In the last decade social media has exploded, revolutionizing brand engagement and transforming the marketing industry. A new BIA/Kelsey report says social media advertising revenue will reach $11 billion by 2017, and almost 200 million people sign up to social media sites every year. One of the greatest challenges the digital media world faces is learning to fully understand its power. Many businesses still need educating on its innate value but for most, the benefits are abundantly clear. Brands have the ability to engage with customers on a personal level like never before and businesses have enjoyed increased brand loyalty, higher conversion rates, improved customer insights and a richer experience for their consumers. Through the use of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, businesses can establish powerful thought leadership within their industry and among their customer base.

Brands are also becoming increasingly concerned with customer-service and the use of social media to handle the bulk of customer service inquiries is slowly but surely becoming standard practice. Keeping a close eye on your channels is important in an age where complaints are so public. According to a Social Times study, 61% of consumers say that social media reviews impact their buying decision, and people like to see brands respond when they comment on a Facebook post or mention the company in a tweet. Social media gives you the opportunity to add personality and let your character shine through as it would do in person. It’s a powerful extension of your marketing departments, and will show you for what you really are.


The backlash and opportunities ahead

While some social networks are growing exponentially (Instagram and Periscope, for example), others are starting to slow, some disappearing altogether. Scientist & writer Susan Greenfield gave a famously apocalyptic warning: “We could be raising a hedonistic generation who live only in the thrill of the computer-generated moment and are in distinct danger of detaching themselves from what the rest of us would consider the real world.” There are definitely the rumblings of a social media backlash and a desire to get more ‘personal’ again and ‘virtual face-to-face’, so businesses need to evolve the way they communicate via social media to survive this. Many are still catching up on what’s current, but all need to be preparing for what’s coming next:

Live streaming & Video – YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and other video sharing sites are already huge and can all be leveraged for marketing purposes. Live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat, and the short videos you can share on Vine, Snapchat and Instagram can have incredible engagement rates.

Chat and messaging platforms – WhatsApp, Snapchat and Skype are especially popular among younger consumers and will only continue to grow in both popularity and marketing & advertising opportunities.

Purchasing on social media platforms – It’s still in the early stages, but it’s the next logical step: selling directly to consumers via social media without having to direct them to a website. It’s already possible on Instagram and Pinterest, with Facebook and a few others currently experimenting with the idea.

Smarter, ‘real’ messaging

Social media is helping to shape our future, both in our personal lives and the business world, and it’s changing rapidly. We are going from Instagramming every meal we eat and tweeting about the mundane daily habits of our cats to deducing all that information to craft more powerful and tailored messages; quality over quantity. The web is about to get a lot smarter too; semantic search, artificial intelligence and targeted advertising are not far off, and Gartner predict that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human. Zuckerberg aims to have AI smarter than a human in place at Facebook within ten years.

Snapchat is the perfect example of what brands should be getting on board with – engagement is through the roof and according to a new survey from Piper Jaffray, it has now surpassed Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as the most popular social media platform among teenagers, with 28% stating that they believe it to be the most important social network, up from 19% last Autumn. Snapchat is fast becoming one of the most popular platforms because it’s provided us something that’s been missing from social media. It’s catching the attention of multiple generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z, because it’s become the closest platform to emulate real life: Snapchat is one-on-one and intimate. Once an interaction is had and shared, it disappears, leaving you with just the memory of it.


Up close and personal

We’ll see a lot more apps and platforms like this because they provide brands with a direct line to the customer’s inbox. They offer a level playing field for brands of all sizes, where it’s more about conversational interaction than marketing and crafting promotional content. Brands can be far more casual and friendly in tone with customers, which leads to increased fan engagement. The iHeartRadio music festival is the perfect example of how brands can leverage apps like Snapchat: fans sharing their excitement and snapshots of the event, and companies learning what their followers love and engaging directly with them in a more candid back-and-forth way. The points of engagement are also very specific and measurable votes of approval (and measuring social media results and ROI is something that many companies struggle with and differ over).

Platforms like Snapchat create an authentic brand experience, because it’s an incredible way to tell a story in a very personal manner; the impermanence and playfulness encourages brands as well as people to let their personalities shine. Marketers and business managers, take note: you need to go where your customers are, and in the near future that means personal, direct Snapchat-like services, via photo and video engagement.