2018 Predictions: Socialbakers

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of Socialbakers, says an era of social media optimization lies ahead

If not so long ago brands were still debating how much effort, time and financial investment they should commit to social media marketing, today marketers will agree that it’s an inevitable if not central part of any digital marketing strategy. Social media marketing has matured, and the conversation has shifted. The debate is no longer about its value, but about maximizing the results of social media marketing and finding the route to success in an environment where the increase in demand for ad space is outpacing the supply of the audience’s attention.

The degree of content consumption today is unparalleled in history and social media is taking centre stage. With over a third of the world’s population on-board, social media is mass media marketing, but if brands want to be the first in line to speak to their audiences, they have to be prepared to open their wallets wide. It is the rocketing advertising costs that will lead the next year’s trend towards Social Media Optimization (SMO), costs that on Facebook alone have risen by 35 per cent over the last quarter.

The trend in SMO has grown much like the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) took over the marketing agenda a few years ago. There was a time when marketers focused all their efforts on getting their websites listed in search results and cutting through to the first page, until they realized they have to pay to play. Today, the rapid transition from organic to paid social has driven the interest in SMO, and now the trend is reaching its peak. Now, instead of paying to compete to be at the top of search results, we contest for the audience’s views on the News Feed.

Multi-step process
SMO mirrors SEO. Both are a multi-step process and both leverage machine learning to ensure marketers achieve more with the same budget. The SMO process starts by gaining audience insights across social channels to create content that resonates with users. It requires AI recommendations to eliminate guesswork when publishing content and promoting it. It ends with benchmarking results in a competitive context, both by verticals and regions, as the true proof of success on social. Marketers who stay behind the trend in 2018 and stick to traditional, manual social media marketing methods, will see returns diminish and their competitive advantage fade.

The uptrend isn’t all that surprising. The demand for the audiences attention is greater than it ever was, driving up the ad costs, and only the top performers are given space on the News Feed. There is little room for error, and for those marketers who are under pressure to succeed and show their contribution to the business, SMO is the cure to their stress. Moving to 2018, it is inevitable that SMO will be the key investment for brands worldwide.

Marketers know that trends rarely come alone. While SMO is forefronting the marketing agendas across meeting rooms, it’s followed by further trends rooted in the first – trends that are set to cut corners and hack growth, reach audiences and drive business results faster.

Resolving inefficiencies through AI marketing
Winning on social media today has become a tactical play – one that requires an entire room of experts. The amount of social media related professions has grown, and as brands continue making serious monetary investments in social, the issue of soaring costs and resources becomes the bottleneck for brands that want to reach their audiences on the News Feed and scale their marketing.

Employing machine learning to make strategic investments has resolved guesswork from the day-to-day for many marketers. The advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) certainly made it easier for marketers to pinpoint what content is truly engaging their audiences. It helped them return more value from their social media investments through efficiency. In the next year, we should see automation take over other integral parts of social media, especially in the area of audience segmentation and building of accurate audience personas for brands.

Personalizing content on an entirely new level
No brand ever speaks to one audience. Marketers have been aware of this for decades. The law applies to social as well. Platforms offer marketers countless ways to target, retarget, segment and analyze their audiences in any way imaginable. It allows marketers to think beyond the obvious segmentation by demographics and step into targeting based on interests and behaviours to deliver more personalized messages.

As we move into 2018, we predict that we will see advancements in real-time AI-driven personalization on social media. It is the dynamic element of personalization that is integral to making marketing click with customers. We can no longer assume that audiences stay interested in the same topic today as they were a month ago. Dynamic personalization will be anchored in three areas – being timely, relevant and engaging.

Tailoring content to different audience personas will put the social media teams to the test. Will they be able to meet the demand for content personalization? If they are prepared for it – yes. One obvious content trend that every marketer can prepare for today is video – a trend that is as critical for marketers as was the switch from desktop to mobile.

Social media teams will have to prepare to streamline their production, clearly understand their costs, and measure their results in the context of the market if they want leverage video content successfully.

Using Messenger to build a personable brand
Social media has monopolized our time. Each year, users dedicate increasingly more of their free time to mobile devices and messaging. Nielsen’s study, commissioned by Facebook, found that 63 per cent of people say they message businesses more than they did two years ago. This means the 1.3bn-strong Facebook Messenger platform is becoming more divisive in reaching audiences on the go, but to get the most out of Messenger, brands will be asked to rethink their content.

Traditional advertising tactics that work on a desktop or the News Feed will not work on mobile and are even less likely to work in a chat environment. Being able to have more complex one-to-one conversations with your customers on the platform of their choice, whether it’s Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Twitter, will bring huge value to brand marketers.

The priority is relevance. Brands would do more harm than good if they start conversations too soon. They have to be confident in knowing when to engage their audiences and with what content. If brands want to join the Messenger conversation, they’ll have to take a highly personalized approach when targeting audiences. Investing in building audience personas and learning to speak their language, tone, and keeping conversations non-invasive is the way forward.

Benchmarking ads data in a competitive context
Social media advertising has been growing steadily over years, but from the perspective of marketers it grew in terms of how much they spend, without the knowledge of how their spend compares to the rest of the market. In short, context is critical if marketers really aim to pave their way to the top of their industry or region.

Benchmarking advertising spend data, measuring the most important ads metrics out of isolation, offers an entirely new angle of social media optimization. It’s critical to scaling your budget effectiveness or if your return on social media investment is really enough to outcompete others. If marketing tech available today isn’t enough to stress how important this will be, Facebook’s breaking news that they will open up the content of the dark social for everyone to view on demand points to the changing rules of paid social media.

Creating a gateway through influencer marketing
When it’s hard to get your voice heard, have others speak for you louder. That’s the advice many marketers will have to take if they want to cut through the noise on the oversaturated News Feed and beat the rising ad costs. Some brands have already leveraged the influencer marketing trend successfully. On Facebook alone, sponsored content on celebrity pages receives more than 14 times more interactions than unsponsored content posted by brands directly to their timeline.

The added value is impossible to ignore, but the important move we’ll see in 2018 is not the up-trend in influencer marketing, but the automation of how brands find influencers and how they run their campaigns. Combining machine learned insights on audience segmentation, their interests, and influencers who speak their language will open doors for brands to enter conversations they otherwise couldn’t.

The takeaway
The social media marketing discipline has broken through its infancy stage and there’s a sense of seriousness among marketers that we didn’t see before. The strategies brands are building on social are far more encompassing today than we saw a few years ago.

This is the moment for brands to rethink how they approach social media marketing and if they want to scale it to remain competitive, there’s really only one direction – optimizing social media marketing, making smarter AI driven decisions, keeping costs predictable and social media ROI feasible. It will change the day-to-day for many marketers by helping them quickly and confidently answer the critical questions they should be asking every day: who, what, when, where, how, and why?