which the machine learning algorithm uses for recommendation.
What this creates is a rather uneven content discovery environment, and in fact when it comes to creator discovery, this type of recommendation could hardly be called discovery at all. It does not allow you to discover new creators that you’ve never heard of, or that few others have, unless that creator has substantial budgets behind them, to essentially buy data. It simply allows you to “discover” content from creators you already know about.
Think about how google works. You can’t just do a search for “Good Music” and find what you’re looking for (Kanye lovers excluded). You have to already know what you’re looking for specifically, or like with Pandora, you need to already have some artists that you like in mind. Again though, how did you come to like these artists? Most likely they are already big and have huge budgets behind them. Pandora also has other layers of bias like a limited library of content (mostly likely from artists that data biased machine learning algorithms have determined people listen to the most).
So for new creators and new brands, especially independent ones with small budgets and little existing followings, it’s a pretty tough road to haul, and in order to effectively monetize via social media you really need to have that following to convert.
The only real hope is that people start to use alternatives to pure machine learning algorithms for content discovery, which could potentially mean moving away from the Facebook newsfeed. Because alternatives are completely possibly, and because it is still so early in the social media epoch, I am confident that alternatives will arise. It seems for now the most important thing creators can do is to continue to make great content, continue to build your following as much as you can, optimizing along the way, and make sure you are ready for potentially an entirely new wave of online discovery to come about. Who knows, it could be here any day now.
– Dante Carmelo Cullari – CEO/CTO – ZYX Integrated Technologies Inc, founder of the former MusicWithoutLabels.com blog and software engineer and social media strategist for creators of all kinds, from indie artists to Grammy winners. Dante@thezyx.com