Reminder: It’s OK To Break Up With an Underperforming Social Media Channel

By Sarah K Perlman
July 19, 2022

How many of us have been broken up with? How many of us have ever broken up with someone? It’s easy to say that being broken up with is the worse position to be in, but the truth is that breaking up is hard, right? Even if you know it’s not a good relationship, there are always feelings involved. The same is true for your association’s relationship with each of its social media channels.

Last year, I stumbled across a 2018 article from Time magazine that outlines “How to Know When It’s Time to Let Go of Someone You Love.” As I was reading it, I started thinking about how each of their red flags could be applied to social media. (I know you’re thinking how in the world did you connect those two? I have no idea!)

I’ll throw out the caution that there are a lot of considerations when you’re analyzing social media performance. None of these points are absolute. But these relationship red flags can be indicators that a channel isn’t right for you anymore (if it ever was in the first place).

Red Flag #1: Your needs aren’t being met

Every platform has analytics that can show you how much engagement you’re getting and usually who it’s coming from. If this data doesn’t line up with your KPIs and target audience, something’s gotta give.

For example: A legal organization has channels on tons of platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok. They’re concerned because they invested a lot of time in starting their Snapchat account because the Board of Directors heard it was where all the cool kids are. Staff is constantly wracking their brains trying to figure out what to share, but they get minimal engagement every time and aren’t seeing growth in their follower count.

Brown hand holding a smartphone

Every social media channel you are using as part of your content strategy should be a key player. Some platforms just aren’t a good fit for a particular organization’s target audience or brand identity. If you’ve optimized your content and one of your channels still isn’t pulling its weight, it could be time to pull the plug.

ACTION ITEM: Take a closer look at your content strategy.

  • Is the tone of the channel aligned with your brand identity?
  • Is your messaging conveying the value you can provide?
  • Are you only on this channel to appease the wishes of stakeholders outside the marketing department?

In this example, I’d recommend creating a dashboard of analytics. Track the time you spend developing content for each channel. Tally up the marketing dollars spent (including salaries) on keeping each channel alive and compare that to their engagement rates. Present the dashboard to the BOD and make a compelling argument for dropping the channel.

Red Flag #2: You’re seeking those needs from others

Are you considering cheating on your Twitter account? Dreaming about that hot little TikTok platform that everyone is joining? If your other channels are performing well and reaching your intended audience but one stands out, something’s not right.

For example: Let’s say you’re planning marketing for a pediatric dental association and one of the associations business goals is outreach to the children themselves. You want to run social media campaigns showing kids why it’s cool to brush their teeth, floss, and fight cavities. Your association only has a Twitter account and a Facebook account.

Laptop with speech bubbles coming out like tweets

ACTION ITEM: Investigate the channel’s demographics.

  • Is your target audience present here?
  • What kind of engagement should you expect?
  • Are there industry or demographic benchmarks to guide you?

Spoiler alert: Kids are not on Twitter. I have a 10-year-old and he has no idea what Twitter even is. It might as well be a rotary phone! Children under 17 only account for around 7% of Twitter users. Compare this to TikTok, where almost a third of users are under 19. If your audience is absent or disengaged on a particular channel, you shouldn’t be on it.

Red Flag #3: You’re scared to ask for more from your partner

Admittedly, this one doesn’t translate as well to social media channels. The closest analogy I could come up with is user experience. If it’s cumbersome or annoying to use, that channel might not be worth it.

For example: One of my clients has recently started a TikTok account, and it is a HUGE pain to review and approve videos before they are posted. Even if each user is logged into the same TikTok account, their drafts are only visible to them. So we tried screen captures and recordings and putting them into an AirTable to track approvals. But then sometimes the recordings won’t play on our computer systems. It’s just a huge hassle.

workflow chart in pink

ACTION ITEM: Evaluate user experience for administrators.

  • How easy is it to use and understand?
  • Are there tools or processes you can use to make it easier (schedulers, etc.)?
  • What does the workflow look like for your team?

Money isn’t the only ROI you need to be worried about. Time is a finite resource! If you’re unsure of how to use a channel effectively or spending lots of time trying to figure it out, it may be time to go. I’m not ready to give up on TikTok yet, but I’m hoping that as more businesses adopt it, the feedback will reach the powers that be and an easier workflow will be developed for teams.

Red Flag #4: Your friends and family don’t support your relationship

You need buy-in from your leadership and your marketing team to be able to devote the necessary resources to maintaining a consistent presence. Without this support, you’ll have a hard time getting the results you need for the channel to be effective and worth your time.

For example: I’m beating the TikTok horse to death a little bit here, but it’s the most recent big player to hit the social media scene! And because of its nature, it wasn’t widely accepted as a potential business outlet at first. It still isn’t really the place for B2B marketing unless you’re able to really hone in on content that resonates with your purchasing manager persona. However, now that more and more businesses are thinking of joining, it can be a tough sell to the Board of Directors.

hand holding a smartphone with a tiktok video symbol

ACTION ITEM: Research best practices for your industry and perform a competitive analysis.

  • What are the businesses in your industry doing?
  • Is there existing content that speaks to your members?
  • Are there any major players that you can model your strategy on?

If it’s a channel that you truly believe has potential, present all the research behind your conviction. If you think your association could really benefit from having a presence on TikTok or Snapchat, it’s your job as a marketing leader to present the facts. But if you can’t get buy-in and approval to devote resources to a channel, you’re better off sitting this one out.

