While social media is constantly evolving, one thing remains unchanged as 2015 approaches: at its core, social media is all about having a two-way conversation with your audience. Visual content, paid amplification, and mobile are a few trends that will dictate strategy and investment adjustments for many brands, but social should continue to support your brand’s goals and help build relationships with your audience, as well as building authority and trust. As SAP CMO Jonathan Becher said earlier this year, “Social is an enabler, not a goal in itself.” Here are insights and predictions from 19 of the top social media experts on what we should expect to see in 2015.
Jason Burby, President, Americas at POSSIBLE
Two trends to watch:
- Using branded content to amplify engagement through social. The key to this is coming up with authentic and relevant ideas and channels that hit the brand’s audience. Depending on your audience you can be more heavy-handed with the tie to the brand; in other cases, if you are too heavy-handed, the audience will reject it completely. Where a lot of brands are struggling is around the relevancy standpoint and how to create that content in a timely scaleable manner at a reasonable cost. Brands are also struggling with defining success when doing these things, a lot of people talk about engagement but don’t look at what that really means for their business near-term and long-term. Start and end with a simple question: “Does it Work?” By focusing on that up front we force the conversation to define what success looks like upfront and then use that to measure the success over time.
- Real-time marketing. RTM is another topic a lot of brands are looking at and considering how to systematize on an ongoing basis again in a way that can successfully scale. RTM requires the ability to listen and take advantage of appropriate opportunities and then leverage media to drive when it takes off. This requires allowing freedom for quick responses, but also a strong understanding of brand voice to make sure consistency is there.
Lisa Buyer, Author of “Social PR Secrets”
LinkedIn blue will be the new social media black for 2015 when it comes to professional networking and opportunities. The LinkedIn definitive publishing platform introduced early this year is prime play to build a professional brand and for a company to claim stake in thought leadership positioning. Since anyone can now post long-form content, companies now can leverage an army of employee brand advocates to establish a deeper relationship with an audience. But it will take a plan that calls for editorial coordination, organization, calendars, and a team of dedicated executives who can deliver content. Match up the personal content publishing with the a brand’s LinkedIn Page’s Company updates and Groups and then add some sponsored updates in the form of social advertising on Facebook and you’re reaching new audience heights. The 5-Step LinkedIn to-Do List for 2015
- Select a content coordinator.
- Identify 5+ authors within your company to be part of the LinkedIn editorial team of writers.
- Publish articles and then cross promote to your Company Page, Sponsored Updates (remember to always use a strong visual).
- Implement an employee sharing plan.
- Monitor the feedback, comments, and interactions on the author’s personal profiles and also track analytics for the LinkedIn Company Page as well as referring traffic to your website or blog via Google Analytics.
Tip: Pay attention to audience targeting to leverage exposure to get the right content in front of the right audience.
Mel Carson, Founder of Delightful Communications
Businesses will finally wake up to the fact that social media and mobile marketing are no longer new phenomena and should be integrated right from the start of any marketing campaign or inbound initiative. The future of digital lies in companies being social and mobile by design!
Victoria Edwards, Digital Content Strategist at Florida Blue
One of the biggest trends for social media in 2015 will be using more budget to help amplify your content’s message. I also feel that more departments across enterprises will become more aware of how social media can aid in their efforts, which will in turn start to break down walls.
Brands will create content that will be more customized for the specific audience, and will also have a tighter connection with PR.
Marketers and decision-makers will realize that social media isn’t free any longer, but if invested in, can be very rewarding.
- On Facebook, we will still have to pay more and more money to show our message to the audiences we are trying to target.
- Twitter will continue be still be a necessity for brands to remain relevant, but we will have to be super creative (and also spend money) for our message to be amplified.
- Instagram will also only become more important for marketers. Creativity in messaging is key so Instagrammers of the world will see, listen, and engage.
Barry Feldman, Marketing Consultant at FeldmanCreative
For marketers… We’ll see the fascination with all things social wear off a bit with the masses that expected miracles simply because they showed up. On the flip side, those who appreciate the remarkable opportunities new media presents, will rock our world by treating us to amazingly original and engaging content.
For the media… The networks you love are likely to become harder to stay in love with as they begin to, or continue to, realize their ad-driven, revenue-earning, board-pleasing aspirations.
Brands should determine what they’re trying to accomplish and forge a plan to do it. Most simply promote links to their content.
