Zoe Boalch, co-founder of Sydney-based word of mouth marketing agency Contagious, presents her seven top tips for digital, social media and WOM in the next 12 months.
1. Brands become publishers as content rules
Everyone is a publisher. Where global media platforms once ruled the roost, the humble consumer now has the power to reach more people via a viral blog post than the New York Times does with an exclusive.
The smart brands such as Coca Cola, Red Bull and IGA are becoming publishers themselves and partnering with third party influencers such as bloggers to create and amplify branded content (60% of brands already have a content marketing strategy).
This trend will only grow as the power balance continues to shift from media giants to the consumer. It’s inevitable that more and more brands will start to follow suit and develop their own content, specifically designed for fans and influencers to share.
The focus will shift away from creating PR and exposure with traditional media and towards amplification via large fan bases and digital influencers. This started last year when Beyonce snubbed traditional media exclusives and instead launched her latest album via Instagram to her fan base of eight million, generating 365,000 album downloads on the first day and 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours.
The need for traditional media to launch products will continue to decrease as online communities establish power in numbers.
2. Time to pay up
The day Facebook went public was the day that everything changed in the social media ecosystem.
What started as fun and free social networking has now turned into a very profitable business model. Nothing is for free anymore and whether they realise it or not, Facebook users are now paying for their Facebook experience by being subjected to advertising.
The pursuit of the Facebook ‘like’ is now seen as a valid KPI for marketing professionals. Plus, if you want to reach your own Facebook audience, you now have to pay with a sponsored post.
Other social media platforms are now following Facebook’s lead with Twitter developing self serve ads in the last year and promoted pins going live on Pinterest in October 2013.
Play in social media if you dare, your wallet better be ready for it though. I predict that as the social media industry matures this year, we will continue to see the commercialisation of existing networks, which is a great marketing opportunity for brands.
3. Google Plus
With the trend for most social media networks going towards a ‘pay to play’ model, Google Plus retains one very large advantage with its free offering. Plus, Google has no need to monetise because Google Plus works in tandem with its highly profitable Adwords offering.
Perhaps we will see an exodus of Facebook and Twitter fans as they slowly realise what social networking is costing them in terms of advertising?
There have been rumours that Google Plus is set to overtake Facebook in social sharing by 2016 and it will be interesting to follow the race this year.
Adoption rates among blogger influencers have definitely increased with Google Plus (and Google Authorship in particular) becoming a key SEO driver. According to the research, Google Plus growth last year was over 100%, so watch this space.
4. A mobile world
The world has been watching with bated breath as the mobile phone has rather adeptly shimmied its way ahead of the humble desktop device in 2013.
The stats are clear – more and more people are using their smartphones to browse the internet and even purchase products.
There’s no option but for brands to embrace mobile and adapt their digital content and platforms accordingly.
In terms of sharing, at Contagious we have noticed a huge shift from sharing recommendations about brands via desktop devices to a definite preference to use mobile.
In turn, those social networks that work specifically well with mobile are seeing an increase, with Instagram and Pinterest peaking for us in terms of word of mouth recommendations.
This begs the question, are we making it easier for consumers to share recommendations about their brands with the use of mobile?
Users can now share on the go, while travelling and when out and about socialising with friends.
I predict that mobile will indeed support the growing trend of influencers sharing branded content and personal recommendations more consistently as sharing technology becomes more accessible via mobile devices.
5. Pictures over words
The diffusion of visual sharing platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram has revealed one thing: words are overrated.
It seems that for now, people like pictures. I expect visual communications, such as infographics and visual media, to dominate in 2014.
We’ll see more and more marketing campaigns across Pinterest and Instagram where a single image will have the job of communicating a thousand words.
The irony is a return to the traditional format of the visual ad via a new more advanced technological platform. It will be interesting to see how brands tackle the challenge of visual marketing in 2014.
6. Wearables go social
With Google Glass, Samsung’s smart watch and Apple’s (rumoured) iWatch, wearables will be one of the biggest trends for 2014.
While they are still in their infancy, I predict we’ll see more social media integration into this technology over the coming year.
Imagine being able to access Facebook on your wrist. If smart watches take off, the lightweight iPhone could become a cumbersome thing of the past.
What will be interesting is how, yet again, content will need to adapt due to size restrictions of these wearable devices, and I wonder how this will impact advertising and marketing options.
If and when this convergence does take place, we will need to make peace with the thought of being connected 24/7 to technology via our physical bodies (a scary thought).
From a WOM perspective, social media wearables may also provide an opportunity for influencers to share recommendations more frequently while on the go.
7. Bloggers are no longer free
Over the past few years, brands have cottoned onto the fact that blogger influencers represent a powerful form of media.
This realisation has led to brands offering bloggers free products in exchange for exposure in the form of a sponsored blog post or review.
As bloggers have become more and more powerful and can command more and more reach with their substantial networks, the value in what they can offer has increased.
Having worked with hundreds of Australia’s most influential bloggers over the past five years, I can see that the market has reached a point where brands can no longer expect free coverage.
For many, blogging is no longer a hobby, it’s a full time job and the hours spent crafting a sponsored brand post and amplification of this across multiple social networks now comes with a price.
If you want to work with blogger influencers, then expect to come ready with a budget as I can only see the value of brand /blogger partnerships increasing in 2014.
Zoe Boalch is co-founder and strategy director of word of mouth marketing agency Contagious.