With companies across verticals creating their "Highlights of 2011" and "Predictions for 2012" lists, we thought it might be interesting to create a more useful hybrid. What if we analyzed the millions of social interactions powered by our platform, found the trends from this year, and created a data-driven set of predictions for next year? We did, and realized that even as marketers are becoming smarter about reaching users with social, consumers continue to get more elusive. So read on for the reasons that we think "Less is more" will be the social media marketing mantra for 2012.
1. In 2012, we'll see less focus on solely promotional Facebook content, and more posts that ask users for feedback on making the brand experience better. Our analysis of the top posts of the year found that the most engaging Facebook content was presented in a fun, Q&A-style, asking users to give feedback that would help companies improve their product or service experience. In contrast, less than 20 percent of the top posts that garnered user comments and "likes" were specific deals or promotions.
2. Expect less focus on custom-tabbed Facebook pages, and more focus on building branded applications with a gamification component. We mined data from thousands of branded Facebook pages, and found that the average brand "liker" had roughly 288 friends. Custom landing pages or tabs may be good for initially garnering a "like," but what about reaching that users' nearly 300 social connections? Expect to see more brands create apps that entice users to compete, share, and win in an effort to connect with a wider audience.
These apps may look and feel like social games, or they may feel more like utilities with gamification elements added in. Take the AMC Theaters Movie Memories app, for example, which gets people to share their stories about movies in contest format.
3. Brands will focus less on individual deals and more on building an ongoing "social rewards" program. Let's face it, consumers are showing signs of "deal fatigue" from all the daily deal emails, so is it any wonder Facebook killed off its own "Groupon-killer" this year? In our research, we've found that the brands that have been most successful at using social to drive sales haven't been focused on creating and promoting daily deals or one-off coupons. They've dedicated time to finding and rewarding their advocates. This leads to increased repeat business, as well as new bites from their advocates' friends.
In 2012, we'll expect the most socially-savvy brands to create programs that identify and "tag" their best and most influential customers across social platforms, and then reward them for sharing content and information with friends. While it's still relatively new, Sell Simply is an example of where we think the market is headed.
4. There will be less content with a national focus and more localization. Studying data from clients that are corporate franchises with hundreds or thousands of local stores, we found that their social media efforts gained the most user interaction when they had a local focus.
Localized content - be it a geo-targeted Facebook ad, a region-specific contest, or even just a tweet highlighting a local news story - creates seven to 10 times higher levels of engagement than non-locally relevant content. We expect to see more brands target and personalize their social marketing content at the country, region, city, and designated market area (DMA) level to optimize user participation.
5. Expect less focus on written content and more focus on visual content. It's no surprise that infographics are among some of the most clicked and shared content across trade and business media. Having information presented visually is the key - whether the content is business or consumer-focused.
Our research with creating and optimizing Facebook ads found that tweaking the image had a far greater impact on click-throughs and conversions than swapping different headlines or ad copy. We've also found that client posts that contained visuals typically had higher engagement levels than simple posts with headlines and text. Brands should focus on creating content that truly drives user behavior (and delivers ROI), so expect to see more compelling visuals across the board.
6. Companies that win will use less static, single-source social data and more integrated, real-time intelligence. We're entering the era of "big data," with the American population creating and consuming terabytes worth in a single day. Mining and analyzing this data is key to creating more compelling marketing strategies. With social, we think companies will push to integrate data from platforms like Facebook and Twitter with other internal and external data to create a constant stream of real-time, comprehensive analytics.
This combined data will help companies better target and engage with fans and followers, as well as determine the return on investment of their social campaigns. Expect this data to increasingly be linked directly to transactional data through point of sale (POS) and mobile application - call it the age of the e-CRM platform. American Express is at the forefront of this data hybridization, with its "Link, Like, Love" program - among others - tying cardmembers' social interests and purchases to branded, customized experiences. Expect to see the industry move in this general direction, as the data is invaluable.
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Michael Heffring is chief strategy officer of Expion, a social software company that empowers retailers, brands and agencies to localize and manage their social marketing efforts. A published author, Heffring holds three advanced degrees in business, marketing, and sociology, and served as a tenured business professor for over a decade. He has used this academic background to power strategic roles at a range of marketing-focused enterprise companies and startups. Founded in 2009, Expion is privately-held and based in Raleigh, NC.
March 19, 2014