Although I’m loathe to add to the glut of ‘predictions’, ‘lists’ and ‘trends’ that are currently awash in the blogosphere / Twitterverse, it seems only natural to look ahead to the coming 12 months. As far as social media is concerned, even the most sceptical marketing professionals now admit that social has some form of role to play in any business.
So in 2011, a year in which a VAT increase and public spending cuts will undoubtedly affect both consumer behaviour and marketing strategy, what will social media bring to the marketing mix?
i) Consumerism ‘as a game’
There have been countless articles published recently citing the psychological compulsion of competing, collecting and rewarding. While Foursquare remains the poster boy for location-based apps, many other businesses are recognising this trend and are starting to offer ‘badges’ and rewards to their consumers. ‘Review a product on our website and unlock 5 points’. ‘Become a fan on Facebook and receive a 10% discount on your next purchase.’
In essence, incentivising consumers with a game mechanic acts as a virtual loyalty card, with the added benefit of offering visible kudos. This won’t be suitable for every business, but in 2011 I predict this phenomenon will continue to grow significantly.
This heading may sound rather vague, but I believe that ‘knowledge’ will be one of the most important developments in social media this year. When people started considering the marketing potential of social media, a million ‘social media gurus’ came out of the woodwork, LinkedIn proving the most popular breeding ground for these ‘experts’.
However, the truth is that in 2011 brands and businesses now have access to a pool of marketers that have worked in social media marketing for 12-24 months now. Yes, the medium is still relatively new, but social media marketers have now amassed some solid commercial experience, which I believe companies will utilise effectively in 2011.
iii) Social promotions
So you’ve accumulated 10,000 fans on Facebook. And? While 2010 became the year in which we raced to build up communities for visible brand advocacy, 2011 is the year in which marketers have to start making effective use of these groups.
I believe that consumer brands are very well positioned to start offering exclusive commercial offers through social channels, especially if these are tied in with incentivised activities such as reviews, ‘likes’ and newsletter sign-ups. And for B2B businesses, social channels can offer access to ‘exclusive’ content that keeps audiences engaged and informed. Social marketers sweated blood to build these communities in 2010 – 2011 will see them utilised.
iv) Exploration of technology
There was a time when ‘being social’ constituted ‘having a company blog’. These days, mention ‘social media’ and that perception will have grown slightly to encompass Facebook and Twitter. But even this is missing the larger picture.
Company videos; podcasts; social bookmarks; social email marketing; LinkedIn; blogs; Twitter; Facebook; Wikis; mobile apps; location-based services. Digital marketers in 2011 have an absolute wealth of free, high-quality platforms through which to publish content, converse with consumers and market their products, offers and brands.
This year, expect to see big brands and small businesses alike making full use of the social spectrum – which will also highlight the importance of quality content.
I’m not talking about social media’s integration in our lives as consumers, but rather its integration with digital marketing as a function. While social media marketing specialists have valid places within a marketing team, they are no longer bearded university grads who simply ‘get’ Twitter.
Social media can offer so much to a brand’s digital marketing activity and aligning this activity with broader marketing strategy is essential to business success in 2011. We’ve all seen examples of ‘bad’ social media strategy consisting of random tweets and a monthly Facebook update – all too random to achieve any discernable commercial goals.
Integrate social media activity with the grand marketing plan however, and you’ll reach more consumers through more channels with the intended message, signalling success for your business and streamlined marketing communications.
Social media has cemented itself as a valid marketing channel. 2009’s early adopters remain ahead of the curve, having learnt lessons through trial and error. Brands that were initially hesitant have also got off the blocks, resulting in 2010’s scramble for Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and mobile apps.
There’s no doubt that social media has now been validated by the marketing profession – which bodes for very big things in 2011.