Social Media Shakeout
Over the course of 2012, social media marketing finally solidified its place in brand building, marketing and social commerce.
Worldwide, nearly one in every five minutes online is spent on social networks, and the effect of that activity on brands has become both measurable and scalable. Facebook leads the pack—three out of every four minutes spent on social networks are spent on Facebook and 55 percent of people online use the site.
Since its infancy, people have flocked to social media eager to share, communicate and just listen. They're eager to tap into the greater conversation around the things they care about. During 2012, it became clear that those things, in many cases, were the brands they trusted for the products and services on which they choose to spend their money.
As consumers have grown into social so, too, have the platforms on which marketers connect with their audiences.
Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn have all implemented significant changes for social media marketers during the past year.
• Facebook made history in 2012 as it crossed the threshold of 1 billion active users, cementing its position as the social media network Goliath. During the past year, we saw the full implementation of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Open Graph vision, with apps and social recommendations front and center.
• Twitter, with more than 72 million active accounts, launched its version of "pages" to a limited group of brands in December 2011. During 2012, it rolled out the marketing tool to all companies and added features to help brands better connect with followers. Social media marketers can now promote specific tweets or the entire account to increase their reach beyond their existing networks. Tweets can be "pinned" to the top of the brand page to highlight important information. Marketers can embed images and videos, which consumers can expand to view without leaving the platform. The nature of Twitter's platform, with its short messages and simple linking, has always favored brands, but the 2012 enhancements make it a serious social media marketing tool.
• Google+ is unique in that much of the social activity shared on the site takes place on other Google properties, outside of the network itself. Many considered Google+ dead in the water as 2011 wrapped and it hadn't managed to tempt Facebook users away from that platform. Yet Google+ was the little network that could in 2012. Google wisely positioned it as a social layer over Google Search, YouTube and other more popular sites, rather than as a standalone platform. With more than 500 million users, 135 million of whom participate in the stream on the site itself, Google+ proved itself a contender for social media marketers in 2012.
• LinkedIn had a banner year, reaching 200 million members and transforming the site from a job-searching network to a multifaceted marketing platform. LinkedIn Company Pages launched in July 2011, but a 2012 update gave marketers enhanced targeting in advertising and organic messaging, alongside greater multimedia capabilities.
The launch and improvement of a number of social analytics and monitoring tools, alongside the meteoric rise of niche social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest, also shaped today's social Web. Yes, in 2012, we saw a definite maturation of social media marketing. The networks themselves have made many improvements, though they've really just struggled to keep up with an increasingly tech-savvy and mobile consumer.
In November 2012, smartphone penetration topped 50 percent in the U.S.; 119.3 million residents now have smartphones, the majority of those on Android, iOS, BlackBerry or Windows handsets. Eighty-three percent of marketers believe social media is important to their business, with good reason: The mobile consumer uses social to shop for deals, compare products and pricing, leave reviews and even complete purchases (Opens as a pdf).
Consumers have become more demanding, with 42 percent indicating they expect a response time of one hour or less when communicating with a brand through a social channel (bit.ly/WOoCXL). Almost 80 percent of consumers have at least one social networking account, though only 5 percent consistently post original content or take the time to respond to the posts of others (ibm.co/WOpwn1, pdf). For brands, this means a small portion of users wield great influence, while the majority of fans listen, watch and form opinions without actively engaging.
This is key for social media marketers—this understanding of how people choose to connect with brands across social networks, with varying degrees of engagement. For marketers, success in social lies not in mastering one network, but in developing a plan to integrate efforts across platforms, to connect with people when and where they are most receptive to marketing messaging.
In 2013, successful marketers stand to gain brand awareness and increase sales through an holistic approach to marketing that will integrate the different facets of the customer journey: attention, interest, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy. Brands are becoming better at identifying missed opportunities, breakdowns in communication with consumers and the very point a sale is made or lost, on an individual consumer level.
An holistic approach allows marketers to use these insights to drive content strategy and improve systems and processes to better address the needs of social consumers. Never before has listening to your customer been as important—or simple—as it is today. Social listening tools allow marketers to tap into sentiment at a macro level, but also reach deep into the social sphere and identify opportunities to connect with new or existing customers on an individual level.
Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn are assisting marketers in bridging the gap between what it is consumers are asking for and how brands fulfill that need. In 2013, marketers need to focus their attention on attraction, engagement and conversion through social—not as a standalone tactic, but as an integral part of their marketing strategy.
The interconnection of all brand presences—social channels, offline customer service, the corporate website—is critical. Insights gleaned from one channel can help drive content optimization on another, to nurture consumers through the next step in their buying journeys. It is only through a deep understanding of what customers express on all channels that we can begin to create content to address those needs in the formats of their choice on the channels they prefer.
The year 2013 presents opportunities most brand marketers couldn't have even imagined just five years ago. Brands must position themselves for success with intent listening, diligent monitoring and the flexibility to act on insights with creative, targeted content across all social channels on which their customers choose to connect.
Lee Odden is CEO of Spring Park, Minn.-based digital marketing agency TopRank Online Marketing and author of "Optimize." Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.