A few weeks ago I began an exploration of the top trends in social media marketing this year. Now it’s time to circle around and finish the list, as it has indeed become a pivotal year in using social media to cultivate advocates, optimize our marketing efforts, and genuinely engage with customers. Marketers are also finding that — to drive credible performance that has measureable business impact — they must do all of this at scale as well.
Marketing departments are at the forefront of strategic technology investment – at least you would think that if you agree with Gartner’s now famous (apparently defensible) declaration that CMOs will have more budgetary authority then CIOs when it comes to technology buys in the near future (see Watchlist winner Aprimo’s CMO Lisa Arthur’s Forbes post on this here). The corollary is that marketing is also the hottest area when it comes to customer facing (e.g. social CRM and social media) technology purchasing and strategies. Thus, software and services clearly labeled social marketing are incorporated at least in concept with the more traditional tools like campaign management, email marketing, and for the larger ventures, marketing resource management among many other options.
This sets up the stage for my remaining six predictions as we see marketing transform into the “first line of conversation” with the customer.
As the centerpiece of this discussion, it should come as no surprise that social media remains far-and-away the most conversational medium at our disposal. Companies that are just now connecting with their online communities are at a distinct disadvantage that have already gathered their advocates around them. To get results in today’s social marketplace, most companies are finding they must quickly ramp up their own capabilities for conversation — and even more importantly, tap into the latent bandwidth of advocates — to have any hope of meeting what the world is now demanding of them: Genuine engagement in-the-large.
Additional Reading: Six Strategies to Optimize Your Social Business Efforts
And genuine engagement in social media requires real effort, at least if it’s to drive substantial marketing outcomes. This means answering tough questions out in the open, diving into challenging discussions, supporting queries for help from existing customers in a timely fashion (a real-time marketing exercise of incalculable value by itself), and all the other requisite public pageantry that comes with participating in meaningful, long-term business relationships out in the open. While a few companies continue to stonewall their customers’ online engagement, leaving Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and other social touchpoints unstaffed and unanswered, the data has long showed that organizations that significantly engage see much higher results.
Engaging@Scale in 2013: Six More Social Marketing Predictions
Thus, to have impact with social marketing today, it means we need strategies to enable conversational marketing that 1) directly drive higher business performance (sales, customer retention, higher margins) and 2) operate cost-effectively. This year, instead of just tactical experiments that can afford operational losses, companies will be in search of ways of achieving both goals.
To summarize, meaningful impact and sustainable operations will be a central highlight of social marketing efforts in 2013. This means that:
- Brand advocacy becomes mechanized for scale as companies acquire capabilities for orchestrating advocates like never before. Even now, community managers are used to manually connect with advocates to coordinate on activities of shared value, such as amplifying marketing or co-creating messaging. However there is low operational headroom for using what’s starting to be called an ‘artisinal’ approach to social marketing. Instead, companies will explore ways of connecting with and enlisting advocates in engagement on a wider scale. The reality is that external advocates are often much better at engagement than companies are. They are also a much more numerous and less expensive resource.
- Social media comes in the cold, gets added as an equal partner to the cross-channel mix. Companies then find their social capabilities aren’t as mature as they need. Social as a marketing silo of its own starts to come to end in most large companies this year. This has started happening for a year or two already, but will become more widespread as 1) companies find that an effective multi-channel approach to customer experience generates the best results and 2) social media strategies finally gel enough to get added to a more comprehensive corporate marketing approach. Yet the recent siloed history of social media marketing will mean the function will have to grow up to fit in with its more traditional marketing counterparts.
- Content strategies will continue to be the leading method of triggering social engagement, yet new methods pique marketer’s interest. Content comes in many forms, and it remains the best seed for establishing meaningful connection and conversation. But content strategies too often devolve into rudimentary publishing schedules and periodic curation of advocate contributions. While the latter is certainly richer and more scalable, both approaches require an increasingly sophisticated process to elicit, coordinate, and activate as engagement levels rise. Expect advocate management services and customer experience management tools to bring a growing maturity to the space this year. Doing it all by hand will not create sufficient results for many brands going forward. Data-driven targeting and personalization will be significant in 2013 as well.
- Marketing strategies will get better at connecting engagement from their social presence to their sales funnel, but many will fall short as they learn the cross-channel ropes. We genuinely want our customers’ full attention, but usually only if we do it in ways we expect. The messy aspect of social engagement is that it can indeed come in any form and go in any direction. But at least you start with the immense advantage of having an actual useful connection with people that are interested your brand. It’s the process of successfully converting this attention into actual outcomes that is still more art than science (and will directly determine if you are creating useful results with your social marketing efforts.) A much more informed view of the funnel is now forming in the marketing industry that connects full-spectrum multi-channel marketing to paid, earned, and owned media. This will provide a better blueprint for repeatable strategies for organizations as they activate on social engagement this year. I’ve included a sample of what this might look like in the visual above.
- Brand management will be transformed by social media more than any other year prior. Improved data science will be the top reason. Put simply, brand perception is becoming dominated by social media and brand need to catch up. Recent crises such as the Applebee’s fiasco shows how fast things can change for organizations that aren’t properly prepared to outmanage the critical conversations they find themselves in. What will finally help brands actually manage their reputations in social, as opposed to just monitoring them, is our newfound ability to actually tap into the relevant social data live, isolate the causal factors, and then influence them. The so-called big data revolution is increasingly giving us ready capabilities for this. These will then be employed by marketers this year to pro-actively manage their brands in interactive media.
- The long overdue shift to engagement marketing will begin. Traditional marketing, when translated to social media, has often turned into a quest for spam-like likes and retweets, instead of activities that generate real brand equity or outcomes. The companies moving the needle in 2013 will be able to go well beyond this and deeply tap into their advocates to generate the marketing, sales, support, and product development results they are looking for by employing engagement as a strategic force for highly efficient and innovative co-creation.
So that’s quite a list but one that I think summarizes the state of social marketing well. Certainly, social media remains a top priority for marketing departments this year, even as they realize there is a lot to learn. Most have also begun developing an understanding of the nuance and complexities that are required to be competent with social media as well. In short, this year the broad themes are 1) compelling co-created content, 2) scale and 2) meaningful data-driven engagement beyond the realm of tactical one-off efforts. Thus, active performance management is also a major focus this year. We’ll take a look again at the industry towards the end of this year and see how we fared.
In the meantime, please contribute your own comments and predictions in comments below. You can also peruse my more general purpose social business predictions for 2013.