I think Google+ will remain the high-powered, but highly ignored network it is now. I really love Google+, but it’s simply not unique enough to light up the net or take the lead on any front. Those that dig into it seem to get a lot out of it. Long-term, I suspect its impact will be minimal, but I want to be wrong.
Every year brings cool new tools. But listening, isn’t a tool. It’s a skill, a rare one. A very small percentage of online marketers understand how social media presents the most amazing opportunity ever for gaining insights into how consumers think and feel. Those marketers are likely to do great things.
Social media’s just getting warmed up. I’m not saying brands will invest wisely, but yeah, wallets shall continue to open.
Natalie Henley, Vice President, Marketing at Volume Nine
The lines of digital marketing (social vs. content vs. SEO vs. PR, etc.) are going to get blurrier in 2015. Brands actively focused on maximizing returns are going to realize the best social media programs happen in tandem with these other disciplines.
Additionally, brands that haven’t figured out visual content are going to be really behind the times. Trends like the growing popularity of Instagram, or the value of paying to boost visual content in Facebook (which by the way, you really should be doing), just show us the growing demand of consumers who want custom imagery. This, in turn, really is leading to a shift of quality vs. quantity.
Tying this all together:
In the past a “good” social share may have been to tweet the title of a quick blog post that you paid a third party writer $50 to throw together for you. Now, that same process is paying that writer considerably more, taking the time to develop a compelling topic and rich content, adding a custom image (as well as incorporating tags like Open Graph and Twitter Card, with sizes and messages appropriate for those platforms), creating multiple social posts to share that single piece of content and finally paying to boost those posts.
Simon Heseltine, Senior Director at AOL
Over recent years, in Spain, Germany, and Belgium we’ve seen news publishers fight with Google as to whether they have the right to use snippets of their work to drive traffic to them. Facebook seems to be spoiling for the same fight in 2015. They’ve decided that rather than send precious users away from them when they click on an article, they’re actually going to host that article themselves and share the ad revenue with the publisher.
For those that don’t opt in, they run the risk of losing that traffic source, and ceding it to their competitors. For those that do opt in, they’re basically paying Facebook for the traffic they’re getting, through the ad revenue split. If this works, look for Facebook to identify other ways of keeping users within their walled garden, making them almost like the portals of yore.
Kelsey Jones, Managing Editor of Search Engine Journal
I think more and more brands will be focusing on personalized service. We’ve all seen those great examples of brands going above and beyond to fix something for a customer fast (e.g., I wrote about how Delta was my savior way back in 2011 on my personal blog) but I think there will be even more of a shift to certain employees becoming brand champions or “figureheads” of companies on social media.
I think customers appreciate when they realize they are talking to a specific person. It really makes a difference when a brand’s Twitter account ends the tweet with the person who wrote the tweet’s initials, because then it shows that it’s real people behind the public face of the company. It creates connections; it makes your employees someone customers feel they can reach out to, instead of throwing their request into the virtual circus of customer service and hoping someone will respond.
Whether it’s Google+, Facebook groups/pages, or Twitter, making the people who handle your social media more visible is going to increase engagement and the trust factor of your company (especially if they come through and ensure customers have a great experience with your products and services).
Douglas Karr, CMO at Circupress
According to a recent report, 5 out of 6 social media inquiries to business go unanswered. Consumers are viewing the medium as means of communicating with businesses, but businesses are still viewing social media as solely a marketing channel. This gap continues to widen each year and it’s hurting business. Brands should be prioritizing their communication on social media by:
- Responding to direct requests and ensuring issues are brought to a conclusion.
- Providing value to their community beyond the brand’s products and capabilities – building authority and trust with them.
- Promoting themselves actively with social advertising.
- Measuring response and share of voice against their competition.
Social listening platforms will continue to evolve with automated routing and intelligent responses. Companies who invest and respond via social listening will see improved retention, and increased customer value.
Google+ will continue to be a niche audience, but hangouts and YouTube integration will continue to propel it forward as companies see the opportunities in sharing real-time video.
Image-centric networks will need to improve monetization for their own livelihood – incorporating both paid promotion and the opportunity to integrate campaign tracking and calls-to-action (e.g., click the image and go to a purchase).
Brand investment must be revised in 2015 but the continued “direct attribution” model needs amended. Indirect attribution and improved customer satisfaction must be integrated into investment analysis so companies can see the total return on social media analysis.
Sean Murricane, Senior Social Media Specialist at TwentySix
For brands, social networks, led of course by Facebook, have made it clear: the free lunch is over. Paid-for has to be a part of your strategy.
