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The Conjoint Effect: From friends to “for you,” how creator-led content is changing social media


Change is constant.

That is the only certainty in life. It’s interesting how many said social media was a disruptive force to big, traditional broadcast media. That it would replace it— only to one day become just like it.

Wait, what?

As Avi Gandhi recently hypothesized on LinkedIn:

In the early days of the Creator Economy, we used social platforms to connect socially. The dichotomy between our friends’ posts and content creators’ posts was blurry, and we felt like Creators were our friends too.

The improvement of production quality and rise of all manner of monetization tool have caused that blurry line to sharpen. Creator content keeps getting better, and is more obviously economically-driven, such that Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and Instagram are now more media networks than social networks.

Today, we as users are less concerned about keeping up with friends and family on social media, and are instead more interested in being entertained or educated—the same way we were when we were reliant on television to pass the time.

Knowing where we might be headed, what should senior marketing execs do as a result of all of these changes? Should you:

A.  Put all your emphasis into treating social as a content channel like old media?
B.  Continue posting content and copy similar to how social has always been, leading with brand content?
C.  Pause and learn about the Conjoint Effect in order to map a new strategy altogether?

But what is the Conjoint Effect and why am I hearing about this for the first time? And why should all marketers understand it and its impact on social media strategies right now?

Because it will help you move beyond being an imitator. And become an innovator.

What is the Conjoint Effect?

The Conjoint Effect is a theory that people, brands, celebrities and content creators are all acting like each other and stealing each other’s tricks (and in many cases, sadly, their content).

But why is this important for marketers to understand?

Mental availability drives fame for a brand. And yet, too many are just copying what everyone else is doing. This worked for a long time—until now. Let’s rewind.

For much of the golden era of social media (2007-2015), social media was about connection, interaction and engagement along a social graph. We got updates from people mainly in the form of text status updates and some photos. We knew these people. As a result, we trusted them. This was the early part of the influencer and creator economy. One where connections were highly valuable.

But then the “For You” feed took over and has led us where we have begun to trust complete strangers on the web, as long as those strangers have credibility and clout. The Conjoint Effect is an overthrow of past ways social has worked. One where it’s more aligned to an interest graph, focused on interests and ideas. This puts pressure on brands to start making content that rises above the signal to noise ratio. A memorable “meal” over junk food so to speak. As a result of this, brands need to make the following pivot:

  • Past: Brands are people, and should behave like them on social media. Sounding human, being authentic, being relatable.
  • Future: Brands aren’t people, and should behave where they provide value on social media. Even if this value comes in the form of entertainment or humor.

As more of the social web moves in this direction, what should you do moving forward as we cross the chasm?

A data visualization detailing how brands need to evolve their social content from appearing

3 ways to upgrade your social media strategy around the Conjoint Effect

If the “For You” feed becomes the norm on every platform and we see less content from people we’re connected to and more from new creators, influencers and brands we’re not following, what is the best way to adjust to this new world? Let’s start with…

1. A listening strategy to help identify content trends for lookalike audiences and similar brands to yours

The best way to figure out what you want to be at the intersection of the Conjoint Effect is to look and see what other creators are making for audiences similar to yours. This is NOT to copy what they are doing, but rather to figure out what you should be doing that grabs attention. Remember, audiences have many choices now. Why will they pick you? Gather the information. From here…

2. Identifying trends to leapfrog into unique content creation

Most companies start and stop with number one. They find the trends based on what others are doing, mimic it, remix it a bit and serve it up. Here’s where you need to move beyond them. Remember, you need to drive mental availability. You can’t do that when you sound, look and dress like everyone else. One thing to do when pulling social listening report is to find the “hidden nuggets” of things that aren’t trends with your audience but could be. This will give you an advantage in terms of original ideas. Good examples of brands going beyond what others are doing include Marc Jacobs, Duolingo, Airbnb and Mailchimp to name a few. Ultimately from here you get into…

3. Creating a flywheel effect that helps you get into a habit of creation

You find your groove. You go back to step one, but to gather data to help you differentiate. Yes, you may start making things with competitor lookalike audiences in mind, but you ultimately move beyond that. You become the brand everyone wants to imitate. You become a brand everyone references in “best practices” presentations. A few ways to do this beyond groundbreaking social content? Following a consistent tone, style, visual identity, voice and branding in your posts that provides value over solely promotion of your products and services.

And once you do this, you reach a nirvana state. Like the band, everyone talks about you. You sprout a whole new way that people look at how content is made for social media. You become the innovator, and everyone else becomes your imitator. You end up on many FYPs without ever amassing many friends or followers.

You become “Must See Social.”

Looking for examples of brands cutting through the noise on social? Check out our Post Performance Report series

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