Marketing and PR experts all agree on the crucial role social media plays in brand communications. It is impossible to have a successful marketing strategy without an integrated media strategy.
However, with the rapid growth in digital technologies, social media has had to keep pace and transform accordingly. Last year, we saw non-stop action from the social media fraternity, such as Twitter’s debut on the stock market; LinkedIn’s acquisition of web and mobile news reader Pulse; Facebook’s new graph search and clickable hashtags features; and the launch of video sharing apps such as Vine and Instagram.
The continuous stream of developments on social sites has kept marketing and PR teams on their toes. Take the latest addition to the social media sphere, the Q&A app Jelly. Within a week of its launch, major brands such as Asda, Carphone Warehouse, Nando’s and US DIY chain Lowe’s were experimenting on it, even before the marketing value of the platform is known.
A communications director from a digital marketing agency I recently interviewed admitted: “The changing speed of social media is something I love and get frustrated with at the same time when I can’t keep up. FOMO – fear of missing out – bothers me.”
She is one of many marketing and PR experts we have worked with who have expressed the need to invest in the right technologies to keep up with the evolving social media environment, and to meet subsequent client expectations for a strong social reputation programme.
This year, the social media rush will only get more intense. To break through the clutter, brands will need to go from being merely present on social media to getting smart about their presence. This is because 2014 is the year social media comes of age. It is when leading social websites that started out in the mid-2000s as personal networking platforms prove their potential as powerful marketing tools. This year, social media sites will embrace bolder experimentation and move towards visual interactivity, commercialisation and, eventually, consolidation. Content marketing, and especially video marketing, will lead storytelling.
In other words, brands will have to work much harder in 2014 to stand out in a commercially competitive environment. A carefully curated action plan that allows marketing teams to decide which platforms are right for the brand will help businesses target the right audience and be smart while also being social.
Below are three social media trends that will dictate the year ahead, accompanied by tips to get your brand ahead of the game.
One size doesn’t fit all
According to a study by Maxus for Business, released in November 2013, two in three business professionals claim they want a social relationship with companies. Yet, as many as 70 per cent agreed that B2B brands do not know how to communicate effectively with them on social media. The results are indicative of the need for improved marketing content on social media sites – and that goes for B2C too.
Brands need to understand the difference between the social media channels and how their audiences use them, and tailor content accordingly. The tone of communication on LinkedIn should read professionally, while Facebook is more fun. Similarly, using the same account for different audiences is not advisable. If a brand’s Twitter account is a hub of consumer conversations, but the company needs to talk directly to the media, a separate press office account may be required. A feed brimming with useful content will keep journalists interested, while another feed with deals, discounts and service updates may be what consumers are looking for.
The increase in smartphone and tablet penetration is pushing video marketing to the forefront of storytelling. According to Cisco, by 2017 video will account for 69 per cent of all consumer internet traffic, and real-time communications through video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, Vine and Instagram will lead content marketing in 2014 and the years ahead. Simply uploading content is not enough. For successful video marketing, it is important to identify platforms compatible with a brand’s messages and audiences, and to invest in tools for managing the content’s distribution.
Money, money, money
Results from the latest Bellwether report, released in January, found that a net 11 per cent of companies increased their advertising budgets in the fourth quarter of 2013. Unsurprisingly, the figures were led by the continuing growth in internet ad spend. The findings are supported by the GroupM report ‘This Year, Next Year UK’ released last November, which predicts digital advertising spend will account for 50 per cent of total ad spend in the UK.
Budgets are getting bigger, but marketing teams need to understand the strengths and return on investment of each platform before spending it. For example, advertising on LinkedIn will help build a professional identity for your brand online, while YouTube allows advertisers to interact with consumers through video. However, Facebook’s decision to scrap its ‘sponsored stories’ ad format from this April, due to criticism from privacy advocates, sets the tone for what lies ahead. As businesses vie for a competitive edge on social media, it is important to execute campaigns in a way that does not disrupt the user experience.
To sum up, this year will be super-social for brands and hectic for PR and marketing teams.
In the race to stay ahead in the social media game, businesses should not forget the nature of the medium, which is fun and, well, social.
Think of your social media approach as your best pick-up line or favourite party trick – the one chance to win over your audience. Old-fashioned pitch techniques and corporate phrases are not going to cut it; make your PR social, visual and light-hearted to stand out from the crowd.