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10 Ideas driving the future of social media marketing

By Mark Schaefer

I recently debuted a new speech at the Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego. This is a grand global event and I’m proud that I have given a speech all six years it has been in existence.

I always try to do something special to bring the thunder at SMMW because so many people travel from around the world to see me speak. This year, I riffed on some of the ideas I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: Over the next few years, what’s going impact our field, and our careers, the most? What do we need to know to remain vital and relevant?

Here is the countdown I presented in my talk.

10. Artificial Intelligence

Undoubtedly AI is going to touch everything we do, but I suggested three ideas to consider in terms of impacting our careers.

9. Smart speakers

Consumers are increasingly discovering new ideas, content, and products on smart speaker systems. In fact, most analysts project that the majority of search activities will be conducted through products like Alexa and Google Home.

Since much of what we do in the world of social media and content marketing is geared toward helping people find our products, this is a vital trend. When we ask Alexa to find an answer, we don’t get a list of blog posts, videos, or research reports to choose from … we get the ANSWER.

So this is a profound development for marketers.

I asked a developer on IBM’s Watson project how they regard content. After all, content is sort of the engine behind search results today. She said “We don’t really think of it as content … we think of it as fuel for Watson.”

An interesting perspective, don’t you think? We’re now in the business of creating Watson Fuel.

I don’t foresee most households having multiple speaker systems. We won’t want to develop our favorite routines on Alexa, for example, and then another set for Google Home. So we are on the cusp of a war for the very heart of eCommerce. The smart speaker system that prevails will be used in our homes, our cars, and our offices. An incredibly fascinating battle for the heart of eCommerce lies ahead!

8. Virtual spaces

In 2017 Facebook provided a glimpse of what the world might look like when virtual reality and social media converge, in a new product called “Spaces.”

We have a long way to go to make this a mainstream meeting place, but I pointed out in my talk that this evolution can help resolve a huge marketing problem: Cocooning customers.

People are overwhelmed with information today so they tend to set up filters to keep a lot of information out. Some of this is automatically done for us, through Facebook and Google who decide what we see and hear based on our history of stored preferences.

So for example, if I often search for information on BMW automobiles, Google remembers that and probably sways my search that way. Receiving information from a competitor like Audi would be a filter fail.

So how do we invite people out of their filter bubbles? By serving them opportunities to immerse themselves in our fun, immersive AR experiences. Would I want to “test drive” an Audi through the Alps from the comfort of my home? Heck yes!

This technology has a way to go but maybe 2019 will be a critical year for widespread use in marketing.

7. Public to private

In the fourth quarter of 2015, something remarkable occurred. In fact, it was one of the most important milestones in the history of social media.

For the first time, the number of people using private messaging services such as Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat exceeded the number of people using public social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The use of social media is still growing, but the use of these private networks is growing faster.

I find it strange that this is not a major topic at every marketing conference, but nevertheless, it is an absolutely critical development in our field for three reasons:

  1. People are losing trust in social networks and are tired of being scrutinized, judged, and bullied.
  2. Much of the information being shared on “dark social media” (like text messages and email) are moving onto Messenger and WhatsApp … owned by Facebook. Facebook now has the ability to data-mine the richest source of consumer information and insights in the history of the planet — our private messages. Significant!
  3. And, of course this presents and incredibly rich opportunity for Facebook to monetize and provide more marketing opportunities for us, and soon.

6. Conversation marketing

The number one topic at Social Media Marketing World was chatbots. There was an almost over-the-top, breathless hype about the subject.

I’m more rational in my view of this trend. The insiders actually developing this technology tell me that unless you’re in a very high-transaction business (like hotels or airlines), reasonable chatbot applications are probably out of reach for most businesses for the next two years or so. Sort of reminds me of the days when every company thought it needed a smartphone app. Maybe, maybe not.

However, I think the opportunity being overlooked by nearly everyone is what I call “conversation marketing.”

I may not want to go online and chat with a Nike algorithm, but I would LOVE to engage with a Michael Jordan simulation chatbot!

Chatbots will become our new celebrities and entertainers. Someday we’ll probably have awards for the most fun chatbots. We’ll have chatbot lists, and critics, and reviewers. While engagement may be in decline on other social channels, engagement will be red-hot on bots that can captivate and entertain us.

And all the while, we can be storing customer information obtained through the chatbot conversations. That’s the new conversation marketing on the horizon.

5. The talent gap

There is this weird thing going on. Studies show that CMOs cannot find enough talent to make their marketing dreams come true. And yet, there are still lots of marketing professionals looking for jobs.

What’s the gap?  Skills.