Social media can’t sit in isolation any more. Fewer and fewer companies are employing dedicated social media people, especially at a senior level, because they’re realizing that it’s now as essential a part of an integrated marketing and customer relations approach.
The temptation is still there to attempt to find ways of forcing traditional customer acquisition activities or income channel on social. I hope that 2015 is the year that more and more organizations “get” social at the senior level. The reasons for having conversations with your customers should be obvious. Don’t just sell to them.
Social listening has seen great leaps in the last year, and the challenge now is what to do with all the data and knowledge they’ve been building up. We know more than ever about the audience each brand has, and where the target audiences are – so creating content that both retains the loyal following while appealing to the target audience will be the big challenge.
A multi-channel approach is essential to reaching your different audiences in different ways.
I’ve never been a huge proponent of Google+, and feel like it’s always been this nice little platform that’s had a loyal following, and it’s not going to be a Facebook beater. But neither it should be. The functionality on there is strong, and it’s a bit of a relief that Google have cut loose a lot of the requirements to sign up. I doubt 2015 will be “The Year of Google+”.
We’ve started to see the first genuine celebrities emerge from these channels in the last year – more and more other channels will start to pick up on these people. Although that ended fairly disastrously for ITV2 this year, you can expect to see more radio and television personalities emerge through the Vine, YouTube, and Instagram route when in the past they would have to work their way up through Hospital or Student Radio or TV.
Investment in social media is going to be crucially important, but bring it in right at the start of the planning process – don’t just let the traditional PR and marketing teams go and sort out their campaigns, then take them to social and say “Can you do us a hashtag?”
“How will this play out on social?” should be asked right at the start along with “How will this play out in the Press?”
To sum up: Social’s no longer an emerging trend – it’s a part of how people expect to interact with your brand.
Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Online Marketing
For social media, there are three big trends worth watching and acting on for 2015:
- Social media is no longer organic: Growing monetization by social networks will diminish organic amplification to near insignificant levels. At the same time, social platforms will provide even more effective advertising options to reach specific audience targets. According to BIA Kelsey, U.S. Social Media Advertising Revenues are expected to reach $15B by 2018.
- Social media is mostly mobile: Social networking and advertising on mobile devices will continue to explode in popularity among consumers. Nielsen reports that more time is spent on the Internet through smartphones than PCs and half of smartphone owners visit social networks on their devices daily.
- Social media is integrated: Savvy brands will be investing even more in social technologies across the organization from social business platforms to foster internal collaboration and efficiency to external participation marketing efforts to crowdsource content with brand social networks. IDC expects the worldwide enterprise social networks market revenue to grow from $1.24 billion in 2013 to $3.5 billion by 2018.
Erik Qualman, Author of “Socialnomics”, “What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube”
Social and mobile aren’t emerging technologies, they are merging technologies. You will see a massive shift in focus and heavy investments into brands starting to produce “in-house” video.
Keeping in mind that now over 50 percent of site traffic is coming from mobile and that by 2017 it’s predicted that two-thirds of all consumption on the mobile device will be video. We will begin to see in 2015 deep investments into mobile video that can be easily shared via social.
Adam Schoenfeld, CEO of Simply Measured
In the future, we expect to see companies relying on social data to influence business decisions beyond the marketing department. There is an increasing interest in how social media affects all areas of the business, including sales, recruiting, customer support and market research. Marketers were the first to harness social data, but the strategic insights you can gain from social analytics play an important role for all areas of the company.
Michelle Stinson-Ross Social Media Strategist at Offers.com
As social media marketing has matured, I think 2015 will be the year that some brands start pulling away from the pack with high investment content. What do I mean by high investment content? Fewer pieces of content and more investment of time, budget, and creativity in truly outstanding content pieces.
The tendency to crank out content on a daily basis has contributed to a lot of noise across all the social channels. Facebook in particular has spent the last year making it plain to brands that they will be buried in the user news feeds unless they create something truly amazing or impactful.
I think that fully produced storytelling videos will be a large part of that trend to high investment content. Facebook wants more native video. Google+ is opening doors to video content creation via the Google+ hangouts.
Content is king, but brilliant content will be emperor in 2015.
Bas van den Beld, Founder of State of Digital
I’d say a big trend at the moment is the use of video and Linkedin. Social media marketers are making full use of services like Vine and Instagram to give people a visual experience. People also like to share visuals so the use of services like these, and especially video, is understandable.
