At first, asking ‘what is social media?’ may appear to be a simple question with a clear-cut answer. However, as most businesses already know, this is a complex and nuanced field that requires close attention.
In the last decade, it’s gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have for brands and, as with everything digital, there’s always something new just around the corner. Keeping ahead of the game can pay dividends. Keeping on top of the game is imperative. And in today’s ‘always on’ world, Social Media is, arguably, now one of the most powerful tools for businesses and brands.
From CRM and brand-awareness, through to increasing sales and cutting marketing costs, it seems there’s nothing a well-thought-out Social Media campaign can’t achieve.Social Media Defined.
If one word could encapsulate the spirit of Social Media, it’s ‘fluidity’. Unlike, say, a poster or a TV ad, Social Media is constantly evolving – and, as it morphs and recreates itself, so does the very definition of Social Media.
But what is it that makes Social Media so malleable? In a nutshell: technology. It is dependent upon the various platforms that allow the public to participate and interact with creative content via the web. And because this is ever-changing, we’re always bound to come full-circle, with definitions shifting and altering according to not only who you ask but when you ask.
If you want to break it down into its most basic component, you need look no further than Wikipedia which defines Social Media as a means of interaction using ‘highly accessible and scalable communication techniques’ via the use of web-based and mobile tech. This, in turn, is designed to ‘turn communication into interactive dialogue’. Okay, but that hasn’t got us much further. What is it, exactly, that those accessible and scalable communication techniques are doing?
According to Michelle Chmielewski of Synthesios, the sum of Social Media is greater than the parts – it’s not about what each one of us says or does, but about what we all say and do en mass ‘to communicate in all directions at any time, by any possible (digital) means.’ This gets us closer. It’s not just a platform with a one-way flow of information but, rather, a reciprocal and mutually agreeable relationship between the brand or business and the public as a whole.
We take another step closer to understanding the fundamentals of Social Media when we also throw speed into the mix, bringing in the potential for a variety of ‘real-time’ interactions with consumers. Whether it’s live online events, brand Q&As or simply responding quickly to a conversation-thread on Facebook or Twitter – it all gets brands closer to the public and helps forge that all-important two-way dialogue.
This real-time provision has also seen a shift in how we get our information – in an ‘always on’ world, there are endless opportunities to ensure we’re ‘always informed.’ But this works both ways – it’s also an invaluable way for brands to stay on top of what their target audience is doing. If you know what motivates and drives people, or what they’re currently talking about, it provides an organic way of keeping your brand relevant without any hard-sell.
Once you know what motivates a target audience, it’s then much easier to build a strategy that will help your brand create relevant and informative content. As Deborah Weinstein of Strategic Objectives says, ‘Social Media is all about achieving communication that ‘influences awareness, acceptance and behaviour.’
Taking on board all this received wisdom, it seems that Social Media can be defined as the facilitation of long-term relationships and engagements, made possible by constantly evolving technological platforms. The platform is, ultimately, a means to an end – that being the cultivating and nurturing of new relationships, based on an intuitive and intelligent response to potential customers’ likes, interests and needs, as and when they develop.The Evolution of Social Media.
To see why Social Media is so important today, it helps to look at where it’s been. Back in the day, the internet wasn’t for everyone, and computer networking was primarily concerned with military matters.
But then in the late 70s and early 80s, the concept of online social interaction began to slowly take off – ironically, among what many viewed as bedroom-dwelling, antisocial geeks. Enter the Bulletin Board System (BBS) which allowed users to download files and games to a central system.
At the same time during this internet pre-dawn, the likes of CompuServe crawled out of the primordial sludge – it was ‘webolution’ in action. Created as a business-orientated mainframe, it expanded into the public domain in the late 80s. As well as allowing users to share files and access news, it did something new. It enabled real interaction. People could hop onto thousands of discussion forums and chat with other like-minded users.Social Media Hits its Stride.
By the mid-90s, things were really taking off, with sites such as Classmates.com and SixDegrees.com popping up. This, finally, was what the internet was all about – human connections; albeit remote, digital connections made via the ether. These sites were soon followed by Friendster in 2002, which boasted three million registered users a mere 360 days after its inception.
A year later, LinkedIn launched. Today, it has over 450 million members – that’s up from 414 million in the preceding quarter of 2016. If we follow the trajectory of today’s most popular Social Media sites, we can see that this is no fad. Such sites continue to grow exponentially.
MySpace also made its debut the same year as LinkedIn, tapping into a young audience that was hungry to connect via photos, videos and music.
And then there was Facebook. Ubiquitous, addictive, relevant and ever-expanding; Facebook is, undoubtedly, the Kind of Social Media today. Part of its success has been down to its open API which allows third-party developers to create apps that work within Facebook (in true Social Media style, Facebook has proved that sharing really is caring). But there was also something about Facebook that captured the public imagination – the ease of use, the ability to ‘poke’ and ‘like’ (in fact, the iconic ‘like’ button soon broke free of Facebook and began appearing all over the internet) – it all brought people together like never before.Social Media Gets Smart.
Along with the rise of social networking sites, something else also happened in the history of Social Media – a perfect storm which saw it explode beyond imagining – and that was the rise of the mobile device. Smartphones, tablets, portable laptops – all these have changed the way we communicate.
According to data published by ZenithOptimedia, people worldwide now spend over 8 hours a day consuming media, with the Internet taking up an increasingly large chunk of that time. In 2014, people spent 110 minutes a day online, while traditional media consumption (TV, magazines, newspapers etc) fell from 402 to 376 minutes a day. And this is in no small part down to the rise of mobile devices. Not only do they make accessibility easier, they also make participation easier and more compelling. It only takes a matter of moments to snap a photo then share it on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. Has your business won an award? Completed a charity event or do you have a new promotion or vacancy within your company? Why not Tweet about it, or whip out your Smartphone and share it on YouTube.
