In an increasingly challenging climate for electronic publishers, content providers, and digital marketers—where the gray clouds of ad blocking, content competition, short-attention-span consumerism, and monetization pressure loom over the horizon—social media is the silver lining. Far from being a fad or gimmick, social media today offers incalculable value for brands to keep users engaged with targeted messages, offers and content—all with an efficiency and expediency that levels the playing field for Davids and Goliaths alike. And the prospects for engagement are tantalizing: Consider that the average user logs 1.72 hours per day on social platforms, comprising 28% of total online activity, according to GlobalWebIndex’s “GWI Social” report.
But optimizing your current opportunities on social media requires keeping tabs on the latest trends, tools, and technologies. This is why looking back at what transpired in this space in 2016, and calculating the possibilities abundant in 2017, can be constructive.
Ask the experts and they’ll tell you that the modus operandi for social media marketers in 2016 was increasingly establishing meaningful connections with consumers. “In today’s landscape, social media has evolved into a forum for users to interact with and find information from influencers and brands,” says Sara Spivey, CMO of Bazaarvoice. “Smart brands prioritize the content their consumers prefer to see—including ratings, reviews, questions, and social posts written by other consumers sharing their honest opinions.”
Indeed, social media has become so pervasive and automatically integrated as a marketing strategy that the words “social media” have taken a backseat to the tools used in this space. “The term ‘social media’ is becoming less used than the social channels that are actually embraced. More marketers will talk about their tactics using Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, etc., than generally referring to social media,” says Jeff Pedowitz, founder and CEO of the Pedowitz Group.
These days, social media is no longer primarily viewed as an engagement channel. “Top sites have solidified a gateway to capture substantial media dollars, and we’ve seen marketers shift a huge percentage of their advertising investment into sites like Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest,” says Susan Frech, CEO and co-founder of Social Media Link.
The Year in Review
Major social media headlines in 2016 included Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn; Twitter allowing for longer videos (up to 140 seconds); Snapchat introducing more features, including geofilters and geostickers; and an accelerated demand for live streaming video services, as evidenced by the rollout of Facebook’s Live, Snapchat’s Live Stories, YouTube Live, and similar capabilities offered by Periscope and Meerkat. “Many social networks are adding some form of video interaction,” says John Francis, director of digital strategy for Hawthorne Direct, who cites Twitter’s rollout of its Moments feature as another example. “This has upped the ante on requiring companies to be more creative in the realm of strategic content and messaging in integrating video into their digital marketing and social campaigns.”
When Facebook changed its newsfeed algorithm this past year to give promotion priority to content posted by users’ family and friends—at the expense of publishers’ posted content—it had enormous implications for businesses. “From a marketing perspective, brands eager to leverage social media learned this year that they would have a harder time breaking through the highly coveted news feed on Facebook,” Frech says. “The translation to marketers is that reach will decline. Brands must look elsewhere to house a direct relationship with consumers.”
Today, social media—primarily in the form of major players such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube—is routinely employed as a major ingredient in the omnichannel mix for both B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers.
“The challenge is still measuring ROI and revenue impact of the social channel, but engagement is tracked very well. However, many marketers still struggle with quantifying the financial benefits that social media can provide,” Pedowitz says. “Also, lack of integration into other marketing platforms, comprehensive reporting, and financial metrics are still major challenges faced by most social media strategies and channels.”
Another uphill battle is overcoming information overload. “There is too much content for any one person to consume,” says Seth Bridges, founder of Rival IQ, who notes that, at any given point, Facebook has more than 1,500 posts awaiting each user. “This leads to three outcomes—ever-changing feed algorithms, constant effort by publishers to improve the quality of their content to appease these feed algorithms, and the rise of paid promotion.” Bridges suggests that good execution and feed algorithms by social networks, coupled with higher-quality content from all publishers, can yield an improving customer experience.
A Look Ahead
Kelley Heider, director of social media for SSPR, predicts that in the coming months, Twitter will likely be sold; LinkedIn will evolve into a more dynamic platform; Apple may introduce its own social media platform; and more brands will flock to Snapchat. “Also, social media share of voice will become more central to evaluating success,” Heider says. “From a reporting standpoint, we are largely moving away from what some clients consider ‘vanity metrics’ of likes and growth and followers and digging into qualitative analyses of engagement.”
Jillian Ney, digital behavioral scientist, agrees that 2017 will be the year that social media gets more accountable. “Businesses will seek to understand their audiences and their buyer psychology,” says Ney. “Measurement will go beyond content performance, and social media will be used to create brand performance trackers as well as find out what drives customer behavior. This will all be based on psychology behavior, not the measurement of involved engagement.”
Visual social content will be in increased demand in 2017 too. “With more than 100 million photos posted on Instagram and Twitter every day, with video platforms like Periscope and Facebook Live, and with hardware innovations like the new Snapchat Spectacles, it will be crucial for companies to integrate photos and video content in their social marketing strategies to engage with their audiences,” Spivey says.
In the coming year and beyond, social media authenticity may take on greater significance. “Connecting with your audience on an individual and personal level—not just brand—will continue to be critical. Organic reach is declining in favor of paid advertising, and creating enough content to feed your social marketing strategy is an ever-growing challenge,” Pedowitz says.
Growth via social channels will be accelerated, Pedowitz prognosticates, thanks to improved content automation and artificial intelligence that will simplify the finding, curating, and syndicating of content across multiple channels in 2017. Additionally, multi-platform networks such as Twitter and Facebook will continue to enhance the mobile-usage experience by creating content-consumption mechanisms that reduce friction, Bridges forecasts. He adds, “In 2016, Facebook Instant Articles and video subtitles were two of these kinds of enhancements that greatly improved the mobile user experience for users.”