Linkedin opened up its publisher platform recently, which means it’s now much more than just a platform to exchange job information.
Brands should be aware to not overshare on these platforms, but seriously target. Use video and Linkedin in a way that their audience will appreciate it, not just because it’s a trend. It means the content shared should be in line with the expectations of the audience.
Iris Vermeren, Community Manager at Brandwatch
Real-time: Oreo’s exquisitely timed “Dunk in the Dark” tweet during the SuperBowl 2013 taught us one thing: real-time social media marketing is the future. By having a packed social media command center in place for the event, the cookie brand was able to capture the real-time vibe and go viral.
Watch for a rise in cross-network, real-time campaigns and events next year. Some marketers still chase their daily meanderings in “favorites”, “likes”, “shares” and other immediate (pointless) metrics. The most successful ones will have ever more customer data, monitoring trends every minute of the day, capable of faster adaption, shorter lead times, and always-on, real-time marketing. Instead of the next quarter or the next month, the focal point for the best becomes the next hour or minute.
Prepare to pay: Over the last year, Facebook and other social networks have all but killed the organic reach of your page posts, leaving you with no choice but to pay for exposure or hope for shares from your diminishing reach. As other platforms get their ad products launched – Instagram and Pinterest recently introduced ads and promoted pins – spending there will rise. Social media is no longer a “free ride”. So be prepared to spend more of your budget in social advertising. With the recent developments, this trend is likely to grow.
Mobile-friendly Content: By 2017, 87 percent of connected devices sales will be tablets and smartphones, according to Forbes. Due to the rapidly growing, widespread use of smartphones, tablets and other devices, optimizing content that’s accessible to mobile users will become the norm!
Wearable tech will surge (Apple Watch, Athos, etc.) which will put an even greater emphasis on mobile for many companies. There will be more integration of technology with our daily lives and habits, meaning more chances of hitting your audience with relevant messages when they matter, and less effectiveness of broadcasting messages.
Social Listening: If I had to pick three futuristic developments in social listening, they would be the application of social data in more places across organizations, the actual social media purchasing itself (e.g., the recently announced Twitter buy button) and the increasing use of predictive analytics.
The huge amount of human interactions and data flowing through social media today has increased visibility for brands and simplified online research. Online reviews and ratings have gained significant prominence. Social media has become a podium for brands and helps them better understand how to resonate with their audience.
Every day, we’re hearing from our clients how important deep listening and analytics are. The industry is definitely moving toward deep listening that informs and provides holistic social intelligence that is actionable and impacts business and campaign decisions.
Analyzing what your customers, competitors and other stakeholders have to say about your brand is paramount, but historical data and real-time listening will only get you so far.
More important is the way businesses will act upon this information and how they will grasp opportunities. Brands need to be able to spot issues before they develop into a crisis. Using social listening tools will help them detect which conversations could lead to a great headline story, a new business idea or even a converted customer.
The only way to stay ahead of the curve is to not only understand what your stakeholders are saying, but also what they might say. When brands recognize how powerful data can be, they can’t help but be compelled to act on it – hence this shift that we’re experiencing towards putting social data on big walls, in operation centers, in front of the C-suite, in people’s hands.
Eventually, the brands that will come out on top are the ones will predict what’s going to happen next. They will make the most of the billions of conversations online to truly innovate and look beyond past happenings.
Google+: Let’s face it. Many of us are still figuring out Google+. It’s mainly a hub for digital and tech-minded people, especially in the B2B space. Google+ lacks the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, making it challenging to generate as much engagement. But despite Google’s desperate attempts to further popularize its social network, organizations don’t have choice but to join if they want to improve their SEO rankings. It’s part of the Google empire and can help remain relevant in search, finding and building relationships with influencers and it can strengthen your industry authority.
Image sharing networks: Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat all of these networks foresaw the importance of visual content and grasped the opportunity accordingly. Twitter revamped its entire timeline design to better incorporate pictures and animated GIFs. Five tweets in every second contain a Vine link.
We can expect to see a surge in visual content (pictures, graphs, short clips, etc.) of which the most relevant and targeted ones will dominate the scene.
What’s exciting is that new data technology will be even more groundbreaking in the next year. Computing power is getting faster, lighter and thinner. Visual social intelligence is rising. Expect to see powerful new ways to visually comprehend data, benchmark and analyze campaigns paramount to surviving in competitive industries.
