Social media has only become mainstream for roughly over a decade. But, the way it has been playing an integral part of how we do business these days, feels like it has been around for a century.
The growing pace of social media and its impact has evolved in such a way that it is continuously shifting, leaving marketers constantly challenged, and most businesses overwhelmed with the never-ending changes.
Whereas before, social media has only been considered as a social networking tool. Today, it is seen with fresh eyes as a powerful tool to market one’s business.
Big data has also played a huge role on how social media has evolved, drawing billions of users towards social media channels today that social media analysis has not become an added option, rather a necessity when you want your brand to take social media marketing to a whole new level.
In this day and age, nearly 9,000 tweets and 2,000 Instagram photos are published each second. The challenge for marketers, then, is to find new ways to capture the attention of consumers who are bombarded with too much digital noise or information every second of the day.
So, how will your brand stand out? How will you use social media to your advantage?
Chapter 1: How Social Media Has Changed for the Last 10 Years
It is safe to say that social media didn’t really explode until 2004 when Facebook launched. But the truth is, it has been making its rounds since the early 2000s, with LiveJournal, a blogging platform and social media networking platforms similar to the Facebook concept, Friendster and MySpace.
In fact, this period has been called the “Golden Era of Social Media.”
After Facebook launched, a slew of other social media networking platforms followed with YouTube and Twitter debuting shortly after. A decade after, social media channels have exploded and are now seen not only as social networking tools but business marketing tools as well.
Check the infographic below for a timeline of how social media has changed in the past decade.
Chapter 2: How the Evolution of Social Media Has Affected Brands
Social media has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade, and much of its evolution can be linked to two facts. First, everyone has gone “mobile” and secondly, Internet connectivity has improved because of faster wireless networks.
How Social Media Affects Consumers’ Buying Decisions
TV’s influence on consumer behavior is on a decline.
Based from the data weighed by the CivicScience on the US census, in 2014, the dominance of TV’s influence shrunk significantly over the prior year. In fact, at times during the year, TV and social media were on par.
Internet advertising sees a very gradual increase, but far less volatility than TV or social media. This clearly defines the role of social media in influencing consumers’ buying decisions.
It has enabled consumers to have a dialogue with brands.
Brands build awareness and generate goodwill and loyalty when they connect with their customers.
A positive effect on this is that consumers feel a shared responsibility for brand stewardship and ultimately translates into profits.
It has enabled consumers to take part in raising social awareness and engagement.
This has a two-way effect, as consumers feel that they are part of something big when brands they support carry out campaigns that make the world a better place.
For instance, Starbucks’ “Shared Planet” and Pepsi’s “Refresh Project” campaigns. These brands not only launched these initiatives because of advertising but also included their customers in making the world a better place to live in.
According to the 2009 Edelman 3rd Annual Global Consumer Study:
- 61% bought from a brand that supports a good cause even if it was not the cheapest brand
- 65% have more trust in a brand that’s ethically and socially responsible
- 64% of consumers say they expect brands to do something to support a good cause
- 63% want brands to make it easier for them to make a positive difference in the world
- 67% would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause
Chapter 3: The Role of Social Media for Brands and Consumers
While social media is still considered a relatively new industry and phenomenon, there’s no denying that it has an enormous role in today’s business world.
According to the 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 86% of marketers consider it to be important to their businesses, as 75% of them report positive results in terms of traffic increase, and 64% of them see lead generation results just by spending at least six hours per week on social media marketing.
In fact, 89% of businesses already have dedicated teams for social media platforms, incorporating them in their overall marketing strategy. More than half of them who have used social media for at least three years have felt an increase in sales.
Clearly, social media is redefining what marketing is and how brands should play it and be accepted by consumers.
What are the roles social media play for brands and consumers?
- Increased Brand Recognition and Authority
Social media presence makes your brand more visible and in the long-term, easily recognizable. Whenever you share and syndicate your content across social media channels, you add value to increase your brand visibility and recognition.
A higher number of social media followers tends to improve trust and strengthen brand credibility.
- Building a Community
Social media has provided the means for brands to create a community among their customers, brands, and loyal advocates. It encourages engagement and connectivity, starting a ripple effect that from awareness, sales, engagement to loyalty.
