We enter 2017 coping with the stark realization that we live in uncertain times. I'm referring solely to the world of social media marketing.
The new year takes us into an era defined by widespread distrust of the media information we receive - specifically the social media metrics that marketers rely on to guide their ad buying decisions. Facebook has now disclosed a series of issues that have caused its reporting tools to overstate metrics like audience size and video viewership. At the same time, many major marketers are performing high-profile audits of their ad buyers following a report from the Association of National Advertisers that uncovered problematic practices in the industry.
These events have made marketers cautious and disbelieving of their social media metrics - and, understandably, marketers are less certain about making new investments considering the absence of trustworthy data. The era of marketers touting social-only metrics without connecting them to real business results is coming to a close. In 2017, look for marketers to address the need for accurate data by re-establishing trusted metrics, such as by tethering social metrics to supporting business KPIs, and by investigating fresh approaches for confirming social ROI measures.
Unfortunately, brand marketers are also signaling uncertainty in their 2017 social advertising budgets for another reason.
The post-election environment has produced a lack of surefootedness throughout the technology sector. Brands are considering ad spend reductions in order to keep their powder dry until the potential implications of this environment are better understood - and especially so when it comes to those with globally-sourced workforces. This potential budget crunch will acutely affect social media marketing, pumping up the pressure for marketers and agencies to demonstrate effective results and thoroughly justify the budgets they maintain.
On the lighter side (and we deserve a lighter side), 2017 will see social advertising get smarter and more fun as marketers respond to consumers' increased savvy. The industry now recognizes that customers know when they're being marketed to, however, customers actually don't mind advertising, so long as brands are direct about what is and isn't an ad. These facts make it wise for brands to separate their community-centric marketing from their pure advertising campaigns. Social ads will continue to be an effective tool for addressing mass audiences.
Separately, community-building efforts designed to engage rather than deliver a hard sell - sometimes so narrowly focused that they target a single individual - will become better recognized as the tool of choice for winning over effective brand loyalists and evangelists.
The fun will come as marketers face the increasing challenge of capturing consumers' attention. Today's digital and social environment is so ad-rich that we, as customers, are naturally becoming adept at tuning them out. If an ad isn't engaging, it's invisible. This is a positive development for consumers, but also for those marketers capable of creating creative, compelling, and engaging ads. Nothing less will be so effective.
Wise brands will also use 2017 to explore and experiment with new methods of advertising and new channels where customer engagement can flourish. Even against the headwinds of the new year's uncertainty, tasking a small marketing team with performing quick and easy experimentation requires only the will to dedicate effort and time to the cause, along with a minor financial investment. The results of these explorations can mean realizing a huge new opportunity, or simply sharpening the brand's overall approach to social media. Brands shouldn't be surprised if they end up recognizing new channels that are ripe for targeting a specific customer segment or audience, and if the most effective platforms turn out not to be the common choices like Facebook or Twitter.
The uncertainty of 2017 is an opportunity as well. Brands that currently have outsized content demands or practices based purely on inertia will do well to examine them in detail. Refining brand messaging and becoming more selective with content will make marketing efforts leaner and meaner, and ultimately drive more lucrative results.