After combing through scores of predictions on what will happen in 2014 with social media, you have probably seen a pattern. Social media and content marketing will be more about honing strategies, leveraging big data, hosting micro-videos and getting serious about ROI. But how can we distill from these predictions a manageable set of planning inputs to our operating budgets?
To begin, let’s consider what impacts the planning process. Many of the predictions relate to strategy development across marketing, advertising and brand development. Other predictions cover the environment as it relates to user expectations, media ecosystems and changes to expect in our operating infrastructures. The rest provide insights as to what business models are likely to succeed.
Strategy in this social media Zeitgeist can be summed up as one of streamlining and seamlessly blending into our audience’s social experience. Consider the streamlining in your plan as the typical steps taken by companies during a lean recovery state. During these maturation stages, we begin to prune away the experimenting of shiny new objects and focus more on the most likely to payoff.
This usually leads to greater attention on integration and execution and less attention on experimenting. So for many brands and small businesses in 2014, there will likely be heightened attention on what really contributed to lead generation and conversion. As a result, the merits of content that shows promise in stimulating engagement will weigh more heavily in budget decisions than the merits of content reaching the largest audience.
Consequently, engagement metrics (e.g., comments and shares) will be more important than vanity metrics (e.g., likes and followers). The seamless blending of content into our user experience streams has much to do with separating ourselves from the clutter. One way to do this is by adding value to the content our audience is actually seeking. This should translate into more purposeful content pieces that reach our audience in the right way, at the right time and in the right mood.
Content marketing strategies will have to be more justifiable and hyper-focused. The goal here is to boost conversion rates at the expense of more fans and followers. One way to start on track is to repurpose curated content. For example, consider how you can regularly reach a targeted audience at many points in their buying cycle by recasting your content into several blog pieces, podcasts and videos. Not all of the content has to be original.
Your audience merely wants a reliable source that answers the mail briefly and immediately. The latter suggest you repurpose the content on whatever platforms your audience prefers at the time. This leads to another planning adjustment. 2014 may be more about smart content distribution than content development. In order for conversion rates to go up, budgets will have to shift more towards channel placement.
And with pay-for-play social advertising on the rise, this will mean more investment in reaching your targeted audience. Finally, nearly every social media and content marketing expert agrees that “creating for mobile first” should be foremost in our content marketing thinking. With mobile access to social media expected to exceed desktop access in less than 2 years, expect successful brands to invest heavily this year in responsive mobile websites.
Brand Engagement Strategies
Many predict that 2014 will be the year where real-time mobile customer engagement, brand storytelling, influence marketing and share-worthiness is seen as the key to deeper engagement. With noise levels skyrocketing, more brands are recognizing that engagement will require more than promised benefits. Brands will have to inspire and entertain more than ever.
By storytelling, brands have an opportunity to develop a loyal following that is far more interested in stories than brand messages. In addition, more brands will be expected to adopt their own media studios and newsrooms as tight control of the brand story requires a more immediate response and authentic voice to their target audience. Although the cost to operating plans seems onerous at this point, longer-term savings are likely to result as in-house control of the brand story leads to a more reliable boost in engagement.
Here is where we see a great deal of consistency among predictions. 2014 will be the year where paid social ads will be adopted reluctantly by brands as perhaps the only way to maximize their reach in social network news feeds. At question, however, is the timing of native advertising as a core element of content marketing plans.
Sponsored or branded content will be key to separating brand stories from the noise of too many brands now competing for diminishing social ad attention. Much of this content will likely be niche-specific and of high enough quality that followers recognize immediate value. And to provide this value, brands may have to consider longer-form content. Jay Baer even suggests this will be the year that Advertorial 2.0 takes hold.
But perhaps the biggest breakthrough backed by 2013 evidence will be the widespread use of native apps. According to Portio Research, mobile apps, in general, are projected to grow in revenue from $12 billion last year, a projected to $64 billion by 2015. As more brands witness the success of Clorox, Charmin, Ortho and Columbia in advising us how to remove a stain, find a clean restroom, identify a weed, and tie a boat knot, respectively, native apps in particular will capitalize on this trend towards real-time ‘self-help’.
As the quality of data surrounding our prospects has drastically improved, more brands will likely exploit the ability to know what audiences are doing at a certain time and place. Add to that the knowledge gained from behavioral tracking and social profiles, we have an excellent formula for hyper-targeting. And much of the technology is here to pull it off. In 2014, however, it is premature to estimate the impact that a combined SoLoMo-Pro (social, local, mobile, information) will have on market planning.
At minimum, however, expect brands to be ramping up for the use of predictive analytics in retargeted advertising. Experience in this level of behavioral targeting can then lead the way for contextual marketing that supports a real-time and locally relevant shopping experience. Another trend to expect in 2014 is the growth in agile video marketing. Expect brands to embrace their own newsrooms as mobile users become accustomed to getting rapid response news on breaking stories.
As in any plan, a survey of our surroundings help us understand the landscape of competition and technology constraints. Most likely to materialize this year is:
- A technology that is analytical and possibly wearable
- Data that is important for ROI
- An audience tweeting with TV
- A referee, called Hummingbird, that will level the playing field for true content contributors
- Content platforms meant for the short-lived and easily escapable
Much to the credit of big data, an estimated 20% of US display advertising will involve programmatic ad buying. The rapid growth of brands flocking to the programmatic buying process will likely continue as over-stretched marketing resources seek efficiencies from automation. Social networks are dramatically changing the landscape of TV marketing and will certainly impact planning for 2014. The market for second screen for global social TV is expected to reach $250 billion over the next 3 years.
