We’ve been at this social game for a while now, you and me. We saw it grow up from a minor phenomenon to a mainstream communication channel. And we were there for the emergence of “pinning” (no longer just a wrestling term), the broad use of Twitter in crisis reporting, and seemingly countless redesigns of the Facebook Wall, err … Timeline.
In such a rapidly changing space, it’s hard not to get pulled into an ongoing analysis of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed next. In this most recent round of reassessment, a handful of trends have caught my attention. And, unlike the loss of LinkedIn Answers, I’m feeling pretty good about them. So let’s take a closer look at how social media is changing … for the better.
1) Social Media Is Gaining Weight as a Sales Tool
Social media has always enjoyed firm footing as a marketing and communications tool. But more and more, sales teams are finding ways to incorporate it into their sales processes; and those that do are seeing some pretty impressive results. In a talk with HubSpot the other day, Kurlan and Associates’ Vice President and self-proclaimed “reformed salesman” Frank Belzer noted that he dedicates time each day to content creation and social media.
“Sales should help with content and build a reputation for thought leadership,” Belzer advises. He explained that content creation and social media outreach should be incorporated into bonus structures and sales schedules, and followed up with a story about a lead who, after months of avoiding sales calls, finally converted after Belzer left a thoughtful and relevant comment on the lead’s blog post.
Another example of social being used well for sales came to us via the Matchist blog. Matchist, a service that matches companies with developers, was weighing a purchase decision …
Responding to a question in social media recently not only led Kissmetrics founder Hiten Shah to land a deal for his company; it also landed him some great praise on the customer’s blog.
How companies can use social media as a sales tool:
- Set up alerts and monitoring: Hiten Shah didn’t just happen upon Stella’s question; he likely has social media monitoring and alerts set up to notify him of relevant conversations happening around his company’s and industry’s keywords in social media.
- Keep it useful and ‘inbound’: Treat social like an outbound promotion channel and you’ll end up alienating your audience. Instead, set time aside to thoughtfully respond to questions or share helpful content.
- Pull social media intelligence into your sales calls: Before calling up leads, make sure you’re aware of the content your leads are sharing on sites like Twitter or LinkedIn. Using a tool like HubSpot’s Social Contacts, your salespeople can go into their calls equipped with information about what leads have found interesting, and how often they’ve clicked on your social shares. Learn more about how Sales can use Twitter to connect with more prospects in this article.
2) Social Media Is Becoming Less of a Side Game
Social media grew up alongside other marketing channels, and with the exception of social sharing/follow buttons on websites and in emails, it has largely remained an isolated channel. But there’s one big problem inherent to that separation: a fragmented customer experience. A lead’s interactions with your company in social media have as much to do with their purchasing decision as their behavior on your website or their interactions with your emails. So whether it be by tagging each social share with a tracking code or through more advanced integrated software, more and more companies are finding ways to pull data from social media into the rest of their marketing outlook and strategy. Part of this requires technology, and another part, a cultural shift inside your organization:
The Technical Shift
Marketing platforms like HubSpot were built to integrate all of your marketing channels into one seamless view, from email to website to social media — and beyond. Using a single software platform to manage each of your channels reduces communication gaps and enables you to see how each channel is contributing to your bottom line.
The Cultural Shift
Make sure your entire team is actively listening to prospects and customers in social media. Establish a standard practice for how inquiries via social are answered and what internal notification needs to take place as a result of each interaction.
3) Companies Are Looking Beyond Engagement at ROI Metrics
In the beginning, “engagement” was all the rage. Other channels couldn’t quite attain the level of engagement social media could, and in the absence of any other metrics, engagement became the primary way marketers evaluated their success on social. Today, things are much, much different.
Technology has caught up with marketers’ need for a sharper way to gauge ROI, and many companies are beginning to evolve from measuring more superficial social media metrics like clicks, retweets, and Likes to tracking metrics that are tied more closely to a company’s bottom line. Made possible by integrating social tools with a contacts database or a CRM and sharing data across platforms, companies like HubSpot customer Votility, an online advocacy software, have been able to refocus their strategy on leads generated through social media. Sarah Papachristos, social media manager at Great Island Technologies who worked with Votility on the effort, recently walked us through how they did it.
