The State of Social Media Marketing in 2014

The State of Social MediaI have read a couple of blog posts the past week alluding to a “social media bubble.” For the past couple of years, social media was the focus of pretty much every conference I attended.  The conversation mostly centered around the value of social media in terms of its ability to drive ROI.

The most memorable comment I can recall was at an eTail West session in which the speaker said “how do you measure the ROI of a bathroom in a store?”  It never really got much clearer than that over the years in terms of how social media could be cleanly linked to an acceptable ROI result.  There was much work done on trying to place a dollar value on a Facebook fan which no best practices ever resulted from that I am aware.  From that, social media became about driving awareness or improving SEO results.  Some brands and retailers determined that fan quality was preferred over quantity but again, not much transpired in the way of tying the actions of the most engaged fans back to actual ROI.  Real strides were made by some marketers in the way of assuring authenticity on their pages, which was a great byproduct of the debate for some brands but not all.  Unfortunately, now there are black hat tactics in the way of bots mimicking human actions on fan pages to simulate engagement, so not all is authentic out there in the social mediasphere.

So in hearing about this social media bubble, I can see why it could be, but it is doubtful anyone really believes social media is going away any time soon. Customers (real ones!) are still there, passionately posting and liking and sharing content on their favorite brands’ pages, and there is definite value to that, albeit value which is not tied directly to ROI.  Marketers, though, can work with the content on their pages in a range of ways that will drive sales, albeit, less directly than we collectively, as an industry, envisioned and desired from the start.  Here are some ways marketers are effectively leveraging their social media content in 2014.

  •  From the back and forth dialog with clients on Facebook and Twitter, brands can not only identify and address service issues but they can also spot and leverage new opportunities.
  • The social media platforms can be a means to test and validate hypotheses.
  • Facebook and Twitter content can help identify rich new keyword lists for paid and organic search as well as for the social and programmatic platforms that run contextually-targeted keyword campaigns.
  • Native content on the social sites can serve as the basis for ad unit creative that would run throughout Facebook via promoted posts. Google+ just launched a similar offering called +Post ads which run throughout the Google Display Network.
  • Often when a topic is trending on social media, brands can take advantage of the unique surge in impressions by jumping in to the conversation with a relevant offer, provided they are promoting something with clear affinity to the trending topic.

Beyond the community management aspect of social media, the social platforms all have advertising offerings that have either already rolled out or are currently still in beta. Among them, Facebook’s audience is largest and their ad offering the most evolved with strong performance from an efficiency standpoint.  Facebook offers a range of advertising options, but among the best is custom audience targeting for remarketing and prospecting.  Brands submit their online and offline first-party data to Facebook who cookie matches it in order to serve remarketing ads to lapsed customers and acquisition ads to key prospects via look alike modeling.  In addition to custom audiences, Facebook’s remarketing program is a top marketing opportunity and definitely low-hanging fruit as far as digital media goes.  Remarketing on Facebook used to be bought through the ad exchanges via FBX but can now be done directly through Facebook which lowers the media cost and widens the reach.  Remarketing will always outperform prospecting on Facebook, but Facebook is known to be one of the strongest top-of-funnel drivers to paid search, which could be measured with attribution technology or through a bid management system such as Kenshoo.

If there truly is a social media bubble, it is only the hype that burst (long overdue, IMO) but definitely not the marketing opportunities themselves. Social media lives solidly within performance marketing, brand marketing, and customer service, and as far as I can tell, is not going away anytime soon.

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