Stop Chasing Your Social Media Tail

I am officially old. I know this because I am confused by Snapchat. When I try to understand the appeal of this newfangled app, I most closely resemble my grandmother trying to understand her television remotes. But time and technology wait for no woman, and the youths continue to embrace Snapchat with the vim and vigor they are known for. (Did I mention that my joints ache?)

Technically, I'm still in the coveted 18- to 34-year-old marketing demographic. I've got another couple of years before all you marketers stop fighting so hard for my attention (and my dollars). From a purely practical point of view, I've never understood the clamor for youth dollars-mostly because they don't have any money. Sure, they're wanton spenders, but they don't have much money to begin with. And I'm not the only one who calls into question the time-honored tradition of chasing 18 to 34 year olds. According to a post on Villing & Company's blog, "By 2010, 50 percent of all consumer spending in America will be by people over the age of 50." In fact, that 50-plus age demographic already outspends the 18-34 group by more than $1 trillion per year. That's a lot of money.

Still, you'll hear that Facebook is dying because teens are abandoning it for Snapchat, while their parents and grandparents continue to Like photos and play FarmVille on the granddaddy of social media sites. Business Insider put together a report about Snapchat, urging businesses to get in early (you know, before the teens leave for the next big thing). Sure, adopting new platforms is important-but only when it makes sense.

According to a University of Washington study, "Sex, Lies, or Kittens? Investigating the Use of Snapchat's Self-Destructing Messages," about 60% of users 18 and older report using the app for sharing "funny content," with selfies coming in second. And let's not forget that the content disappears after being viewed. Could some brands use the fleeting nature of Snapchat content to their benefit? Yes. Funny and interesting images could be used to grab users' attention, but then it's gone. I'd venture a guess that, more often than not, brands would still post those same (or similar) images on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest-where the half-life of your marketing content extends exponentially.

Despite the University of Washington's focus on adults, most of Snapchat's users are between the ages of 13 and 25. That's right: A good portion of the users can't even drive themselves to the mall-although, they may be able to order items on Amazon using mommy's credit card. While I certainly don't mean to discourage forward-thinking brands from becoming early adopters of new platforms (social and otherwise), I do mean to raise a caution flag.

Social media marketing went from being something your intern did to something big companies have entire departments dedicated to. People make good livings as social media marketing experts, and every day, there is a new tool to help you manage cross-platform campaigns. All of this is wonderful, but for the majority of businesses, it is not necessary to chase every dime on every new network. In fact, it might be counterproductive.

As our own social media expert, Sean Gelles, once wrote in his EContent column, the keys to an effective social media strategy are communication, community, and conversation. It's hard to do any of those three things-let alone all of them-if you're spread too thin. The entire point of social media is to engage directly with users, building communities of brand advocates that voluntarily share and endorse your products-and to, occasionally, deal with disgruntled customers in a clear and direct manner that leaves them feeling satisfied. It's more important to do that well in one or two places than it is to do a shoddy job across every network you can find.

Focus is the key to doing anything well, and it's no different when you start talking about your social media strategy. Go forth and experiment. Find new ways to use social media to engage your users, but make sure you aren't neglecting the basics and your loyal, dependable users in favor of a flashier demographic.