Social media has revolutionized the way companies market their brands and engage with customers. Now that social media has become a business mainstay, the industry celebrates its advent with events like Social Media Week (February 27 to March 3).
“Businesses have started moving away from the idea of social media being a separate entity and are now fully incorporating it into their marketing, PR and customer service campaigns," says Todd Grossman, CEO of Talkwalker, a marketing analysis tool that assists businesses in developing a social media strategy and measuring results. “Many business owners now realize that the data produced by social networks holds a treasure trove of marketing and PR information."
Amidst the many platforms and online chatter, it's often challenging for a business owner to know where and how to focus social media efforts. But knowing what's trending in social media may help you pinpoint where to focus your efforts so you can leverage its many aspects.
Visual Storytelling Is a Growing Trend
“One of the most powerful trends in social media is live video, which is a powerful and captivating resource for businesses," says Jay York, social media manager for EMSI Public Relations. He has extensive experience in social media marketing dating back to the early days of MySpace and LiveJournal.
“With support from Facebook and Instagram in the form of automatic push notifications to followers, it's possible for a business to quickly garner a sizeable live audience," says York. “The interactive nature of this platform allows brands to take questions and directly interact with their following."
—Fauzia Burke, founder, FSB Associates
Visual storytelling is a big trend, agrees Grossman. “Whether it's Instagram stories, Facebook Live or on Twitter, telling stories on visuals continues to increase in popularity," he says. "Brands of all kinds are getting strong engagement from this form of social media posting, and social networks are also favoring this kind of content by pushing users to post live videos."
While once a “nice to have" bonus, visual content may be a necessity moving forward, believes Fauzia Burke, founder and president of FSB Associates, an online publicity and marketing firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors.
“Business owners should incorporate not only graphics, but also video and live streaming into their editorial calendars," says Burke. “With video, keep in mind that your audience's attention span is relatively short—particularly when viewing on mobile. Aim for video less than 30 seconds. Longer video can certainly be worthwhile, but know you have a significant chance of losing viewers before they reach the end, so grab them early."
Social Media Engagement Becoming a Necessity
One of the reasons that video is increasing in popularity is its ability to encourage two-way communication. And connecting and engaging with businesses is something that customers increasingly seek and expect.
“You can't simply post content and then fall flat on engagement," says Lori Noonan, owner of Social Caterpillar, which provides business consulting, including content management. “Your followers want to hear from you if they comment or ask a question on your post. Oftentimes, this is where a company's social media strategy fails. Yes, content is key, but if you engage your customers and fail to keep that interaction, they may be left feeling you're just a computer and not a person behind the strategy."
Another important trend is social messaging, agrees York. “As customer service is quickly becoming more socially influenced, brands are finding new resources and channels for handling customer inquiries," he says. “Facebook has released several tools, including automated messaging, away messages and more to provide more control to brands, while ensuring they're able to assist customers before any escalation."
Facebook “reactions" may be weighted more heavily than “likes" in the news feed, allowing users to create posts to summon emotional responses, adds Amanda Corman, social media specialist for The Symphony Agency, a company that provides digital marketing solutions and technology products.
Avoid Intrusive Social Media Marketing and Overselling
“Today's consumers don't want brands aggressively pushing their way into social media feeds," says social media strategist Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Influence Central, which connects brands with influencers. “Pop-ups, banner ads and disruptive brand messages aren't welcomed. As consumers seek to learn about new products on their own time and when it makes sense for them, we can expect continued resentment over perceived intrusive marketing to further deepen in 2017. Consumers will vote with their feet away from social platforms that overly inundate them with brand marketing."
That being said, be careful about how you use social media when it comes to pushing your brand, believes Grossman. “Don't just use social solely as a channel for promoting your own content and news," he says. "It can be a great channel for promotion, but if that's all you do, people will turn off. Share and comment on posts that you find interesting, even if they don't mention your company."
Noonan agrees. “When using social media, don't just think about what's in it for you. Think about what's in it for your followers. Instead of just promoting a sale, tell customers what's in it for them by explaining how much they can save. And if you're a local business that loves to support other local businesses, do it and post about it. Build your followers by being a leader who shows you're also an active follower."
Playing it too safe may work against you, suggests Grossman. “Bold statements make an impact on social media. Over the last year, we've seen big brands stray from purely industry-related content to take a stand on social issues. This approach does, of course, carry risks, but done well it can help companies develop a stronger connection with their audiences and helps break through an increasingly noisy social media environment."
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