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What changes can we expect in 2015?

What changes in marketing can we expect in 2015?  Here's what I predict:

Facebook reach for overly promotional content will decrease even further. 

One of my favorite networking groups in Lafayette is Acadiana Entrepreneur Group.  Why?  Because they adhere to a strict no-sharking policy.  This means that if you go to their events with the sole intention of pitching future customers,  you will be asked to leave. (I’ve seen it happen!) They understand that point of networking is to build relationships so that if you are a good fit,  you may one day do business together. 

Nobody likes sharks. They are probably the main reason people (I) avoid networking events.  We don’t like them in real life and we don’t like them online.  Facebook has taken note of this and in January 2015, it will begin rolling out new newsfeed algorithm rules that will weed out overly salesly content. What does this mean? If all you ever post are products you have for sale, you will be penalized.  Content and context matter!

Personally, I’m glad to see these changes as both a consumer of social media information and a marketer. Though it may hurt a few, those who do social media well will benefit. 

Instagram will grow but this will make it more difficult for marketers.
There’s no question Instagram is popular and will continue to grow.  It’s especially good (right now) for aspirational lifestyle brands and visually oriented small businesses. 

It’s appealing because consumers using the app are about 60 times more likely than those on Facebook to interact with branded posts.  This is likely due to a cleaner format with less content than other sites but it’s also important to note that Instagram doesn’t filter out branded content like Facebook does. 

Unfortunately,  as Instagram grows in popularity,  I expect the high levels of engagement experienced in 2014 will be on the decline in 2015 (as does Forrester & the WSJ).   With more users comes more content and Instagram (i.e. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) will be forced to filter content like Facebook does.  If they don’t,  users will spend less time on the app or self edit to follow more friends and less brands.  

Other drawbacks that I believe will limit its use for small business and marketers include that it doesn’t have built in metrics like other networks, it doesn’t allow clickable links and it’s much less viral than other networks.

Facebook ads are going to get (a lot) more expensive.

Facebook has spent a lot of time in 2014 making it’s ad platform much more user friendly.  With no plans to increase the ratio of paid-to-unpaid content on the site, Facebook has a limited amount of ad inventory.  Unlike a magazine,  it can’t just squeeze in a few more pages to make an extra buck.  With ever decreasing organic reach and an easier to use ad platform,  advertisers should expect to see a large increase in demand for the limited ad space available.  Four years of studying economic theory tells me this can only do one thing, drive up prices!

Data and targeting will matter more. 

With low prices on social media ads,  it’s not as important to focus on targeting.  But as prices rise, reaching the right people will matter more.  To prepare for the changes,  I recommend marketers pay as much attention to data as possible and begin using tools like facebook retargeting now.   They’ll have a jump start on the competition when demand drives up the price for limited ad space.  I also recommend using tools like graph search to try to learn as much as you can about your customers and those of your competitors. 

Email Marketing will see a resurgence.

Though it not all that long ago some experts declared it a dying medium, email has never gone out of fashion.  In 2014, Facebook gave up on its futile effort to replace it when it killed the facebook email feature.  Many years of abuse of email marketing and black hat practices led marketers to shift focus away from email marketing.  When even small local businesses built up fan followings in the thousands and tens of thousands (most of whom saw all their posts),  it was much easier and took less effort to disseminate messages through social media.   And then reach dropped….

 

Ideally you’ve been using the momentum and trust gained in the last few years via free social media efforts to collect a list of opt-in email addresses. Smart marketers in 2015 will renew their efforts and retool their email marketing strategies.  Why wouldn’t they?  Email messages are delivered more than 90% of the time unlike social media posts which are delivered to less than 10%.  People still open all the emails sent by their favorite companies (as many as 70% according to salesforce.com.)  The trick is to use customer experience both online and offline to become and remain one of your customers’ favorite brands.

Along with renewed email efforts, we’ll see renewed efforts to improve website presences (owned media) and marketers will work harder to entice potential customers to visit their websites regardless of whether they directly sell products or services online.

Brevity, diction and wit matter.

The biggest trend in social media is the ever growing body of content that is thrown at us.  Too many words in any platform means people won’t take the time to read what you’ve worked so hard to write.   If they don’t read it,  they certainly won’t interact with it and without interaction,  you’ll lose any traction and chance of being seen in the future.  That’s why writing still matters.  Those who can say more in fewer words and be interesting will continue to come out on top.  Autocorrect and MS Office may have long made spelling irrelevant (unless of course you’re a hashtag junkie) but being able to write is an increasingly invaluable skill in the post-digital age.

Is Facebook even relevant anymore?

In light of the many people who have asked me lately what's the point of even using Facebook anymore, I decided to put my thoughts on paper.  Hope this  helps shed some light on where social media stands now for business and how you can rethink your strategies for the future! 

