Social media has completely altered the way we interact and share with one another, compelling brands to follow suit and embrace the age of social media. When it comes to getting you, or your brand’s name out there, it is still evolving and in constant flux as social communities grow and new social networks spring up.
It has undoubtedly become the central mechanism through which people communicate with each other and share information about products and brands. On these interactive platforms consumers are able to make a significant brand impact — especially when the innately viral nature of social media is taken into account.
Social media has turned the online marketing discussion into a shared and democratic experience, which means that brands will need to invest in building and maintaining their social media presence as the medium continues to flourish and expand.
The social scene: Richer, more interactive
Social media marketing is no longer solely focused on behavioural targeting. The future of social media will see brands striving to provide ample ‘rich’ opportunities for consumers in the form of competitions, games, polls and even fostered communities within their brand communities. The focus will likely remain engagement rather than broadcasting, with brands embracing their personable side in order to truly connect with consumers.
According to a recent Bain & Company report, people who engage with companies via social media on average spend 20 to 40% more with those companies than customers who don’t engage — a clear indication of the way social media will become more directly linked with businesses’ bottom-line profit.
It is highly likely that social media marketing will continue to experiment with various levels of gamification through custom-built apps and the like. According to Clicksquared more than 70% of fortune 2000 companies will have developed at least one ‘gamified’ social application.
Gamification will probably continue to employ tactics such as leader boards and badges for users who take part in a challenge. It is likely however that some will actually use social channels as the springboard from which to set off certain desired behaviours from consumers. This might include opting into email or making a purchase.
Email and social media
Despite predictions of social media rendering email obsolete, the future may very well see even further integration of these two mediums. While email is still the best direct marketing channel out there, social media is steadily climbing the ranks in terms of customer engagement. In order to get the most out of both mediums in terms of return on investment, it is likely that more email campaigns will have embedded social media participation.
As social networks continue to proliferate, people will probably also become more and more reliant on them to build their email databases. Both email marketing and social media work well as standalone platforms, but combined they strengthen each other and provide a more engaging experience for people.
Brands as ‘people’
Brand identity, and more specifically consistent brand identity, will become increasingly important in the social universe looking forward.
Brands will need to invest time in honing a persona or voice that will become synonymous with their online presence. The kind of identity that different brands develop will obviously be determined by what kind of company or product is to be represented, but it should not inhibit brands from exploring a side that is perhaps more social, approachable and fun.
Social media will always be centred on the idea of discussion in one way or another and if your brand is too serious or boring to talk to, chances are your following will dwindle.
Most people are increasingly viewing brands as “people” rather than companies in the way they interact with them and brands will need to keep this mind when planning their social strategy.
In Africa, the internet and by extension social networking is mobile. In fact, four out of five internet users in sub-Saharan Africa accesses the internet through a mobile device and this trend is likely to continue as smart phones become even more widespread. Anyone running a social media division will have to optimise all campaigns, competitions etc. for mobile while also looking to advertising on the mobile end of prominent social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
When one considers the weight that mobile carries in Southern Africa, it’s probably wise to look at actually tailoring your entire social media presence around mobile — from development and implementation of mobile apps to fully functioning mobi sites.
New Social networks
Since the birth of social media, numerous social networks have sprung up, each with its own unique attributes and users. From the micro-blogging sphere of Twitter to the professional networks of LinkedIn, social networks draw people from a variety of backgrounds and cater to different audiences.
In order to maintain a well-rounded digital presence brands need to keep up with the growth and development of the various social networks out there. Pinterest was one of the fastest growing new social networks to hit the big time this year and brands are already probing the image-based social network in order to scope out clever and relevant marketing opportunities. The rise of Pinterest indicates that there is still a gap in social media when it comes to niche social networks – not all users wanted to lumped together in one big group á la Facebook.
Anyone wishing to target niche groups will have to come armed with a thorough understanding of the written and the unwritten rules of these social networks and their users in order to launch campaigns that are relevant and value adding to these groups.
Social media has altered the way people connect to each other, consume and share content and will continue to do so in the future. Brands can expect social media to become even more integrated into all aspects of marketing which means that companies will have to keep abreast of all developments in this field as they happen.