That may seem like a strange question coming from a blogger and active participant in social media. More companies are embracing social media, but, in my opinion, too many are treating social media like the jackpot that will make them rich. The social media landscape is changing and I believe 2014 will see a shift in how marketers promote their brands.
It’s been obvious for the past year that the major social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are cutting back on their free benefits and pushing users toward paid advertising, or premium memberships, e.g. LinkedIn, as Social Media Examiner said in its 2014 predictions.
The free ride is over for smaller businesses. If you decide to pay-to-play by boosting your posts on Facebook, for example, you will need a substantial budget and even then the ROI may be small. How long can you keep up this investment?
Google AdWords has proven to be successful for many marketers, even smaller ones. But that’s not social media doing the job. That’s traditional advertising.
Organic traffic from web searches is increasingly less reliable as a source of traffic — more important are your subscribers and others who specifically seek out your website. There is simply too much competition now to depend on organic traffic, most of which bounces off within seconds anyway.
Back to the Future
This is going to sound really retro: marketers are going to start making more personal connections. Some of it will be through social media but I predict a greater focus on in-person networking, sampling and event marketing.
These communications channels never went away, but too many marketers put have all their eggs in the social media basket. That is not likely to work. Social media will be but one marketing channel among many. Social media needs to be integrated into the marketing mix.
I decided to visit Facebook to learn how the three world’s top three brands are using the largest social network.
I started with Apple, the world’s #1 brand. I learned Apple isn’t selling the newest iPhone or iPad on its official Facebook page. Instead the company established a user community called DigitCorner, where visitors can share information. iPhone and iPad Facebook pages are not affiliated with Apple
Next, I went to the Microsoft Facebook page, “your source for news and conversation about Microsoft’s consumer products and services.” The #2 brand also has a “Microsoft Store” page. But instead of selling products there, Microsoft invites you to browse a list of brick-and-mortar stores where you can sample its products. Of course, while you’re in a store, you might converse with a real salesperson and buy something.
Finally, I visited Coca-Cola, the #3 brand. With 78 million Likes, their presence is huge.
But guess what? Coke is not using Facebook to sell, but to build its brand. The company’s stated goal is: “The Coca-Cola® Facebook page is intended to provide a place for fans of Coca-Cola® to discuss Coca-Cola® beverages and promotions.”
If you click on the “Shop Now” link you get taken to its store where you see a blank page. There is nothing there. I wonder why they even have that link.
All three of the world’s top brands are using Facebook – the largest social network – for brand building.
That isn’t to say you can’t make money from your own website. One of the most successful young entrepreneurs I know is Danny Iny, founder of Firepole Marketing. He receives 37,000 monthly visitors and sells them a variety of products and services.
When he first started out a few years ago, he took Jon Morrow’s guest blogging course. Guest posts can jump-start your subscriber base, which is your source of revenue. Danny wrote 80 guest posts in one year, including one for me.
I subsequently wrote a post about his book Engagement From Scratch, in which he describes how to grow an audience. But Danny may be the exception. He’s smart and had a plan and developed products to sell before his guest post blitzkrieg. He seems to have an inexhaustible source of energy and drive.
So Why Social Media?
Did you think I’d given up on social media? Not at all. Social media plays a key role in marketing your business. On social media networks you can:
- Establish your authority. One of the best ways is by starting a blog. I firmly believe that a blog is the centerpiece of your social media strategy. It’s where you create the content that establishes your authority and burnishes your brand. It’s the launching pad for your activities on social media. You own your blog. You are not at the mercy of a social media network that starts charging for what you once got for free.
- Join the conversation. You can be part of the conversation about issues of importance to your core constituencies. I once started a discussion on HR.com, the largest HR group on LinkedIn, about laying off employees that got dozens of comments. I was the Top Influencer in that group for four straight weeks.
- Gather intelligence. Every network displays trending stories that can provide valuable insights into your industry and potential opportunities for new business.
- Make new connections. These connections expand your network and possible sources of business. I am part of a blogging group on LinkedIn and we support each other by commenting and exchanging useful ideas and tips. Several have done business together and collaborated on books.
- Generate business. You can get business on social media. Someone will read your update or new post on a network and contact you directly. Or you can contact someone and they will just happen to be in the market for what you’re selling. It doesn’t happen every day and it’s not something you can depend on for your livelihood. But it has happened to me and I was grateful to make new connections as well as earn some money.
What’s the Future?
Social media will continue to grow in usage and importance. But I think this is the year when marketers take a deep breath and settle down. It’s going to be more of grinding it out and not hoping for a silver bullet.
Did you notice how many catalogs you received in the mail this past holiday season? Wasn’t online shopping supposed to end all that? Consumer products companies have gotten smarter and know that customers still like to browse through colorful catalogs. But instead of filling out an order form and writing a check, consumers will go online to make their purchase. That’s what the catalog owners are hoping you’ll do
Companies will step up their event marketing. Nothing like tasting and touching the product. Can’t replace kicking the tires.
Marketers will increase their advertising, in traditional print, broadcast media, and out-of-home, as well as online. They will advertise in the niches where their customers hang out.
We will be bombarded with online ads that can track our interests based on our browsing history. I should know. Hello everyone out there: I’m finished searching for boots. I bought a pair. Please stop showing me ads for all the boots you have for sale!
These are my own unscientific opinions. Having been blogging and deeply involved in social media for five years I feel I’ve gained some perspective. I sense in my bones a shift in the way companies will market their products and services.
What do feel about the role of social media in 2014? How do you plan to monetize your social media efforts? You would sure help my readers if you left a comment below. Thank you.