The Evolving Role of Social Media in a Marketing Play

When a new form of media emerges, it’s a sure bet marketers will find ways to use it to their advantage. The first newspaper ad ran in 1704, and free broadcast television likely wouldn’t have existed were it not for paid TV spots. 

While social media has been on the scene since the mid-1990s, it didn’t truly take off until the 2000s. Even then, its earliest forms weren’t what marketing teams can access today. Early social media platforms were more about personal digital spaces for sharing and connecting with others. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a social media feed that isn’t half full — at least — of paid advertising. 

Yes, such sites still promote the ideas of sharing and connecting. However, social media has become instrumental to companies’ marketing strategies. It’s not just a viable avenue for businesses to get in front of audiences. Social media can be the icebreaker between marketers and consumers. Shared content gets the conversation going so audiences will want to engage further, ultimately purchasing products with a click.

But including social media in your marketing playbook is more than posting ads and content. It’s an ever-changing landscape with trends and disruptions you need to pay attention to. There’s a constant learning curve filled with tactics both experimental and bankable.

Whether you’re a relative newbie at social media marketing or have been at it for a while, you need to know the current lay of the land. Let’s look at some of the strategic tools marketers are using now.

Short-Form Videos

Digital content is how marketers get others to notice what their companies can offer. It could be a blog post, a pay-per-click ad, or a podcast. Content like blog posts can be less “in your face” than a paid ad. But this format is geared toward audiences with a good attention span. They want to dive into the details by absorbing as much information as possible.

That, however, isn’t necessarily the tendency of your average consumer. Decades’ worth of studies show the typical attention span is decreasing. It’s gone from 2.5 minutes in 2004 to 47 seconds today. People can’t focus on their screens for long, even though they spend around 10 hours a day looking at them.

Declining attention spans may help explain the rising popularity of short-form videos on social media. Audiences want their content in bite-sized portions and crave entertainment over the effort reading takes. Plus, smart devices like the iPhone have made it easier for anyone to create professional-grade video content within minutes.  

Recently, I spoke with Colin McGuire, the CEO of Boomn, about social media in a marketing strategy. “Social media has been disrupted by TikTok,” he says. “User-generated short-form videos, like TikTok and Instagram Reels posts, are now 100% necessary for businesses to find success on social media.”

Long-form content may still capture some of your target audience, but you can no longer rely on blogs as your core content strategy.

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When a company pushes a product, it’s obvious. Consumers might see a paid ad while scrolling through their Facebook feed. Will they click on it to learn more? A few, perhaps. But the majority will probably dismiss it as another plug they don’t have time for.

What if one of their friends recommended the same product in a post? Or uploaded a video showing how much they enjoyed staying at a resort over the weekend? There’s a greater chance of engagement and believability. Add the power of an influencer behind the same post, and you’ve got an even higher probability. People tend to put more stock in the opinions of those they know and admire.

The influencer industry reached a market value of $16.4 billion in 2022. Over 75% of well-known brands like Coca-Cola dedicate marketing budgets to influencer partnerships. As a result, influencers are playing more significant roles in companies’ social media strategies. Marketers can no longer assume their content will be convincing enough. They know they must expand how their brands get online exposure and do it more authentically.

Successful influencer partnerships aren’t just about follower count either. Micro- and nano-influencers with fewer followers can be more effective, especially in niche markets. A genuine connection between your brand and the influencer’s identity is often more crucial. Ideally, you want an organic overlap between your audience and theirs.

Business Pages

One of the most cost-effective forms of marketing is word-of-mouth. On social media, word-of-mouth happens when consumers engage with and share a company’s content. Dedicated business pages give social media teams a streamlined way to get content out to the world. Building a following on these pages can also increase a company’s visibility.

When people like or follow a page, it may show up in their contacts’ feeds. The same goes for liking or sharing a company’s posts from those accounts. Liking posts and following brands on social media are the top two ways users interact with brands, according to a 2021 survey. About 45% of consumers said they hit the like button on brands’ social media accounts. Around 43% said they follow companies on various platforms.

Creating a business page on the sites your audiences use frequently should be a part of your social media strategy. It does more than help you expand your reach and promote products. Dedicated business pages can extend the arm of your customer service department. When a social team actively monitors these accounts, they become a conversation between a brand and its customers. It’s also a way to gather real-time data and market research.

Social Commerce

What happens when you go to a store to get the things on your list? All too often, you can’t find the most important thing on there — especially in these days of short-staffed stores and glitchy supply chains. I generally give up if I have to walk down the aisle where it ought to be more than once. Maybe someone who works in the store will know where else to look, but it can be a hassle to even find them.

It’s different when products are by the register or near the entrance. Maybe the new flavor of Doritos wasn’t on my list, but that bag’s going in my cart. Distributors place those items there because they know how impulses drive human behavior. The same principle applies to social media content, and it’s a growing trend known as social commerce.

Say a person is scrolling through their Instagram feed and sees a product featured in a post. Maybe it’s a ski jacket in a photo of an outdoor enthusiast on a black diamond slope. Or it could be the music playing on a video reel. Thanks to the advent of social commerce, a “shop now” button lets the consumer click if they want to buy what they see or hear. They don’t have to leave the social media site to do it, either. Social commerce involves fewer steps and capitalizes on the same power of impulse that drives all those last-minute Doritos sales.   

The SuN Takeaway

Globally, 4.48 billion people use social media. In an age where it’s harder to reach consumers through traditional advertising, social media content is proving to be more effective. However, savvy marketers know social media has its challenges. Simply posting content won’t necessarily drive results and isn’t a real strategy.

Keeping up with new developments in the space is just the start. Effective strategies combine the technical features of social platforms with human psychology. As those combinations successfully advance, social media stands to take center stage in companies’ marketing strategies.

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