Recent evidence shows that every second – 8,796 to be exact are shared on Snapchat. If you were to view all the pics shared on there in the past hour, it would take you 10 years to get through them all.
Unsurprisingly, the most successful Social Media companies today have been specialising in specific interactions – such as photo-sharing (Snapchat) and public photo-sharing (Instagram). And of course, it doesn’t stop there. Video and livestreaming is now the next big thing. For brands, a popular livestream can quickly become a trending topic. It’s yet another facet of that all-important instant communication tool that brings consumers and brands together.Social Media Brand Exposure.
If this brief history lesson teaches us anything, it’s that Social Media has exploded beyond anything we could have imagined – and any business that ignores it, does so at its peril. Indeed, when it comes to Social Media, most brands are already fully onboard. According to the 2015 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner, 96% of marketers are already utilising social media in their marketing strategy – plus, 9 out of 10 U.S. companies are now active on social networks and reporting that their Social Media strategies are boosting sales.
The benefits of Social Media for your brand are multi-faceted. From a budgetary point of view, it’s cheaper than more traditional mediums, such as print or TV. But don’t let that fool you – cheaper doesn’t mean less effective. If anything, it gives you a broader vehicle from which to tell your brand’s story. You’re not limited to a 30-second TV slot, a 4-sheet or a quarter-page spread. Social Media gives you license to shout about your brand 24-7 in a variety of inventive ways – from blogs and tweets to videos and competitions.
It also helps you build a solid customer base by getting to know your audience or target audience via rich Social Media interactions. When it comes to CRM, there’s nothing quite like Social Media for engaging with and responding to customers. You’re able to better listen to your audience, stay ahead of your competition and react quickly and concisely. In an age when attention-spans are limited, it enables you to employ guerrilla-type marketing tactics where you can make an impactful statement in seconds.
This also means ensuring any comms display properly on mobile devices, as an increasing number of people are accessing emails and the internet via their Smartphones. With mobile use generating 30% of Facebook’s ad revenue, it’s well worth paying close attention to this aspect of your marketing plan.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that Social Media can be just as effective in reaching an older target audience too. In fact, the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is actually the 55-64 year age bracket. That’s a 79% growth rate since 2012 – proving that brands aimed at this age group can also benefit from a rigorous Social Media marketing strategy.The Future of Social Media.
Seeing where Social Media’s been, and where it is now, the fundamental question for brands, is what’s in store next? Significant growth is expected – that’s a given – and according to a recent PR Newswire release, the worldwide Social Media analytics market is going to expand from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $5.4 billion by 2020.Targeted Ads Like Never Before .
Social Media ads are so highly targeted that they’re increasingly of interest to consumers. Infact Facebook can target by several factors including age, gender, location, languages, job title, relationship status, connections, education, employers, income, net worth, industries, home type, ethnicity, generation, life events, political views and interests to name a few.
As advertising innovator Howard Gossage once famously said, ‘Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.’ Ergo, the ability for savvy brands to hone-in on people’s interests so precisely makes it more likely that their target audience will sit up and listen to what they have to say.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Social Media advertising spend increased by 33.5% to nearly $24 billion in 2015 (a few years ago, the spend-amount was $0). And by 2017, Social Media ads could account for 16% of all digital ad-spend globally.
In a similar vein, 2017 will most likely see the rise of more ‘immersive’ Facebook ads. These are in-feed Facebook mobile ads that lead to a rich-media experience within Facebook itself (these are quick-loading and keep you inside the Facebook site. A win-win for both Facebook and the consumer, which means a win for marketers too).Brands Say Hello to Video.
It’s fair to say that mobile video has exploded beyond imagining. We can’t stress enough quite how huge this is. Last year, Facebook more than doubled its daily video views to 8 billion. That’s now more than YouTube. Then there’s Snapchat’s 6 billion daily video views. Adults currently spend a total of 66 minutes a day watching online videos – and recognising the popularity of this medium, Facebook is set to introduce exciting new features, such as suggested videos and dedicated feeds.
Make no mistake, this is a don’t-miss marketing tool for your brand, with 70% of companies already considering video to be their most important and effective online marketing tool. However, some companies are still reluctant to get involved; largely because of the perceived cost required to shoot professional level footage. Don’t let that put you off though as there are numerous ways to create commercial quality video without the traditional studio costs.
Also keep an eye on live video. Michael Stelzner, CEO of Social Media Examiner, predicts that live 360-degree broadcasts, along with fully immersive 3D experiences, will reach a new level for 2017.Social Messaging Opportunities.
2017 is also set to see more adventurous companies getting on board with social messaging. That’s because the top five frequently-used apps in the world are all social messaging apps. Right now, this is new territory for companies – but with nearly 4 billion global users of apps like Facebook Messenger, Kik, Whatsapp and WeChat, it’s terrain worth exploring. Already, brands like HBO and Hellman’s are dipping their toes in the water – and once data becomes more readily available to marketers, things will really start to take off.
To conclude, we’ve come a long way since the computer-whizzes of the 70s first started sharing games and files. Yet, when you consider that making connections, sharing interests and swapping stories is as natural to humans as breathing, it’s hardly surprising that Social Media has taken off in the way it has.
People are naturally curious – they engage with what interests them, and there has never been a better time (in such a data-rich, highly-connected, real-time universe) for businesses and brands to speak one-on-one to millions of potential customers.
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