Top Insights From Five Social Media Experiments In 2021

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Social Media Experiments

In this article, Amanda Wood, social media marketing manager at Hootsuite, looks at five social media experiments and their results.

According to Hootsuite, more than half a billion new users have joined social media platforms in the past year and the total will reach 4.33 billion by April 2021.

As brands continue to capitalize on the rapid growth of social media, it’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep up with evolving social media and new competition, losing sight of the need to refute assumptions and refine details to better engage with the most important person – the customer.

As the social media marketing team at Hootsuite, we often wonder how different approaches to posting can change the outcome – so we’ve been doing some experiments lately. Through them, we’ve learned a lot that might encourage social media marketers to think about experiments they might want to do themselves, and how they can adjust their own strategies based on our results!

Do links affect engagement and reach in LinkedIn tweets and posts?
Our team conducted experiments on Twitter and LinkedIn to test whether the platforms’ algorithms favor posts with or without external links. Here’s what we found:

Do tweets with links get less engagement and reach?
In our Twitter experiment, we wanted to find out if tweets without links would lead to higher engagement compared to tweets with links. As expected, the unlinked tweets won because many of the linked tweets contained a call to action (CTA).

My colleague Nick Martin explained this perfectly: “When there are no CTAs, there are no expectations. We’re not trying to promote something, we’re just joining the conversation.”

We’ve also found that on Twitter in particular, less means more. Images don’t always increase engagement, and a little personality goes a long way!

Do LinkedIn posts with links get less engagement and reach?
Given that LinkedIn is a professional networking platform – with not a very limited number of characters – we wanted to test the use of external links specific to LinkedIn.

In the experiment, Ian Beeble, Hootsuite’s EMEA social media strategist, found that, on average, posts without links received 6 times more reach than posts with links. However, even though the unlinked posts had lower shares on average, they received nearly 4 times as many responses and 18 times as many comments as the average linked post.

Analyzing the results, he concluded that quality engagement increases organic reach, it’s important to spark conversations on the platform and understand that not all metrics (e.g., shares, comments, likes) are the same on the platform. You need to provide valuable content on LinkedIn.

How effective are “black hat” tricks on Instagram?

Want to buy subscribers on Instagram? Here’s what happens if you do.
Have you ever been followed by a bot? It seems that many small brands or influencers have started using bots in hopes of giving themselves a more legitimate look or getting sponsorships. Paige Cooper explains it simply:

“The idea that you have to have a certain number of subscribers in order to be taken seriously – especially when you’re promoting your brand – has been in the air for years. After all, vanity metrics are all about appearances.”

As 2018 began, it became harder for people to find a reliable vendor to buy subscribers from because Instagram began cracking down on fraudulent third-party apps and bots that violate the terms of service.

Paige decided to try two services, and within 48 hours she had two sets of 1,000 subscribers each, using test accounts on Instagram. However, don’t be surprised that within a week their numbers dwindled, and that buying fake followers is not a good idea because fake followers don’t engage with your content, they are clearly fake (with numbers and random letters), brands regularly use auditing tools and can blacklist you, and Instagram can suspend your account because of a service condition violation.

In the end, it’s not worth the money or the risk. Instead, we recommend tailoring and adapting content, showing your followers something authentic, taking the time to interact with real people on social media (anyone who comments on a post is a great potential interlocutor and an opportunity to connect with a larger community), and keeping up with new IG trends.

The Instagram Automation Experiment: Trying it so you don’t have to try it
Many people have heard about Instagram automation bots and platforms. How well do they really work? Paige Cooper revisited this question and tried several different automation services using test Instagram accounts and found that the number of followers actually gained was negligible – indeed, in some cases, she actually lost followers.

Despite what websites tell us is safe, secure and effective, there is no such thing as a risk-free, legitimate Instagram automation service. In addition, the back-end of these services is clunky and slow, and the advertised support teams are of little help.

All in all, the experiment proved that allocating a budget to bots is highly inefficient.

Does specifying a “link in bio” affect the effectiveness of your Instagram posts?
Continuing our series of Instagram experiments, we tested the effectiveness and impact of using the phrase “link in bio” on the effectiveness of posts on Instagram. Stacy McLachlan used identical images, and captions and dates and times were used to compare captions with the phrase “link in bio” added at the end.

We found that captions containing the “link in bio” worked slightly better than captions without it. Stacey concluded that “you can post links in your bio however you like without fear of retribution from Instagram.”

Key Findings

Based on our social media experiments, we can conclude that audiences on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are hungry for authentic content and meaningful interaction. Black hat tricks don’t work on Instagram, and the data shows the ineffectiveness and risk of using fraudulent third-party apps to achieve quick and short-term results.

Sometimes we forget that social media is supposed to be, well, social! It’s not a one-way megaphone, so stop asking your audience to do things without earning their trust to begin with.

I encourage you to think about what goals you’re trying to achieve on your social platforms, understand who your audience is and what channels they’re on, clearly define what value you’re providing to that audience with your social content, and keep an eye on new features and trends across platforms.

These experiments have also helped shape the way we operate and run our social media at Hootsuite. Social strategies need to be fluid and ever-changing, just like the industry itself.

Last but not least, I highly recommend that you also adopt a test-driven mindset so that you can improve the effectiveness of your social strategy and really understand what your customers want from your social media brand!

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