If there is one lesson to glean from the Super Bowl this past Sunday, it isn't that America is obsessed with football and beer. It is that social media is now embedded in our everyday lives--and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. Tuesday marks the 10-year anniversary of Facebook, and it's remarkable when you think about how much the social-media landscape has changed since everyone first learned what "friending" was.
For a while, there were predictions that social media was just a passing fad, but now it is clear that's not the case. Today, everyone is on social media (in some fashion), and many companies have decided that it might, in fact, be the best way to reach their customers. Like regular users, brands have adapted to the changing social-media landscape and altered the ways in which they interact with their audience online. So as we move further into 2014, what are the year's most important social media and marketing trends?
1. Purposeful Marketing
In the early stages of social media, marketers would disseminate content in the hope of reaching a receptive audience. The presence of companies on social platforms has evolved greatly over the past few years from an impersonal, one-sided conversation to a much more genuine relationship with customers. Now, businesses will continue to approach social media with even more specific plans.
Veronica Fielding, president of Plainsboro, New Jersey-based digital marketing agency Digital Brand Expressions, stressed that today, marketers need to look for consumer touch points. Businesses can no longer approach customers from one direction; they need to add value to customer experiences through these various touch points, in what she calls a "neural network kind of approach."
"Brands are starting to realize that you can't just keep throwing stuff out there," Fielding says. "People don't want to be marketed at in the social channel. This is where they want to talk to each other, and brands are there by invitation. They have to be a great guest at the table--otherwise they are going to be uninvited."
Companies need to listen to their customers across social platforms and respond. They must then use the information that they gather through those conversations to their advantage. "It is putting a game plan to all of this so that every single tweet has a reason that it exists," Fielding says.
2. Data-Based Marketing
"Brands are finally starting to gather lots and lots of data from different places, and trying to use it to market in a smarter way is going to be a huge trend," says Aaron Everson, president and chief strategy officer of Shoutlet, a Madison, Wisonsin-based company that makes social-media marketing software. When used correctly, all this information can help companies truly understand consumers' affinity for their brand, and they can use that knowledge to get their consumers to take action.
Everson also stressed that brands will increasingly combine the data they collect through social media with data they have from interactions with customers outside social channels. "We want brands to be able to bring the existing customer data that they have in their systems--whether that is purchase history, demographic history, et cetera--into the social space, where they can interact with the consumer."
3. Timely and Relevant Content
With the one-year anniversary of Oreo's famous blackout tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl now behind us, it is the perfect time to identify this next social-media trend. Social media is now at a saturation point in terms of commercial messages, so to stand out, brands need to stay on pace with the rapid conversations happening on various networks.
Everson says it will be important for businesses to establish teams and protocols around how they respond to big events on social media. "The smartest thing about the Oreo episode was that they were spontaneous and able to take advantage of an opportunity," Fielding says. "That wasn't planned. They were at the ready. [Companies] have to put themselves in a position to be comfortable taking risks and taking advantage of those opportunities. You can't have a lot of layers of authorization. People who are handling social media for your brand need to be in power."