A lot can happen in a year’s time, which is why a tried and tested plan can go a long way to keeping your wits intact and your head above water. With 2013 nearing its end and 2014 closing in, now is perhaps the best of times to take stock of past months and make plans for the future.
If you are, like me, an avid user of Facebook and Twitter, you might think about social media and the path it will take in the year to come. After all, it has pushed itself rather quickly to the fore of business and communication, and has become an integral promotion and engagement channel for B2B and B2C companies alike. As this Zift Solutions infographic demonstrates, 77% of Fortune’s Global 100 companies all have a Twitter account. Forrester gives social even more weight, declaring that fully 100% of business decision-makers use social media for work purposes.
So to get a better sense of where social media was headed next (and to make a plan of my own), I sat down with Paige Musto, Act-On’s Director of Communications, to talk through past trends and consider future changes. Here’s what we discussed, and what we believe marketers are likely to see in 2014:
1. An emphasis on multi-media before written copy
As Aaron Perlut points out in his Forbes story on “social media porn,” today’s consumers no longer feel the need to invest much in the content they encounter; the simpler the offering is, the likelier they are to consider it, and the easier it will be for them to digest it. Some social platforms have recognized this tendency already, and have made changes accordingly to the way images and videos render in search. Facebook’s new Graph Search feature, for example, widens the size of image that shows with any article pulled, while Twitter now embeds images in individual Tweets (versus linking them), which Buffer notes makes for greater shareability.”
The bottom line
Marketers should scale back on copy in 2014, particularly when an appealing image or interesting video would do instead, and especially when the goal is early-funnel awareness or attraction.
2. A rise in geo-targeted ads
Most promotions today that take aim at customers based on where they live or work do so primarily via mobile phones, which have location-based services built in. But it won’t be long before location services can be leveraged from desktops as well, especially when brands like Apple and Tesco are turning to geo-targeting to reach ideal demographics with tailored offerings. And, as this Location Traffic blog post makes clear, the benefits to geo-targeting are legion: targeted brand awareness, tailored outreach, and smarter use of marketing content, to name just a few.
The bottom line with tailored offerings
Geo-targeting is here to stay, and as Paige suggested, it will likely be driven in 2014 via social media platforms, which speak to location already.
3. Greater diversity in terms of channels used
There’s no telling just what sites or platforms may emerge in 2014, but it’s a safe bet that ever-more doors will open to marketers, offering new ways to find and engage with prospects. After all, some of the channels brands rely most heavily on today –Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine in particular – have emerged in the last three years, so who’s to say what may come next?
The bottom line
Marketers will need to keep close watch of the social sites available in 2014, and be willing to branch out when it comes to the channels they use. More pressingly, says Paige, marketers will need to be sensitive to how each site is best used, and optimize their content as needed (e.g. share B2B resources on LinkedIn, be pithy and brief on Twitter, etc.).
4. Greater reliance on third-party review sites
Most buyers today – 84% of them, in fact, according to a Nielsen survey – are likelier to trust their peers than they are the brands they purchase from. Thus, declares Paige, it’s important that marketers monitor the buyers who frequent forums in search of word-of-mouth reviews and recommendations (e.g. Yelp, Quora, TrustRadius, and G2 Crowd, et al.). It’s also important that they speak to the concerns customers express. A steady presence on social sites establishes a direct line of communication between vendor and user, making it possible to solve problems quickly. (Which not incidentally positions your company as one that genuinely cares about customers and solving their problems.)
The bottom line
Marketers will need to be more mindful of peer-to-peer exchanges and reviews in 2014, and should use social to map out those discussions.
5. A shift toward internal evangelism
In a way, this particular trend relates to the one before it. After all, who’s better poised to respond to queries on third-party review sites than your own internal experts? Energized social evangelists can solve such problems and more, Paige says, and can speak to your company’s offerings in ways that seem organic and approachable. They can also present your company as well-organized and well-integrated, factors serious buyers care about. The impact of internal evangelism is unique and should not be understated.
The bottom line
The bottom line: internal evangelists can help you drive new business in 2014, so take advantage of your evangelists’ networks and social reach to grow the business and increase your profits
6. Use of event-specific hashtags
As Paige pointed out, a number of shows on prime-time (like Scandal, Revenge, and Once Upon a Time) have already adopted this tactic – offering hashtags that speak to specific plotlines and encouraging viewers to tweet their reactions during and after the episodes. And though marketers might go about this process differently, the lesson to learn is still the same: the more you’re able to make events out of the content you offer, the more people you’re likely to draw in.
The bottom line
2014 will be the year of the hashtag, so make sure to get while the getting’s good.
As you know, a lot can happen in a year’s time, and having the right plan in place can make all the difference between drowning in the details or staying afloat and thriving. 2014 promises to be the most immersive year yet for social media, be on the lookout for the social media predictions we’ve highlighted. And for further insights and best practices regarding social media, make sure to check out some of the many whitepapers, webinars, and datasheets the Act-On Center of Excellence has to offer.
Social media pastel icons by MKH Marketing, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.