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Ian Blair

The Top Trends in Social Media Marketing (and Why Every Businesses Needs to Understand Them)

Social media is fast evolving, which is great in some respects, as there’s always something new to pay attention to for entertainment and interest. But from a business perspective, the pace of change can pose a significant challenge – as more and more people use social platforms more often, it becomes proportionately more pressing for brands to also be present in order to reach their target audiences. But a lot of businesses don’t have the time to spare learning about every new changes and progressions, which can then lead to hasty decisions about where you should be concentrating your efforts and what’s likely to deliver the best return.

And while the answers to those questions are different for every business, there are some definitive trends that all brands should be aware of in social media marketing, behavioural evolutions that are changing how people interact and use social platforms. They’re always changing, but here are some of the wider, over-arching trends that all brands should be aware of and which might help you better understand the social landscape – and maximize your digital marketing performance as a result.

It’s all mobile

Okay, no doubt you’ve heard this one – or even if you haven’t, no doubt you’ve seen it. Look around you in any public place and I guarantee you’ll see a heap of people staring at their mobile screens, reading. The mobile revolution is well and truly in place – advances in connectivity and digital technology have opened up a whole new way for people to communicate. These days, you can conduct virtually any type of interaction, at any time, all within the flick of a fingertip.

If you’ve not considered the impact of the mobile shift in your marketing plan, here are some stats that might make you want to re-think your process.

  • In 1995 there were 80 million mobile phone users in the world – a 1% penetration of the global population. By 2014, that number had increased to 5.2 billion users, 73% of the world’s population
  • Facebook, the world’s biggest social media network by a significant margin, is used by over one billion people every day, with a staggering 894 million of them accessing the platform via mobile device
  • Earlier this year, Google confirmed that they’re now seeing more searches conducted via mobile device than desktop PC

Make no mistake, the mobile shift is real, and it’s crucially important that brands understand where and how their target consumers are searching for information relevant to their business – and also, what they’re finding when they get there.

If you’ve not considered how your website appears on mobile, or how you can improve the mobile customer experience, now is the time to do it.

Customer Expectations are Changing

I’ve heard from many businesses that social media’s not for them, that their customers aren’t on social anyway, and other variations on this theme. And they might be correct – it’s possible that despite the growing amount of people engaging via social networks every day that your customers are not among them, or, at least, it’s possible that the people looking for answers in regards to the products and services that you offer are not heading to social media for such info.

But are you sure?

Here’s the thing – there are around 6,000 tweets sent every second.  The average Facebook user – of which, there are more than 1 billion each day – spends an average of 46 minutes per session on the platform (and rising). The amount of interaction and engagement on social is staggering – indeed, researchers have determined that more than 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone, with social media exchanges a significant contributor. That’s a staggering amount – the vast majority of the information and insights you now have access to literally did not exist, in any form, just two years ago.

Given this, it seems somewhat flawed to be sticking with assumptions on what your audience might or might not be saying, and where they might be doing it.

Social media’s changed the way we communicate and connect. The strength of social is that it provides every person with a platform, everyone has been given a way to add their voice to wider, global conversations. As such, people, naturally, want that voice to be heard – they’re even growing to demand as much.

A recent study found that 72% of consumers who complain on Twitter expect a response from the brand in question within one hour of posting. That type expectation doesn’t come from no where, people are growing to expect this because a rising number of brands meeting that level of response. The more brands that do this, they more the bar is raised for everyone else. In this context, it’s more important than ever that all brands make themselves aware of the conversations happening around their business, industry and keywords via social networks.

There are ways to do this, there are inexpensive ways to set up keyword tracking which can be honed down to your local area to better qualify your results – and the data shows that this type of effort is rising in importance.

Ignore social media outright at your own risk.

Refined Focus

One of the biggest advantages stemming from this growing influx of consumer data is that we now have access to more insights and more information about how our target audiences interact, what types of queries they enter to find our businesses and what types of content resonates best and triggers emotional response. This type of information’s not only good to have in a wider marketing sense, it’s actually becoming critical. In the new world of hyper-targeted, interest based advertising, consumers are more attuned to brands picking up on their online behaviours and targeting them with advertising based on those actions.

You’re no doubt well aware of this yourself – you look up new running shoes online one day, you’re being shown sidebar ads for those exact shoes for the next week. This type of targeting, while still seen by some as intrusive, is actually becoming more accepted. And for the next generation of consumers, it’s even more than that. These consumers, digital natives who’ve grown up with social media embedded into their interactive DNA, they’re more in control of their media inputs than any generation before them – they choose what they watch on TV, when they want to watch it. They don’t read newspapers and magazines, they read content online, content served to them based on their online actions and interests. In the new media marketplace, consumers expect that the ads they see will fit into that experience, that they’ll be shown ads relevant to them. As such, smart targeting is becoming an essential way to reach out.

Luckily, there’s a vast array of options on this front, ways to research your target audiences and learn what they’re interested in. But personalisation is becoming more important – the more you can refine your messaging to specific, segmented groups within your outreach audiences, the better.

This is why supermarkets are so keen on you signing up for loyalty cards and programs – every time you swipe that card, you’re contributing to their data store of your, specific spending habits. Pretty soon, those actions will lead to hyper-targeted ads, push notifications to your phone reminding you that you’re probably out of milk. And that sounds creepy, but if they’re right, if the ads are helpful, if your data’s being used to provide you with a better experience, the creep factor will fade.

This is the future of marketing – learning what consumers want, even before they know it. Targeting and personalising your outreach efforts based on data is critical and should be factored into your planning, one way or another. This can be easily done by tracking consumer purchase behaviour and building those details into your marketing sends.

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Content and Context

The last major shift worth noting is the buzzword-plagued trend of ‘content marketing’.

The basic fact is you need to provide the information your target audiences are looking for in the places they go looking for it, simple as that. If your biggest potential customers spend all day on Pinterest, you need to create Pinterest content. If your people are chatting all day in LinkedIn groups, you need to understand what they’re talking about and what they’re looking for. Content is nothing without context, and it’s important you build that knowledge of your target customers in order to be able to provide them with the right material at the right time to boost your conversions.

In many ways, SMEs have an advantage in this regard – big businesses often find it much more challenging to get down to the minute detail of transactions and how they occur at scale, but smaller organisations are much more attuned to this process. While the term ‘content’ seems like something of a jargon-y tag to put on your marketing material, the basis of the process lies in your ability to listen, to hear what people are talking about and asking for, and to provide that in a useful, helpful way, establishing your brand as the go-to resource in your field. That then leads to people linking to your content, discussing it with their followers and sharing it with friends. And that sharing – the power of ‘word of mouth’ – is amplified a thousand percent in the social media connected world.

In times past, you’d tell your friends, they’d tell their friends – maybe, at most, you’re talking about a 100 person spread of that information, right? The average person on social media is connected to hundreds of others in their network, and those people are, in turn, connected to hundreds more.

Providing relevant, interesting and engaging content can be extremely powerful in that new, connected world.

These are some of the biggest trends in social media and digital marketing, and are the driving forces that are dictating where things are headed. While each trend is a relatively large concept within itself, these are the shifts that are behind virtually every announcement, update and change in social media. Understanding them is key to realising and maximising the potential of the medium and remaining relevant in our ever more connected world.

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Ian Blair

BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.