In 2007, Facebook introduced the Facebook Pages feature.  At the time, most early adopter businesses were using the “person profile” to reach their customers but Facebook forced us to use business pages or potentially lose access to all the connections we worked so hard to build. 

Early on, the Pages feature worked much like a personal profile and most posts were seen by most followers (or at least the ones that logged in that day.)  As business owners, we became spoiled and somewhat entitled.  Accustomed to reaching as many as 50% of fans with each post, we set that as our expectation, and we assumed that anyone who followed us should see whatever it is we wanted them to see.

Unfortunately, we abused the privilege.  Feeding off the instant gratification of being able to sell with very little effort, we bombarded fans with overly “salesy” content without giving much of value in return.  This, coupled with the publicly traded company’s need to make money, led Facebook to cut back on how many people saw each post to ensure that its users were being served enough of the content they were actually on the site to see, usually the day to day lives of their friends and family.  After all,  Facebook (as is Google) is in the business of being relevant to its users- not the business of being convenient for the small percentage of us with something to sell.

So where does that leave businesses on Facebook today?

Now that organic reach for pages is pretty well documented to be only 1-2% per post, businesses should rethink their strategies.  After all,  Facebook is still ingrained as a daily habit for over a billion people around the world.  Though it might not be free or quite as easy to reach them,  it’s still a very inexpensive way to do so.  Frankly, small businesses can’t afford not to take advantage of the opportunity to reach people where they are still actively congregating every day.

Strategies for adapting to our new social media reality:

Invest in owned media. When they drastically changed our ability to reach people, Facebook reminded us that we aren’t in control of any platforms that we don’t own.  The rules can change and do change every day. The only constants are our own websites and databases (e.g. email lists, POS, & CRM.)  Back in the days of instant contact, these often got neglected as viable, long term solutions for disseminating information about products, sales and specials. Investing your time and effort in building (and using) your email database will always pay off in the long run.  You can even use Facebook and other platforms to promote and build your email lists.

Use Facebook ads to acquire new customersWhile there may be easier ways (like Instagram, SMS, or email blasts) to reach the customers you already have, Facebook ads with thoughtful targeting are the least expensive way to reach exactly the right potential customers.  A small investment in ads (less than a typical print ad) can produce up to 10x the number of people seeing your message at exactly the time you want your message to be seen.

Use other platformsLots of businesses have begun investing time in Instagram as a platform for reaching customers. (See my interview with the Advocate for proof.)  Assuming they want to be reached,  Instagram and other platforms are a great way to reach your existing clientele.  Just keep in mind that Instagram accounts aren’t owned media.  Even the Wall Street Journal predicts that someday soon, we’ll begin to see the rules change and businesses will likely be filtered out here as well as on Facebook. (Don’t forget that Zuckerberg now owns Insta, too!)

Refocus on quality content. Content still matters.  Whether your post is promoted or not, how much interaction it gets will dictate how many people will see it. Instead of focusing on producing lots of content,  produce better content.  Give people what they want to see which is almost always information.  Demonstrate your expertise by giving away bits of useful information to earn the trust of customers and potential customers. This will allow you to gain their attention as an expert and thought leader without always having to shout “look at me and what I am selling!”


Want to learn more about strategies for promotion?  I’d encourage anyone in South Louisiana to sign up for my upcoming social media seminar with Erin McCarthy and the Opportunity Machine at LEDA. (Sign up here.)  Though it's geared for non-profits,  I believe the content will be useful to anyone with something to promote!  Click here to register. 

Facebook changes the newsfeed rules. Again.

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I recently shocked the attendees at my social media seminar when I told them that posts on which users comment different variations of “congratulations”  tend to rank higher in our news feeds and stay there longer.  Why?  Because Facebook’s algorithm recognizes that this usually signifies important events in our lives-  new babies, weddings, job promotions and big news. 

The algorithm is complicated and it changes often. Facebook recently announced another change to its method for selecting and serving us content.  With the new update, Trending topics and time sensitive content will receive preference (albeit not necessarily a huge advantage.)  In Facebook’s official words it means that “when a friend or Page you are connected to posts about something that is currently a hot topic of conversation on Facebook, that post is more likely to appear higher up in News Feed, so you can see it sooner”

Though this change will be rolled out slowly and might be barely noticeable to a consumer,  it provides an opportunity for lifestyle businesses to increase their exposure by posting about current events (when relevant to your audience) as they happen.

That said, it’s hard to trick Facebook (or Google) for very long.  They hire the best tech minds in the world and they’ll always be a few steps ahead of us. Their main goal (other than pro ducting revenue) is to get us to come to the site often and to stay there longer.  To do this, they have to keep us interested with content we care about.  This has often meant showing us more content from our friends and less from pages we follow. The only way to do well on Facebook business pages is to “keep producing great content that is relevant and resonates with (your) audience.”