Social Media has become a mainstream locale where businesses want to be present. It's become an important means for businesses to connect with and get in front of their ideal audience.
The typical path of a social media platform from startup, for those that succeed, is to have a period of rapid growth that can last from 8 months to 4-5 years (as in the case of Facebook). Businesses often look to establish a presence in the platform sometime during the middle or latter quarter of this high growth phase. As well, the platform itself will look to help businesses use it as means to connect with their ideal consumer at some point once a critical mass of users have been established and while the fast growth is continuing. We've seen this with Facebook as they evolved from "college only" to "public" to offering business fan pages and a ad platform. Twitter as well was first simply about 140 characters to "tell me what you're doing now" and it later grew into a micro-blogging platform where businesses could engage via company accounts and later also with ads.
As 2014 gets rolling, what can your business expect and plan for from existing and emerging social networks that can help your business decide where to invest time and money?
Facebook continues to evolve as a social network. It may be near the end of the fast growth period, but it does continue to have solid global growth. As the most popular and most used social network it continues to offer a great opportunity for businesses to reach out and connect with their ideal audience. At the same time Facebook has challenges for the general business, a main one being that since so many people use it so heavily and the news feed is the primary place to be seen, there is significant competition to be seen. So what should a business be aware of and do on Facebook in 2014?
First, look for Facebook mobile use to continue to grow, and for Facebook to continue to put emphasis on mobile features. This means giving time and attention to your posts is going to be important, especially making them mobile friendly. Facebook recently introduced auto-play video in the news feed, so businesses may want to consider making very short and simple videos via their mobile device or even via instagram to communicate and grab attention on Facebook.
Facebook Ads will become a key and important tool for businesses to get into and use to some degree. Yes, Facebook is free, but savvy businesses know that anything free will get swarmed and in order to rise above the noise, paying can be essential. Just like businesses pay for email marketing services, Google Ads, and other online tools, smart businesses will pay the relatively small fees of $15-30 to ensure some key content they post reaches a certain audience. The huge value of Facebook ads is that with the demographic information known on each user, ads can be precisely launched to reach a very specific audience whether by age, location, or interests. Watch Facebook ads become easier to use (this is a high priority of Facebook) and businesses that want to get ahead of Facebook will need to integrate some ads into their Facebook marketing mix.
Watch for Instagram to grow. Instagram had a breakout year in 2013 and is on that fast growth curve. It was only in the middle of last year that they added the video dimension to their app. Now, they have announced coming business features and the coming opportunity for businesses to place ads. Many businesses are now getting onto Instagram and this is a network to consider, particularly if your primary customer is youth or millennial's. The visual and personal nature of Instagram means it will continue to be a hot spot and it will force more and more businesses to "think visually" with their marketing.
Pinterest and Google+ will become more mainstream and see continued growth in use and business adoption.
Pinterest has made the shift to business tools in 2013 and with the power of referral traffic it demonstrates that helps businesses drive new traffic to their website, along with growing use by males, Pinterest offers value to many types of businesses.
Perhaps one of the social networks poised for the most growth is Google+.
Google has created great tools, such as Hangouts on Air for video conferencing and hosting live events, and has also integrated Google+ into tools such as Gmail and YouTube (for comments) so much so that it is hard not to participate in some way on Google+. For businesses, the SEO value of sharing company information on Google+ is known to improve search rankings for specific content. All these opportunities under the Google umbrella means that Google+ is poised to gain strength, use, and influence in 2014!
As always, the key for any business is not to try and be everywhere. Rather, the value is in identifying where your audience is spending the most time, and where you can most cost effectively reach and bring them to your website as part of your overall digital marketing plan. So your first step is identifying where your audience is now spending time, and where the growth areas are you should be considering. Then develop a plan and strategy for your presence in those areas.