- Increased Sales Conversion
There’s no doubt that social media, when used as a marketing tool is a great e-commerce extension. The promotion is easily shared, and its effects are instantly felt.
The real-time nature of social media creates this need to purchase the desired item immediately before it is sold out. Studies have shown that social media has a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing.
Social media platforms have recognized this advantage and have integrated tools to facilitate social e-commerce. A great example is the Facebook’s “buy now” button on group pages.
- Building Brand Loyalty and Ambassadors, Influencers
Brands who engage customers on social media channels enjoy higher loyalty from their customers, according to Texas Tech University report. This is further confirmed in a Convince&Convert study that 53% of Americans who follow brands in social media are more loyal to those brands.
- Improved Customer Insights
Social listening gives you an opportunity to gain valuable information on your customers’ interests and behaviors. Furthermore, data-driven analytics provide powerful insights that can help in decision-making when it comes to marketing and targeting audiences.
- Real-Time Customer Service
Social media has forced brands to step up their game when it comes to providing customer service. Real-time customer service is in demand, as customers are taking their issues online too.
Social media is the equivalent of putting a giant billboard or playing an ad on TV, so brands should be on their toes all the time to make sure complaints and issues are addressed quickly.
- Be “In The Know”
These days, simply liking or following a brand’s social media channel will allow you to get first dibs on sales, coupons, and special deals.
Most businesses include you in early-bird sales or give you additional discounts as social media followers, allowing you to save money from buying from these brands.
- Channel for Customer Feedback
There is no better channel to let your voice be heard than in social media. Research for product development and feedback now includes customers—thanks to the tools incorporated into social media channels such as polls, surveys, chats, Q&As, and many more.
- A Shift in Power of Brand-Consumer Relationship
There has been a notable shift of power in the brand-consumer relationship as well, as social media has taken the power and control from brands and put it into the hands of the consumers. Advertisements are no longer just a one-way, business-to-customer engagement.
Brand and consumer interaction is encouraged, and for loyalty and advocacy to develop, engagement is needed. Conversations between brands and consumers hold brands accountable for their products and services, as complaints are more oftentimes coursed through public channels.
If consumers are unhappy, they can easily create a social media backlash that can cripple brand reputation.
Chapter 4: How Social Media Has Changed the Marketing Game: The Good and the Bad
There’s no doubt that social media has changed the marketing game. Reach, amplification, and instant connectivity have both good and bad effects for brands and their marketing strategies.
Here are a few examples:
An Engaged Community
Social media has helped online brand communities not only to thrive but also get connected to one another on a more personal level. Aside from the business promotion, active communities get the chance to engage and discuss with each other.
Consumers are Brand Ambassadors and Social Activists
When you engage with customers, it is easy to develop brand loyalty. Once loyalty has been ingrained, advocates are formed, and they become your best advertising tools. Their feedback, recommendations, and word of mouth can easily topple the conversion rates of traditional and digital marketing.
Social awareness has improved as well, as social issues, and the latest news and stories easily become viral. Examples of these are the Uber rape case and the massive number of retweets that Indian Prime Minister’s winning tweet got.
Creativity in Multimedia is Needed
Whereas creativity has played a significant role, whether an ad will become effective or not, traditional marketing also factors in time and money spent securing ad slots.
When social media boomed, creativity took priority above everything else. So, how do you ensure that your 15-second video has the maximum impact on engaging a customer or converting a lead?
Brands can’t expect to stand out if they’re not creative—and creativity depends on a combination of great photography, the humanness factor (being authentic or real), and the timely response to current events.
Content needs to engage and engage quickly if you want to capture customers. Creativity is definitely needed in this area, presenting a big challenge to marketers.
Brands Are Challenged to Tell More with Less.
Content is now constrained to a few hundred characters and 15 seconds. Short-form content has come to be the norm, and while long-form content is far from being dead and effective, brands need to devise ways to effectively convey their message in a single photo, a 15-second video, or a few sentences to share effectively in social media platforms.
The Customer Feedback Backlash
While we cannot argue how the power shift towards consumers has had a positive effect on customer service and community building and engagement, there are also certain areas that this can be a disadvantage.
