What does it mean to be online today? Increasingly, it means being part of the "now" and interactively tapping into the communal and cultural zeitgeist. And that, of course, means being connected to some form of social media.
From aNobii to Zooppa, social networking sites are dominating cyberspace and becoming impossible for digital publishers and electronic content providers to ignore, and for good reason. People everywhere want to be part of an electronic conversation that is happening at this very moment via popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, and Yelp. They want to chime in with opinions; share ideas, photos, and videos with family, friends, and followers; stay updated with favorite movers, shakers, and brands; and remain engaged in a dynamic digital dialogue, whether at home, at work, or on-the-go.
Social media has experienced an astounding evolution from its early days when Friendster and Myspace were the big kids on the block. Formerly an exclusive playground for early adopters and tech-savvy folks to keep in touch with peers, social networking in 2013 became a universal, ubiquitous experience for young and old, consumers and professionals alike. Modern-day users rely on social media for virtually everything they used to turn to traditional websites, emails, and search engines for: communicating, shopping, researching, disseminating content, staying informed, and finding new friends and fans.
Consider that 27% of total internet time and 15% of mobile device time is spent on social networking sites, per Experian. Facebook now has more than 1.11 billion users globally, and nearly 20% (189 million) of its users are active monthly only on mobile devices. Twenty-one percent of the world's population now use Twitter actively on a monthly basis, according to a GlobalWebIndex study. YouTube reaches more U.S. 18- to 34-year-olds than any cable network. Two new members join LinkedIn every second. And marketers say social media has grown in importance to their company over the past 6 months (21%) and that they are investing in social media and blogging in 2013 (23%; a 9% increase from 2012), according to HubSpot data.
"Previously, social media was more of an activity-something people did on the websites they used. Nowadays, it's become more of a way of life for the consumer," says Jennifer Barbee, CEO of the marketing agency Jennifer Barbee, Inc., who cites the fact that "Instagramming," "tweeting," and "Facebooking" have become common vernacular verbs as a testament to the power of social media. "Unlike a decade ago, engagement is the norm rather than the exception, and any brand or organization ignoring social media isn't long for this world."
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
2013 proved to be a banner year for social media, as evidenced by the rise of several trends: short-form videos, a la Vine and Instagram; increased content curation, practiced by social media managers who gather the best snippets to share; the uniform usability of hashtags across platforms; and new and improved social media management tools such as Bottlenose.
"Also, businesses are utilizing social media platforms more for marketing purposes and are finding a lot of success with it, as opposed to other forms of web marketing such as SEO and pay-per-click," says Miriam Slozberg, CEO of Gemini Rising Ltd. "The difference with social media marketing is that people are interactive and relationships are more easily built."
With the growth of social media, new snags and concerns have emerged that electronic publishers need to monitor carefully. Knowing who and what to trust on platforms and posts, risks to reputation, information overload, and even social networking addiction are all important concerns. "Social media issues today include privacy concerns, oversharing, false online personas, fake comments and reviews, and the lack of in-person interaction among [users], which can result in alienation," says Barbee.
Nicholas Cavet, strategy director at VSA Partners, says monetization of a fixed userbase by average revenue per user will continue to be the most challenging issue faced by social media platforms. "The precedent for free access to these services has been set for years, and the exodus to the smaller mobile screen format presents a challenge to legacy platforms in terms of delivering compelling ad formats with enough frequency while not annoying end users," says Cavet.
Additionally, finding the time to check and participate in multiple platforms is proving harder for users. "I can see aggregators playing a huge part in this solution," says Walter Blake Knoblock, publisher of Felix Exi. Management tools such as Backstitch, Sprout, and HootSuite "allow people to essentially route and filter all their social media networks to one platform and set up feeds that are catered to their interests."
A LOOK AHEAD
While it's easy to gauge what's trending today on Twitter and Pinterest, forecasting social media's short-term future isn't so easy-although some signs are evident. "I predict an increased focus on content marketing in 2014," Eileen Bernardo, marketing communications manager at Viralheat, says. "Social media has moved into an era where content is king."
The most important thing for content providers and businesses to know going into the new year is that the creation of new, creative, interesting, relevant, and shareable content is the key to a successful social media plan, Bernardo notes. "Social media tools will need to find a way to incorporate the importance of content sharing through scheduled updates, attachment capabilities, sharing options, and analytics around optimal time and content," she adds.
Chris Boudreaux, co-author of The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, adds that digital publishers also need to better enable their employees as brand ambassadors in social media in 2014 and beyond. "Also, more companies will move headcount from their social customer care teams into their established customer contact centers, rather than having a social customer care team on an island. Employees who have been working on pure social customer care will need to adapt," says Boudreaux. "And to support the need for greater integration of social capabilities into core business processes, social media vendors will continue to integrate into core enterprise platforms, such as customer relationship management and sales platforms."