Unicorns. They sway their shimmering manes this way and that. They have glittery hooves and a beautiful swirly horn. Basically, they’re pretty darn distinctive. Magical, even.

Horses on the other hand, they make neighing sounds. They frolic in the fields and occasionally canter around chewing some grass here and there. They’re nice and all, but they’re no unicorn, y’know?

What’s social media got to do with it?

Social media isn’t quite the same as the traditional channels. It stands out from the herd.

The most incredible aspect of this (still) emerging channel is its reach. People from Tahiti to New York can all engage with a Facebook post or a tweet, and quicker than you can say ‘gone viral’, it’s made its way around the globe in a matter of hours.

And it’s not just the distance it can travel that’s impressive, it’s the sheer number of people it can touch.

It’s got the whole herd in its hooves

It’s estimated that there are 7.4 billion people in the world, with 2.8 billion of them using social media. In Western countries, these figures are even more pronounced and in the UK, 77% of people have a social media account.

This phenomenal reach is the thing that gives social media its magical properties. Facebook alone has 1.65 million active users, meaning that you can reach more than one-fifth of the entire world through just one website. And it’s only been around since 2004, meaning that both it and the way it’s being used are developing at break-neck speed.

So, unicorns, huh…

And what does this all have to do with unicorns? Well, alongside their rather fetching rainbow-plaited manes, unicorns also have magical powers. They’re special.

In business, this limitless potential translates into financials, and in the tech world, a company typically makes it to ‘unicorn’ status when it reaches $1 billion in net worth.

CNN Money recently proposed that one day Facebook could be worth a cool $3 trillion. Even relative newbie Snapchat is already estimated to be worth $16 billion.

But, how does this value translate?

A unicorn of mystery

Unicorns aren’t just known for their lustrous tails, they also have a mythical element to them too. Social media is a bit like that, too. It’s sort of an unknown entity. There’s no guarantees and the landscape is constantly changing. Even the brands consistently kicking avocado see campaigns fall flat now and then.

So, the question is: is social media a breakthrough channel that can really levitate brands to another world? Or, it is just something which looks like it has magical, ethereal potential, but in actual fact, it’s just a pony wearing a glitter-covered fancy dress costume?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter

Social media is what you make it. It might be a magical all-singing, all-dancing pool of endless potential, but a good content strategy covers all of its bases. Whether social media is a so-called unicorn or not, you should treat it as just one aspect of your larger campaign strategy.

According to data from Duke University Fuqua School of Business, the average business spends 9.4% of its marketing budget on social media. And while this is expected to grow to more than a fifth (21.4%) over the next five years, it’s by no means the whole shebang.

Social media is an emerging channel, and while, right now, it looks like a beautiful unicorn full of promise, treat it as though it’s a regular pony and you will still get the benefits, while seeing results from the old reliables (your other channels).

Ben Hollom

March 1, 2017