After refocusing their strategy on leads in addition to engagement metrics, Great Island increased their leads generated through social media by 650%. And today, nearly 1 out of every 10 visitors that comes from LinkedIn becomes a lead for Great Island.
4) Social Search Is Getting Real
“Social search” is an evolving term for the way search engines are factoring content from a user’s social network into the results they get for their search queries. Marketers started taking note of social search with the development of Google+ and the launch of Bing’s social search engine last summer. But the social search trend has continued to get more and more attention from search engines. Last week, Facebook joined the ranks by announcing Graph Search, a search engine that uses social signals to elevate more relevant, personalized results. Just days after that announcement, we also learned about Bing’s initiative to add 5x more Facebook content to its search results.
Social media blogger Jeff Bullas thinks we’ll be seeing more marketing strategies incorporating social search in the coming year. He writes that we should “expect to see more content marketing tools, tactics, and strategies that accept the fact that social, search, and content are increasingly integrated and intertwined.” There are a number of ways you can prepare for social search, but here are a couple to help you get started:
Start Using Authorship Tags in Your Content
Author tags will help your content to stand out in Google’s search results. To start using Google’s author tag, check out our Google Authorship setup guide.
Identify and Nurture Your Social Media Advocates
Because social search inherently prioritizes content that has been shared by others, it’s important to understand who is currently sharing your content and find ways to encourage that behavior. Make sure you are thanking your social media evangelists and similarly sharing their content, too. As we mentioned earlier, tools that integrate social behavior with your contacts database can make this much easier.
5) Visual- and Discovery-Based Search Is Continuing to Grow
Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr … you’re hearing these names pretty often these days, right? For good reason. According to comScore, Pinterest buyers spend more money, more often, and on more items than any of the other top five social media sites. While visual content got a head start in ecommerce and B2C companies, its effects are now spanning across industries.
Pinterest in particular has started to encourage companies to leverage its platform. In November, it introduced business accounts and added a slew of new services to help you drive traffic to your website. When it comes to optimizing your marketing strategy for visual discovery engines like Pinterest, it helps to start using clear, compelling images in your content. And this also extends to social sites like Facebook and Google+, which are also displaying images more prominently than ever before. In fact, a recent HubSpot study showed that photos on Facebook generate 53% more Likes than the average post.
Here are a few helpful guides and blog posts to help you get started with visual content:
- A Guide to Pinterest Business Accounts (Free Ebook Download)
- “How to Create Top-Notch Visual Content in PowerPoint” (Blog Article/Tutorial)
- “13 Free Design Tools for Visual Marketers on a Budget” (Blog Article)
6) Mobile Is Becoming the Primary Way to Access Social Media
According to Nielsen, time spent on mobile apps and the mobile web account for 63% of the year-over-year growth in overall time spent using social media. Mobile is rapidly becoming the primary way we consume and interact with social (and nearly all) content.
As a result, we’re starting to see companies regard mobile as a primary communication channel. From optimizing their content for mobile devices to encouraging the use of mobile for things like live tweeting and geotagging, companies are starting to keep their eye out for ways mobile can enable better content consumption.
What will come next is up to the creativity of marketing departments, but what we do know is this:
- It’s about more than just smartphones. Optimizing for mobile will need to take into account all the devices a consumer uses, from phones, to tablets, to whatever the next big thing is. And …
- It’s about the whole experience. While your Facebook shares and tweets may be easily consumed on mobile, what happens when a mobile user clicks through to the content you shared? Is it easily readable? If there’s a form, is it plausible that a mobile user could complete it?
You don’t need to have all the answers right away, but keep a look out for ways your company can create a better experience for mobile users.
So … who’s excited? The pace of change in social media can make your head spin sometimes, but that’s exactly what makes it such a forward-leaning marketing channel. Help us out — what changes are underway for your own social media strategies that I haven’t included here?
What do you think will be the biggest opportunity or challenge in social media marketing this year?