In a world where the words “tweeting,” “trending” and “hashtag” have become a part of our everyday vocabulary, it can be easy to forget that only a decade ago, social media as we’ve come to know it didn’t even exist. After all, Facebook wasn’t launched until 2004, YouTube until 2005 and Twitter until 2006. Today, the top-tier social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Foursquare, Pinterest and Windows Live Messenger) have a combined total of 2.3 billion users — or roughly one third of the world’s population.
A decade ago — or even five years ago — it would have been impossible to imagine what enormous impact these tools would have on our culture, and the doors these tools would open for marketers. So what’s next in social media? Here’s a look at some emerging trends and new technologies that marketers should keep their eye on this year:
Visual is King. When Facebook and Twitter were first launched, they were both text-heavy platforms. Over time, we’ve seen them shift to allow for easier sharing of photo and video content. New players also joined the game with visual content sites like Instagram and Pinterest, which both saw record growth in 2012. According to Nielson, Pinterest grew its audience from 2.5 million to 25 million between July 2011 and February 2012, while more than 5 million photos are uploaded on Instagram every day. In fact, Instagram has proven so popular that in the spring of 2012, Facebook announced it would pay $1 billion to acquire the product, a move that speaks volumes about where experts think the future of social media is headed.
Take this trend into consideration when thinking about your company’s social media tactics. At the very least, you should have high-quality images for your page’s profile picture (and cover photo, on Facebook). When posting a status update, try to add a photo or video when possible, as these posts tend to encourage more interaction than text-only posts. And if you don’t already have a presence on YouTube, don’t wait any longer. Create a channel and begin posting today.
Mobile Growth. Smartphones and tablets are making it easier than ever to access social media sites on the go — and there is no sign that this trend will slow in the coming years. In fact, FastCompany.com notes that mobile Internet users are set to overtake wired Internet users by 2015 in the U.S., but this shift is happening much faster on social platforms. Last September, Facebook forecasted that the “rate of growth in mobile usage will exceed growth in usage through personal computers for the foreseeable future.”
What does this mean for your company? For starters, it means that more often, customers are likely to find you — and engage with you — via mobile Internet devices. If you haven’t already, try visiting your company’s website on a smartphone, as well as a tablet. Does it load quickly and properly? Is it easy to read and navigate? How quickly could a potential customer find your contact information? If there are issues, consider working with a web designer to develop a mobile-friendly version of your website.
Beyond your website, keep this shift in how customers access web content in mind when thinking about your company’s social media activity. Are the social media channels you use, and the content you share, easily digestible to the growing number of users who will see it on a mobile device? Platforms that make engagement on the go easy are at a significant advantage. This might help explain why Instagram already has more mobile users than Twitter.
If you’re planning any online advertising this year, be sure to look into how your ad buy will (or will not) reach mobile users. So far, advertisers have struggled to come up with many good options for mobile advertising, as fitting ads onto tiny mobile screens has proven to be a challenge. Facebook’s Sponsored Stories and Pandora’s audio ads are two viable options for reaching mobile users.
Branded Entertainment. Speaking of advertising, another trend this year is the beginning of a shift from traditional online ads (pop ups, banners and auto-play video) to advertising that also serves as entertainment. For example, many brands are paying to promote a hashtag related to their product or service on Twitter. Others are creating branded online games or sponsoring posts on popular blogs. As Mike Roberts, a digital marketing strategist noted, “Disrupting the content that consumers want to see with an ad is not nearly as effective as seamlessly embedding the ad in the content they do want to see and actually go searching for.” That’s not to say that traditional online advertising is going the way of dial-up Internet — at least not anytime soon. But branded entertainment is taking up a larger portion of marketers’ advertising budgets than ever before, and that portion is only expected to grow in 2013.
Facebook Search. In January, Facebook announced the launch of a new search feature, “Graph Search,” which will allow the site to function more like Google and other search engines. As the Los Angeles Times explained, “With the tool, users can find a single guy in San Francisco to date, a friend of a friend who knows of a job or friends who live in a 10-mile radius and are fans of ‘Game of Thrones.’”
While the new feature has raised privacy concerns among consumers, it’s generally good news for marketers and brands. After all, a Facebook user who might have previously turned to Google to find a pest professional in their community will be able to search Facebook to find companies used by their social network.
Results are returned based on the number of friends’ “likes” — so if your company has more “likes” than your competitor, your firm will show up in search results above before them. According to Business Insider, “The intent is to deliver search results that are useful because it‘s like receiving an instant poll of your friends. Obviously, businesses with more likes — more fans, in other words — will do better in this environment than those with fewer likes.”
So what does all this mean for your business? In short, it means that times are changing — at warp speed. Social media strategies that might have been successful for your company in 2012 are not a sure bet for 2013. The key to an impactful social media strategy is to remain flexible and adapt quickly to new trends and technologies that shape how consumers find and interact with your business online.
The author is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.