Red Flag #5: You feel obligated to stay with your partner

Maintaining the status quo is never a good reason to do anything blindly – whether it’s continuing to post on a social media channel or staying in grad school despite a career change.

For example: You just started working at a national membership organization and their existing strategy is best described as throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. You want to quit Facebook and Twitter, but your predecessors have already invested thousands of marketing dollars in establishing these channels.

bar chart with dollar signs around it

ACTION ITEM: Review the channel’s analytics and measure performance quantitatively.

  • Followers are great, but how engaged are they? Do you have a loyal group that likes, shares, and comments on your posts or a group of lurkers that regularly scroll past your content?
  • Is the percentage of engaged followers increasing over time or decreasing?

“This is the way we’ve always done things” is a morale killer! Separate the feelings from the data and make an informed decision on whether to continue. If making such recommendations would put you in an awkward position, suggest having a marketing audit done with an objective third party who can look at the facts and make a strategic recommendation on whether to continue.

Red Flag #6: You’ve been working on your relationship for more than a year

OK this one deviates from social just a tiny bit, but it is closely related. And I actually don’t consider it a completely red flag – this one is maybe a yellow caution flag.

According to the Ahrefs blog, only 10% of marketers DON’T use content marketing. That tells you how prevalent it is in today’s strategic marketing. And most of us publish our content on our blogs – again, not a social media channel! But if you’re following an integrated marketing strategy, it’s all connected.

For example: In 2019, another one of my clients started a new blog in addition to their existing one. After 2.5 years, the newer blog still had less than 50 subscribers. In addition, it wasn’t ranking on pages 1-5 of Google. The executive team was convinced that it wasn’t worth the time and human resource allocation to keep the blog going when people “obviously” weren’t finding it valuable – and they wanted to just scrap the whole thing.

laptop with blog on screen

ACTION ITEM: Review Google Analytics data for entrances, sources, and time on page.

  • How are people finding your blog? Which social channels do the heavy lifting?
  • How long are people spending reading your blog posts?
  • What actions do they take after visiting the blog?

Ranking for Google is like trying out for an NFL team: there are only so many spots, and even fantastic players won’t make the team. That doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastic, nor does it mean they should give up on football altogether. There IS an audience out there that needs your content. It’s up to you to find them.

That means every time a blog post comes out, you’re promoting it on social media – maybe even with paid ads. You’re optimizing the blog with SEO keywords and building a pillar page strategy to establish domain authority. You’re including calls to action with messaging that converts – and testing that messaging and refining it if it’s not working.

If you’ve considered all these points and have been putting the right amount of time, effort, and strategic intent behind your blog and you’re not moving the needle AT ALL after a year, THEN this is a red flag.

Red Flag #7: You don’t like your partner

You might think, “well obviously—if you don’t like it, don’t do it!” Sounds pretty simple, but if all signs point to yes – your target audience is present and engaged, the platform fits with your brand identity, and it’s advancing your business goals – it would be hard to give it up. So I’d say this one is another yellow flag.

For example: Facebook came to my school during my senior year of college. (For any Gen Zers out there, it started as a school-based platform and you had to wait until it was available at your school.) I’m of the Facebook generation – it’s what I know, it’s what I’m used to, and it’s where I’m comfortable. That said, I have never really gotten Twitter. I signed up for it back in 2010 or 2011, but I never really did much with it besides make a joke about the music in the grocery store. (Have you every heard a Peabo Bryson song anywhere else?!)

hand holding smartphone with Twitter feed

ACTION ITEM: Dig deep into what you don’t like about a particular channel.

  • Is it one of the reasons we’ve previously discussed, like user experience?
  • Did something in your personal life affect your view of the platform?
  • Was it mandated to you instead of adoption being your idea?

In my case, I am a writer and a talker, and I feel personally attacked when I am restricted to 280 characters to get my point across. You’ve got to figure out what it is that you don’t like about it and decide if it’s a dealbreaker (or out of your hands completely).

How do I break up the right way?

Just like in personal relationships, you need to be firm but kind when you’re breaking up with a social media channel. And what I mean by that is a two-part approach: Consider giving some warning to your followers, then shut it down.

hands holding a broken heart

Your first instinct might be to preserve what’s there and leave the account dormant but alive because of all the hard work you’ve already invested in it. This is not worth it for 3 reasons:

  1. You need to live in the now. Who goes back and looks at past social media posts? It’s all about living in the now! If you use stories, half the content you create isn’t available for long anyway.
  2. SEO is not a factor. If you’re wondering about the SEO possibilities of coming up in a search – which I was, and I looked into it – it’s unlikely that an old account would help much. Your social media accounts WILL show up in a Google search of your brand name or username, and people ARE likely to follow those links. But, according to Neil Patel, Google does not look at social signals when determining search rank. It MIGHT see them as signs of authority, but it’s much more likely that a user will visit your idle page and be turned off by the impression that you’re unengaged with your audience. It’ll hurt your brand’s reputation.
  3. Marie Kondo that sh*t. If you’ve gotten to the point of discontinuing your efforts on a channel, you need to take notes from Marie Kondo. If it’s no longer sparking joy, thank it for the time you spent together and then get rid of it.

The final word

Consider giving some notice to your current followers just in case they notice you’re gone. Chances are that they won’t notice – how often do you notice if someone unfriends you on Facebook? I guarantee it happens and you don’t even know! But if you’re worried about losing them, post a message announcing that you’re leaving the channel as of a specific date and let them know where else they can follow you. No need to give reasons!

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