Anything but simple: Picking through soup of social media

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This article originally appeared on Media Post.

When social media platforms first emerged, they embraced simplicity and were defined by the technology they used.

The rules of Twitter were absolute: you had 140 characters or less to microblog, text only. Facebook was a directory that required a college email address to sign-up. This all seemed clear at the time.

In some ways, social media is the victim of its own success. It completely redefined how we communicate, and created a monster in the process. Now, chasing growth, channels amass content and add features that seem more about keeping up with trends than delivering a unique user experience.

Our annual study ranked social media as the second most complicated industry in the world, just above health insurance.

More and more, it feels like we can do anything on any platform: Add a face filter on Instagram. Wish Happy Birthday on LinkedIn. Read the news on Snapchat. It’s social soup, with users more confused than ever.

Effective branding provides a foundation to help consumers understand a company and its actions. It’s the red thread that connects a specific “what” you’re doing to the “why” you exist in the first place. Here are three examples of how big social media platforms are becoming complex:

Twitter: The Voice of the People? The bird dropped 21 spots in our 2018 World’s Simplest Brand’s ranking. The Twitter brand value has always been about free speech, period: “We believe in free expression and think every voice has the power to impact the world.”

The company’s values are rooted in providing a democratic information highway accessible to all, and it recently took  steps to make Twitter a positive experience for everyone.

Still, when it revised its default algorithm to promote the tweets that it considers most relevant to a particular user, it altered its brand positioning in a significant way. Elevating certain tweets over others questions what “every voice” means. It’s now the “voices that matter to you,” leaving one study respondent to say, “I don’t even know what this brand stands for anymore.”

Facebook: It’s Complicated. Among other things, Facebook’s year earned it the distinction as one of the most complicated social media brands in the study. Last year it shifted its mission statement from “making the world more open and connected” to “bringing the world closer together” — but nothing in its reality actually reflects this statement. People’s complaints focus on the platform’s not being “transparent” or “straightforward” and “only caring about expanding their own powers.” Nobody knows why Facebook is doing what it’s doing, and they don’t like it.

Pinterest: The Pin Drops. Pinterest, which is growing rapidly, fell furthest in terms of simplicity. In 2017, it ranked 54. This year it sank to 108. As it manages growth, “the world’s catalog of ideas” must give users a good sense of why, when and how to best utilize the platform.

Across the complex social spectrum of brands, it’s clear that every platform change, every add-on, impacts consumer perception — yet another reminder that brands should keep it simple.

Jenna Isken is senior strategist at Siegel+Gale. 

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