It's been a big year of growth for social media as an industry, and, as it shows no signs of stopping any time soon, here are five things to keep an eye on.. After all, we are a bunch of geeky social media enthusiasts who just can't keep our traps shut on the topic.
No brainer, right? Companies are paying a lot more attention to the value of social media, and it has become increasingly obvious that social media marketing has moved beyond pushing funny tweets and begging unsuspecting networks for friends to please, please, please "like" a company's new Facebook page. This is the year for social media to rise above fun marketing fluff, and into the ranks of hard marketing campaigns. A joint study from Booz Allen and social platform developer Buddy Media, showed that 57 percent of businesses surveyed plan to increase social media spending, while 38 percent of CEOs label social as a high priority. As people start to take social media marketing more seriously, hopefully the industry will become better defined with more standardized practices across the board.
Of all the predictions, the most common theme I discovered (and have been loudly championing for some months now) from social media gurus across the web is that the lines between search and social are becoming increasingly blurred. Google+ is definitely going to be a game changer in this arena. It will be interesting to see if it really challenges Facebook, as many people initially predicted, or if it will just quietly create the ultimate social search engine and melt our faces off in awe. Google+ will find its balance, integrate with other platforms, and undercut Facebook on advertising. Hopefully, Google will buy a social media management system that will have hooks into Google Analytics, Webmaster tools, and Google +, which other platforms will cower behind.
Influence is no stranger in the world of search. As search marketers, we are well aware that Google has long been the well-respected professor rewarding good influence with higher grades in the form of single digit rankings. We have been watching Google for years to determine just how its algorithms determine what is well optimized, influential, and worthy of being found in search results. The same goes for social media influence. With social media content already manipulating search engine results pages (SERPs), it begs the question of which content will have the most influence. I see Klout, a platform whose algorithm gives your influence a weighted number, and similar companies gaining momentum in the coming year, as what's shareable is going to become as important as what's searchable. I could really use a Venn diagram right about now…
In the same vein as social search and influence is social sharing. What is social, if not a giant shared space of individuals' ideas, opinions, media, whereabouts, and status updates? One of the first industries to really capitalize on this was online publishing, as popular sites began adding sharing options to content, which ultimately led to more page views and higher rankings in SERPs. So, what's going to happen next year in terms of social sharing? The actions will start being monetized with ecommerce and web transactions. As more and more companies realize that users may not understand that something is worth sharing until they are given the option, these companies will allow a user to share a product or review with their networks without ever leaving the site. (Hmm…maybe someone in my Facebook network would be interested in learning more about the fancy cheese grater I just ordered from Amazon.com?)
What's in a name? For the past few years, as social media has continued its steady ascent into domination, the focus has been on fans, followers, and "likes." These real people, with real names and attempted clever handles, have actively pledged their allegiances to their favorite brands. Unfortunately, a company saying they have 5,000 names of people who love their brand is worth as much as Monopoly money. Yes, brand awareness has incredible value and influence, but that's a hard sell to clients without solid ROI numbers attached. This year will bring better metrics platforms, with the ability to attach real revenue numbers with each social media brand champion. Ultimately, these improved metrics will provide marketers a better view of data which will lead to better content and campaigns.
So, there you have it, my crystal ball full of tweets, shares, and status updates for this year. Even if I really was some sort of mystical social media shaman, it wouldn't make a difference. This industry is moving faster than news of celebrity splits, and keeping up with social media trends is harder than keeping up with the Kardashians.
Heather Sundell is creative editor at The Search Agency.
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Nick, that is very true. However, I think the current conversation is less about whether or not to be active in social media, and more about HOW to become active in a way that is really reaching your target audience. It's not enough to set up profiles and merely be present. Integrating a social media plan with ROI goals into your company's marketing strategy is imperative in today's climate of search. If you want to be found in search results, you have to produce interactive and shareable content on an almost daily basis.
The bottom line is that if you aren't already active in social media, you need to be. Businesses of all industries and sizes need to build loyal followings and get involved with content marketing in order to get links shared in social media and gain social influence.
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