There are plenty of marketers, but not enough marketers with digital skills. Unilever CMO Keith Weed said last year: “We have an entire generation of marketers who are faking it.”

In my estimation, here are the top three skills that will be required of marketers in the coming years:

  1. Data and analytics (Great marketing starts with data, not Facebook posts!)
  2. Digital advertising (the days of organic reach are over)
  3. An ability to quickly assess changes in the marketing world and adjust and adapt

We’re going to see more change in our marketing world in the next two years than in the last 20. Let’s get prepared to adopt, adapt, and embrace the chaos!

4. Government regulation

There is a growing cry from leaders inside and outside our industry calling for the regulation of the tech giants. Marc Benioff of Salesforce recently said social networks should be regulated like cigarettes — “They’re both bad for us and addictive.”

Citizens are increasingly concerned about the monopolistic tendencies of these companies, the way they can manipulate our behaviors, the privacy breaches, health concerns, and how they are damaging democracy through the perpetuation of fake news.

Mark Zuckerberg famously said that this is the year he will “fix Facebook,” presumably to avoid regulation.

Will it work? Can he do it?

No. As long as Facebook’s need to increase profits every quarter depends on exploiting our personal data, these issues will always be present. One solution, at least in part, would be to take the company private again to give it a chance to right the ship.

People hate hearing the words “regulation” and internet” in the same sentence, but I think it is unavoidable. Look for the early signs of tech regulation in 2019, perhaps beginning at the state level.

3. Personal branding becomes the company brand

In this section of my talk, I provided examples that illustrate how there has been a backlash against loyalty. Technology has dramatically changed consumer behavior and people are becoming less brand aware and brand loyal. This trend shakes the very foundations of what we are doing as marketers!

I related a story about how a young woman I know bought an artisanal brand of soap, not because of any product features or advertising, but because she “loved the hands that made it.” She then went on to tell a story of how the owners run their sustainable business and contribute to the community.

I think that is a profound indicator of where marketing is heading.

We don’t trust brands or companies any more. We trust people and their stories. In the past, our brands were built through an accumulation of advertising impressions. In the future our brands will be created by an accumulation of human impressions. It’s KNOWN at scale.

2. The power shift from Madison Avenue to Main Street

The whole idea of “influencer marketing” is a very new concept. When I wrote the first book on the subject in 2012, Return On Influence, nobody had even been using the term. Today, this is a very powerful marketing dynamic … and it is just beginning.

Now that anybody can create their own personal power on the web through a wifi connection and a smart device, there has been a massive power shift from Madison Avenue to Main Street. This is what is moving the needle today:

Take that in for a moment. The dynamics driving sales on the web have little to do with our traditional marketing functions! How do you organize and execute in that world? The foundations of marketing are shifting.

Increasingly, people are neither seeing, nor responding to, our ads. The are responding to their trusted friends on Instagram and Snapchat. The implications for marketing success are profound.

1. Content Shock

When I first wrote in 2014 about how the inevitable explosion in online content was going to jeopardize the content marketing model, some thought I was crazy. But by now the evidence is in, and cutting through this wall of content noise to somehow become the signal is the megatrend dominating all other megatrends.

This imperative to stand out in an increasingly noisy world will impact our strategies, organizational charts, budgets, and even the skills we’ll need on our marketing teams.

In my speech, I explained how Content Shock comes in waves and that we can predict how this trend will ripple through many other marketing channels in the future.

To win, you must build a competency in not just content, but content ignition. The economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero. We need to gear our teams to creating content that moves.

Going forward

I summarized my talk with the mindset change required to withstand these challenges and make them work for our businesses.

You will need to be first. Piling on to whatever everybody else is doing cannot be an effective strategy. Finding out “what’s hot” and repeating it has been a social media marketing best practice you need to end right now.

You will need to be superior. Even if you stand out and become part of the fabric of your customer’s lives, the moment you are not superior, you’ll be replaced. We must be in a state of constant re-invention.

You will need to be more human, and elevate humanity in your marketing mix. The rise of influencers and user-generated content illustrates how we are in an era of human-driven marketing. Your customers probably don’t trust you or your advertising (if they even see it!). How do we connect in entirely new ways?

Finally, you will need to embrace the chaos. No more whining about how Facebook is “punishing you” or that platforms are changing too quickly. You ain’t seen nothing yet. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. There has never been a more fun or interesting time to be in marketing!

Many people in the audience commented that they thought this was the best speech of the conference. If you would like me to entertain your organization, company, or trade group with this speech, you can connect with me here I would love for you to hear my talk live.

Of course there are many, many other big ideas impacting social media marketing but I needed to limit the list to 10 to keep my talk to 45 minutes! What would you add?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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