As the sale of iPads and smartphones continue to skyrocket, expect the same growth in TV viewers interacting with live show content. One area still in question is the role of wearable technologies. Glassware, smart watches and wrist-ware are still serving the early adopters in an application seeking mode. Although Google Glasses is often sported in the media as the high-concept wearable tech product of the year, its future is still uncertain. At most the market will still be in its nascent stage. So small businesses, in particular, may be wise to holding off any plans to gear up for wearable device optimizing.
Social Search Engine
Google’s Hummingbird is being greeted with mixed responses. It is good news for legitimate content providers and bad news for black hat SEO spammers. We finally have a search engine who is penalizing SEO link spamming and magical keyword stuffing. Hat’s off to Google and their semantic oriented search algorithm for coming pretty close to a fair measure of legitimate content.
Content marketers would be wise to provide high quality, in-depth content that resonates with topics most sought after by their target audience. And think video first, video second and video third. The same will apply to search algorithms inherent in the social networks and their tagging or hash-tagging formats. Those that provide engaging and highly shareable content will ultimately win out on exposure.
Here also is where there is a great deal of consistency in predictions. Brands should devote an inordinate share of resources to short-form visual content. Video content will benefit search. Short videos in particular will appeal to the limited attention span of today’s audience. And perhaps more than before, we are seeing evidence that consumers expect content to fit the platform.
So think erasable video on Snapchat, gifs on Tumblr, 6-sec videos on Twitter Vine, infographics on blogs and photo rich content on Facebook. At the same time, brands inundated with multi-platform involvement are turning to fusion marketing to integrate their traditional and digital marketing tools.
By working off one platform or dashboard, they hope to manage and benefit from multiple campaigns launched from one place. Investments should also be considered for the development of niche oriented apps. This growing field of Friend-of-Mine apps is likely to materialize this year as more consumers recognize the value and handiness of self-help mobile apps.
A successful business model could be summed up as serious and laser-focused. Successful brands by the end of 2104 will likely attribute their success to hyper-targeting. Rather than seeking new ways to acquire fans and followers, this will be a year of measuring, re-calibrating and reloading.
Common to most business models will be a subscription-based approach to engagement. This bodes well for email marketing services and will likely put in question the need for RSS. Brands will be looking at courting highly qualified leads with pinpointed solutions to each need across the entire buying stage. Big data and closed loop analytics will then validate what tactics worked best toward conversion. And if not conversion, expect brands to measure retention and influence as a proxy for business to come.
This will also be the year that brands formalize their involvement in content marketing. The arrival of more Chief Content Officers and more formalized social business set-ups will likely pave the way for new social talent and enterprise-wide collaboration on social intelligence gathering and social listening. More importantly, 2014 will likely see PR and customer service finding their way into social media marketing.
Companies will capitalize more on the power of employees as brand advocates. And with this greater commitment to a social business, more pressure will be placed on marketing, in particular, to validate a greater amount of budget requests with hardcore ROI measurements now available from online tools and cloud-based databases.
Of all the crystal ball predictions, this area of planning is perhaps the least suspect. Here is what we know for certain. Millenials, in particular, are flocking to ephemeral media sites in droves. Facebook’s offer of $3 billion for Snapchat was just topped by Google for $4 billion. So it is safe to say, Millenials want erasable media.
We also have ample evidence to suggest that the deteriorating attention spans of Millenials will accelerate the arrival of contextually relevant content. So expect location based services to rapidly adopt social context as well. And as the momentum of early adopters builds, inside shopping assistance will become an expectation.
In the interim, many predict that Twitter Vine will flourish in this next year as applications for “how-to’s,” and “where to find” will augment the earlier and more limited functions of geo-targeting. Now imagine what this does to our customer service departments as target audiences become addicted to getting what they want NOW.
Finally, consumers will recognize all the more in 2014 that the power of conversation rests in their hands. Brands will have to compromise their desire for storytelling with allowing fans an opportunity to share their experiences. In return, fans will expect to be inspired and entertained if brands want their continued involvement. This will pressure more brands to step up their social customer service as fans will expect immediate reaction to their socially registered complaints.
Arguably, 2013 was a lackluster year of new technology. Wearable technologies were a disappointment; and perhaps the only shiny new object warranted our attention was Snapchat. Instead, we witnessed the maturation of content marketing and how the social dominion went from publishing to sharing to repurposing curating content. Much of this new wave emerged from the media fatigue that forced many brands to adopt smarter and more proven approaches to their social media marketing efforts.
That is why many experts are predicting 2014 to be less about breakthroughs and more about hyper-targeting, optimizing and fine tuning strategies. What’s more, plenty of evidence is mounting that marketers will be less concerned about reach and more about impact as executives press them for measured results. Much of this impact will likely come from legitimate, high quality content as Google’s Hummingbird algorithm makes it increasingly more difficult for SEO spammers to muddy the waters.
So which of these predictions will likely present the biggest challenges to entrepreneurs in 2014?