As we enter 2015, it's a good time to take stock of how far social marketing has come, and where it might be headed.
The lion's share of social marketing attention this year has centered around organic reach, specifically the steps Facebook has taken to decrease it for marketing messages. Twitter continued to build out its ecosystem and ad offerings. Pinterest continues to quietly build traffic and an impressive inventory of high-quality pinned content. And new entrants like SnapChat have made their first steps into accepting paid advertising.
I predict that 2015 will be even more eventful for social marketers, in these three ways.
Prediction #1. Social Relationship Platforms will cease to exist as we know them.
Social has become the next great broadcast medium: built by the social platforms, programmed by individuals and media companies, and fueled by advertising dollars.
Marketers will continue to listen for potential customer service issues, but the responsibility for routing and tracking these social interactions will reside with their existing CRM systems, which have the routing, tracking, and analytics already mapped to the organization's needs.
As CRM systems take on a larger role, the Social Relationship Platforms will instead become Social Broadcast Platforms, focused on helping marketers reach the right kind of audiences and gain the right kind of attention to support their marketing objectives.
Prediction #2. The decline in organic reach on Facebook will finally free us from the crutch of organic reach on social networks.
I confess that I find it odd that marketers-who are tasked with reaching consumers with commercial messaging-often express outrage at the decrease in Facebook organic reach. "Free marketing" is attractive for all of the obvious reasons, but is hardly a sustainable strategy.
The social platforms have aggregated a breathtaking number of users, and as marketers we have no choice but to try to reach those users, when and how they are interacting with content. Twitter and Facebook have invested significantly in building an advertising products and an ecosystem of companies to help marketers achieve their objectives, and we're really just in the infancy of learning how to properly use those.
People have been predicting the convergence of Paid, Owned, and Earned media for years now. Perhaps the right framework is for Owned media to become a feed into Paid. As marketers align the community management elements of their social presence with their media buying, the effectiveness of both will increase.
Prediction #3. Native Advertising Will Continue to Scale, But Not in the Way You Think.
The industry clearly has some work to do in defining terminology, and in identifying and rooting out bad practices and bad actors. But the bigger concern about Native Advertising may not be the erosion of "church and state", but instead its lack of scalability. Put simply, how many Native campaigns can a reputable publication execute well, and at what cost? Companies like Buzzfeed have not been shy about building large departments of "advertorial" creators, but it's hard to imagine more traditional publishers being comfortable with an advertorial room that is larger than the newsroom.
Under the category "everything old is new again", we'll see a resurgence of old-school advertising: notably, marketers associating advertising with high-quality editorial content that is already engaging users. That will happen directly in the social feeds, as advertisers sponsor publishers' best-performing content, which is distributed as a promoted post or promoted Tweet. That then generates click-throughs to deeper content and more engaging advertising, including retargeting.
In that scenario everyone wins: the Advertiser has a editorial vehicle to which to attach commercial messaging; the Publisher has a new revenue stream for its existing content; and the Consumer is seeing sponsored editorial content in her social feed.
2015 will see a number of big shifts, as the industry's social marketing efforts mature. As an ever-increasing quantity of content competes for a fixed amount of consumer attention (we each only have 24 hours in a day), social marketing will evolve to behave more like traditional media platforms.