The Future of Social Media and Marketing
The other day someone asked me where I think the future of social media in marketing is for 2010 and the future beyond that. What an interesting question. Here’s my answer.
Accept and embrace
As we enter 2010 I look around at budgetary predictions and the first thing I see is something awesome — social media has real money behind it. In 2010 eMarketer.com estimates a 35% growth in conversational marketing spending over 2009 leading it to break the $1 billion dollar mark for the first time. As if that were not enough, they go on to estimate 60% growth in 2011 and another 85% in 2012 brining the predicted budget to just over $3 billion aggregating to $5 billion over the next three years. That’s real money. For years we’ve run pilot programs, in 2010 we’ll accept the proof of concept and move on to real projects.
Not just another media
Historically social media has been used and abused as a one-way soap box and megaphone media like traditional television or email. It’s not. What we’ve discovered is that social media is, well, social in nature. Sure the majority of us still think in terms of getting our message out, but that point is starting to tip the other way. Pre-2010 we’ve created twitter and facebook accounts, dabbled around with linking them to existing campaigns, and tried to grow our fan base. Our goals have been to drive consumers away from the dynamic engaging social into our controlled environment. Post-2010 we’ll realize the social media world doesn’t revolve around us.
There’s a conversation going on and, as mashable.com puts it, “we’re finding our voice and sense of purpose…. By not only listening, but hearing and observing the responses and mannerisms of those who define our markets, we can surface pain points, source ideas, foster innovation, earn inspiration, learn, and feel a little empathy in order to integrate a sense of purpose into our socialize media programs … aimless broadcasting is not as effective [or economical] as strategic communications and engagement.” The website eMarketer.com compared advertising spending in social media (banners, etc…) to communication and marketing spending. What they found is that while ad spending is still growing, the pace at which it is doing so is not. With the pace of marketing budget growth skyrocketing, it’s expected to take the lead in 2011 and not look back. Historically we’ve had plenty of practice speaking — in 2010 we start listening.
Information is exponential
According to Justin Smith, founder of Inside Network, about 33% of the US population is singed up for facebook with over 350 million members world wide. That’s a lot of data — and that’s just Facebook. I call it data because disparate 1’s and 0’s don’t become information until it’s refined and, even then, it has to be accessible. As marketers, data is the most important part of social media. Everything our customers do generates data. In 2010 and beyond the most critical task we’ll have is to take social data and turn it into actionable, insightful information. And we must do it in a useful, organized, and scalable way.
This is not an easy task for several reasons, not the least of which is that knowledge begets knowledge. The more we learn and innovate, the more we realize how much there is to learn and the possibilities of innovation. We first learn this lesson as children when we progress through the “never-ending why?” stage. Somewhere along the line, perhaps our teens or maybe in college, we begin know it all. Social media changes all that by opening portals to understanding consumers at a level never before feasible — as individuals.
Social media is information, and knowledge is power. The key to social media is organization of information and, through that, personalized engagement. If we can understand social media, we can focus it’s power into a new marketing paradigm where consumers are actually interested in the products and services we market to them as friends and collaborators, and SPAM is a thing of the past.
Redefining our role
The first decade of the 2000’s was the age of information, the second promises to be the age of communication and choice. Today we have Google’s Nexus One, a carrier independent mobile device with both an open sourced OS and applications. We have broadcaster independent digital and Internet television through services like hulu and hardware like boxee which are paving the way for buffet style channel, program, and even episode selection. The future of marketing is accepting our role with respect to our customers has changed. We haven’t been in charge for a while, but in 2010 and beyond we’ll have to accept it.
Social media on a brand level is a delicate balance of large scale and honest personalization (not variable-based form letters) which must result in brand recognition without sacrificing brand loyalty. Our job, as technical marketers, going forward is to facilitate and cultivate relationships with and among our customers. As a friend of mine puts it, “I’d rather pay $100 for something I think is worth $100 then $10 for something I think is worth $5.” 2010 is the year of finding the $100 customers worth cultivating and being an organization who is worth their time.
To stay relevant in today’s information rich marketplace organizations must intimately know, understand, and communicate with their customers in an increasingly competitive digital world. Prosumers, so named for their role as both producer and consumer, are the intermediary between organizations and customers. They’ve been empowered by social media and through it they invite us into their existing community. We are just guests at the party. Marketing in 2010 and beyond must understand and apply the information prosumers willingly and actively provide through this medium in such a way that we become both a participant in the conversation and part of the solution — essentially assuming the role of prosumer ourselves.
Upon assuming this role, do not be so presumptuous as to think our part in the conversation is greater then the sum of it’s parts. Though our voice may be louder than any single participant, in the democratized social we are still just a single voice. As we affect the prosumer, so do they affect our organizations. In 2010 and beyond we must prepare for this. To take full advantage of social media we must be open to change and able to affect it within. Change can be a difficult thing as we can’t know where the conversation may lead. As Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, we must confront the brutal facts yet never lose faith. Once in the conversation we may not like everything we hear, but we must accept and embrace it anyway. Organizational change is slow, and prosumers are not employees — they will tell you how it is.
Social Media as a marketing tool has arrived and is quickly coming into it’s own as we work tirelessly to organize massive amounts of data into useful information and allow it to affect our organizations as we affect it. To accomplish this we must redefine our role and that of our organization with respect to our consumers and simultaneously accept social networks as mainstream media within our marketing. If we can do this — if we can accept, organize, listen, and heed — it’s going to be a great decade to be a social media marketer.
I look forward to the challenges of social media and am exhilarated by the prospect of what we will accomplish through it in 2010 and beyond.