In a post by Jeff Wilson entitled “Social Media is Creating Bad Customers,” he says the social media gives a consumer four “factors empowering bad behavior, particularly against companies:” (1) No Guilt (2) The Mob (3) Relative Anonymity and (4) No Accountability.
He points to the #McDStories disaster, when customers shared negative stories about McDonalds on Twitter, as an example of how social media has this adverse effect.
The Challenge to Have Tools and New Technology
For brands, it is a challenge to develop the image and video-based content already. Add in the tools required to amplify and analyze reports, and you are left with brands needing to create room in their budgets to develop and harness not only their creative team but also their social media team. Often, needing to establish a dedicated team for social media marketing alone.
One needs to stay on top of trends to have a better chance in standing out amidst all the digital noise in social media channels these days.
Chapter 5: The Future of Social Media
Almost 200 million people are signing up each year in various social media channels.
Studies show that by 2016, it is expected that social media will blow up and have more than two billion social media users.
What does this bode for the future of social media? Here are some predictions on trends:
- Analytics will play a big role in social media marketing, and data will have decision-making power.
The influx of social media users means a massive increase in followers, and marketers need to see the value in each one. In fact, author and social media writer, Mark Schaefer, estimates that by 2020, data will increase by 600%, and 75%of which will be created by customers, not businesses.
Finding ways to mash-up and use these data will create huge opportunities. This is why predictive insights and analytics will give marketers opportunities to foresee where they can add value to their network and cleverly define their strategies based on the goals.
From these users, we are going to expect big data to come in, meaning businesses can extract more relevant information about their customers more quickly. This will play a big role in decision-making.
- More precise targeted users.
With analytics playing a significant role, the increased demand to have personalized and complete social media profiles will grow, allowing marketers to tailor their ads to a particular target audience.
- Multimedia content focus.
Content with pictures is the most highly shared pieces on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, voice tidbits and videos will also be gaining popularity.
Short, 15 to 30-second videos with maximum impact will become a famous content created by marketers and a preference among consumers.
- Fluidity of content because of automation.
There is a high volume of content shared every minute, which users usually take less than thirty seconds deciding whether a shared content is click-worthy of not.
Technology will change this obstacle, allowing marketers to feed tailored content to particular audiences real-time. This increases the value proposition for readers, as they are more personalized and not mass-produced.
Cheil Worldwide’s chief digital officer, Peter Kim says, “When you think about programmatic and what it can do it, and does do, it has the ability to let publishers de-clutter sites and get advertising more relevant and be native in a way consumers will accept.”
- Social media will be shoppable.
Kim predicts that brands will jump on this trend, forming collaborations with other brands to drive a new channel of e-commerce.
- Personalized content will be the norm.
According to Otis Kimzey, Director of Simply Measured, “The most dramatic change by 2039 will not only be the amount of data that will be available to everyone but also the decision-making power of that data. We currently have thermostats that learn our preferences, watches that take our pulse, and Nike even knows how often and how fast we run, and this is just the beginning.
With this much data, personalized content will become the norm. I love unfiltered feeds, but in the future, when the depth of data available meets the ability to make decisions based off of that data, the result will be a very individualized and powerful experience. People will be able to get the content they want, at the time they want, from the people and brands they want, perhaps even on their projector watch or contact lens.”
- Social media will become the new norm for mass media.
About.com’s VP for Social Media and Community, Matthew Knells, predicts that the term social media will fade out and become a mass media form in 25 years.
By then, there will be three major trends. “First, there will be more personal ownership of data. Second, individuals will be able to manage data across platforms in a more centralized way. Third, there will be extremely speedy mobile wireless broadband built into even the most affordable devices to allow one-touch and instant playback of any piece of content,” he says.
With the evolution of social media, consumer, marketer, and brand roles have also changed. Brands should realize that marketing is essentially just conversations.
Just as the Cluetrain Manifesto said, markets are conversations. The need for brands to act human, be authentic and sincere, and approachable are important, especially when trying to build a presence in social media.
Direct relationships with online communities built in social media channels are essentially your sales vehicles, as these ultimately lead to profits.
Social media has a powerful amplifying effect that can be to one’s advantage or biggest downfall. The key is to build the right social media strategy for your brand and be consistently improving. Since social media is always changing, there is no tried and tested marketing solution—a brand needs to adopt and adapt.