It’s always tempting to see the present moment as the peak of chaos and disruption, whether we’re talking about politics or just how those teenagers behave today. The same is true in marketing, because in many ways that profession is always in a state of chaos and disruption.

But I don’t think it’s hyperbole to apply “peak chaos and disruption” to social media marketing in the first quarter of 2018. Let’s review just a few of the upheavals we’re experiencing right now in the social media world.

Facebook news feed changes

Sure, Facebook has always tinkered with its news feed algorithm, and organic reach for business pages has been shrinking for years. But no past change can equal the bombshell dropped by Mark Zuckerberg in January, when he announced that Facebook would radically throttle most brand content in the news feed like never before in favor of more content from “friends and family.”

Moreover, there is increasing evidence that young people are abandoning Facebook in favor of more private social networks such as Snapchat and Instagram.

Twitter cracks down on bulk posting

Facing growing criticism for how easily spammers and bots used its platform to push political and hate group agendas, Twitter has announced that as of July 2018 users and third-party apps will no longer be allowed to post the same post to multiple accounts. Also banned will be creating auto-engagements at scale, such as mass-liking or retweeting posts.

Social sharing declines

According to a recent study by social media metrics company Buzzsumo, average social shares per post had declined by 50 percent in 2017 compared to 2015. Their data also demonstrates how quickly most hot topics become saturated with content, resulting in only a relatively few winners getting most of the social shares and links.

The rise of dark social

Dark social isn’t dark in any nefarious way (for the most part). Rather, the “dark” here refers simply to “hidden.” Dark social is all the online social sharing and activity that occurs outside of public social media posts. Examples would be email, private messaging, chat forums, and even good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Dark social can’t be tracked or measured, and therefore it lacks one of the main selling points of digital marketing: the ability to tie results directly to campaigns. Sure, dark social has existed as long as social media, but it is growing rapidly, according to a report by RhythmOne (then RadiumOne), and more and more online sharing and conversations are happening in private.

Influencer abuse and scandals

As the organic reach of traditional brand social posts has declined, influencer marketing was supposed to be our salvation. People still want to see the posts of celebrities and “thought leaders,” so if you could get them to talk about your product, you found a way around the social media throttles.

However, a sopping wet blanket was thrown on the concept due to some well-publicized scandals over the past year. It turned out that many influencers did not really have the reach or influence they claimed, with much of their following being bots or purchased followers. It can be even more damaging when celebrity brand representatives engage in foolish or scandalous behavior that gets reflected onto the brand they hawk.

Ad blindness and blocking

Another potential savior from organic social depression is paid social ads. You can always pay to get to your audience and have the added benefit of knowing you’re reaching a targeted audience, which makes the reach all the more valuable. But two threats loom over even this happy paradise:

  • Ad blindness. There is growing evidence that users are becoming more immune to ads and in many cases are not seeing them at all.
  • Ad blocking. A few years ago, I predicted that ad blockers would never become a major threat because users were too lazy to download and install the software. I was wrong. Very wrong. It turns out that as consumers became more aware they could block ads, they flocked to do it. In addition, more passive ad-blocking options are now available, such as automatic blocking of excessive ads in the Chrome browser.

So is social media marketing dead?

To paraphrase Monty Python, it might appear dead, but it gets better!

As I’ve watched this unfolding situation, I’ve been struck by the similarities to what search engine optimization (SEO) has gone through over the past several years. Gaining organic search traffic used to be relatively easy, especially if you were willing to indulge in gaming the system. Eventually, Google cracked down, and the infamous Penguin and Panda updates (along with others) pretty much killed off the easy pickings.

But despite many predictions to the contrary, SEO not only didn’t die, in some ways it’s healthier than ever. It did change, though.

A pivotal moment for me as a digital marketer was Wil Reynold’s MozCon 2012 talk, “Real Company Stuff.” It was a wake-up call to online marketers that the days of tricks and hacks were coming to an end, and we had to grow up and become real marketers.

That’s what the SEOs who thrived after the Google algorithmic purges did, and it’s what social media marketers should do today. It’s time to grow up into the maturity phase of social media.

Next-generation social media marketing

So, faced with these many disruptions to business as usual (and I only listed a few above), what are we social media marketers to do? How can we grow up and do real company marketing using social media?

Most of us would likely agree that the social audience is still worth our marketing efforts. Social media remains one of the most amazing mass communication devices ever devised by humans. It’s still where…