Brand investment: For as long as social media marketing has been around, brands have struggled with how to determine return on investment. What’s the right amount, and how much should we focus on paid or traditional sales techniques, vs. new social media approaches?
Paid social media placements are affordable as opposed to traditional media, but your best bet is to try it out and see how it works with your audience. Your clients expect to have two-way conversations with your brand on social media. They expect their complaints or comments will be attended to quickly. It’s paramount to have a social presence, to have a dedicated team of community managers and have a protocol in place of listening and engaging with stakeholders.
The most popular social channels, especially Facebook, are pushing more toward monetizing. Put simply, if you want to reach your audience on those platforms. It will make sense to allocate more spending there in the future.
The metrics available in social listening platforms are great, and they’re really useful for optimizing your campaigns and justify the impact of your investments. However, brands have to be more sophisticated in the way that they understand their own business objectives, apply them to the social space and develop stats and stories that tell something useful.
The solution to the struggle of measuring your ROI is to focus on internal metrics and measures of success, rather than external ones. If you’re a car dealer, what is a test drive worth? Or what is it worth when someone finds the phone number to a dealership after seeing it on your website? Brands should ask for more input from multiple stakeholders. It requires a lot of collaboration with your research departments, marketing and sales teams to determine what certain behaviors are worth. Eventually, we’ll start seeing these attribution models mature.
Tessa Wegert, Communications Director at Enlighten
We’ll see more innovation with regard to interactivity. This year we watched Mercedes-Benz build a native car configurator tool on Instagram. An interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style Tumblr is being used to promote the film “Exists.” 2015 is sure to bring more campaigns that tie interactivity to social media platforms in order to boost engagement.
One of the best things a brand can do to optimize social media is to view social as a necessary component of all promotional activities, from content strategy to SEO and PR.
Many brands are still trying to wrap their heads around social media marketing integration. With regard to social listening, I think we’ll see a boosted effort to monitor competitors and industry chatter, rather than brand conversations alone.
Both brands and consumers are recognizing that there are added benefits to using Google+ that go beyond the network itself. For businesses, it’s greater exposure on Google and high levels of brand engagement. For consumers it’s features like map integration and more relevant ads. Next year may not be the tipping point, but Google Plus is growing stronger every day.
Apart from more interactive campaigns, I think we’ll see platforms like Pinterest and Vine get more buy-in from Fortune 100 companies. Last year Williams-Sonoma publicly lauded Pinterest for driving sales, and GE is going all-in with its use of Tumblr and Vine. Visual marketing will be viewed not as one aspect of social media, but as a channel all its own.
The social media investment estimates I’ve seen for 2015 seem conservative. Spending is bound to go up, but with so many industry reports and case studies coming out in favor of social media marketing I wouldn’t be at all surprised if spends are revised.
Kelly Wrather, Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Kenshoo
As smartphones, tablets, and wearable technologies become further embedded in our day-to-day lives, apps and cross-device interaction will become more important to marketing efforts.
One of the biggest social media trends is the growing importance of mobile, particularly within social advertising. Per eMarketer, mobile advertising is on track to comprise 68 percent and 84 percent of revenue for Facebook and Twitter, respectively, by the end of this year.
Social channels are stepping up mobile offerings to help brands better connect with key audiences across devices. Look no further than Facebook’s relaunch of Atlas, rollout of its Audience Network, and introduction of local awareness ads for examples of the growing mobile stake.
This scale in mobile, coupled with improved targeting and the rich social signals available, make mobile-social a key opportunity for brands.
Within the app space, it will become more important for social marketers to drive not just installs, but also track more down-stream activity, target re-engagement, and understand consumer lifetime value.
Brands will be poised to win if they start to look at social more holistically, across devices as well as channels, and begin to apply cross-channel and cross-device insights to better optimize efforts.
Ashley Zeckman, Director of Marketing at Benovate
There are two major shifts already taking hold of social media that will only be amplified in 2015.
- Consumers have already began blocking out brands and content that feel automated. In order for a brand to show real value in 2015, they’re going to have to look and feel like real people. Consumers buy based on trust and emotion, so having a powerful voice behind your brand is a must.
- Marketers must begin incorporating paid advertising into their social media tactics. Platforms like Facebook have made it apparent that if you don’t invest, your audience (organic or otherwise) will not even see your content, let alone interact with it. In 2015 I predict that marketers will begin to become much more savvy about when it makes sense to invest in social boosting or advertising and when organic reach will suffice.