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Impending threats to the ever-changing digital landscape: Part 2 – Social Media

In part one I discussed the potential impact of the economy and the changing search landscape on digital ROI. Part 2 is dedicated to the vital but misunderstood role of social media in marketing, and the harm this could do to your online growth.

Social Media’s Increasing Influence On Purchasing Decisions

“We tried a bit of social but it didn’t work for us.”

“We’re currently only investing in channels with provable ROI, social is just for awareness.”

“Our audience don’t use social media.”

We hear statements like this all the time. Mindsets are difficult to change, but these types of mindset represent a huge threat to growth in an environment where lines are blurring and behaviours are changing.

Blurred lines

The distinction between “online” and “offline” has become increasingly irrelevant. When any type of need is triggered, be it a need for inspiration, a desire for entertainment, an answer to a question or a product they suddenly decide they want to buy, the solution is never more than arm’s length away.

The pervasiveness of the web, brought about by mobile but being reinforced by such things as wearables and the Internet of Things, has changed behaviours irreversibly. In a world where you can watch television on your phone, read magazines on a tablet and listen to the radio on your laptop, old notions of channels and how they’re being used become meaningless. If your customers aren’t distinguishing between channels, then neither should you.

In this context, marketing becomes fragmented, old assumptions about customer behaviour should be unlearned, and the need to understand your customers’ journeys becomes greater than ever before.

Social media and micro-moments

The increasing dominance of mobile means that your audience is used to having its needs met instantaneously, wherever they are.

Now, when a need is triggered, your customer’s initial – almost involuntary – reflex will be to head for the device in their pocket to satisfy that need. These micro-moments, as Google calls them, are often short bursts of activity with high intent, and it is during these moments that social media is very often the first port of call.

And it is during these moments that brands have an ideal opportunity to get in front of new prospects with something contextually relevant that persuades them to engage.

Micro-moments are often short bursts of activity with high intent

The distinction between active and passive engagement is becoming increasingly irrelevant. With appropriate social media activity, a prospect can be turned from passive browser to active engager extremely quickly. Brands that are actively and visibly engaging with their customers are the ones that will outperform their competitors; the social proof that this creates is a powerful convincer for purchasing behaviour.

The customer journey; rid yourself of outdated assumptions

Social, particularly (but not exclusively) for younger audiences, is an everything driver. It triggers initial need, it dictates what people search for, it convinces people to purchase and it encourages them to purchase again.

The place to start when trying to understand your customer journey is your data.

To give an example of the type of data we look at, we’re seeing that when a need is triggered for a product, particularly lifestyle and luxury products, the initial instinct for many types of audience is no longer to head straight to Google (as an older demographic might do) but is now often to head for social platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. Once there, if a particular product or brand has inspired them, they may then head to Google or visit a brand’s website directly. But it is social that has driven that behaviour.

Below, you can see some typical paths to purchase which demonstrate this:

Social channels often dictate what people search for

We are also often seeing Instagram at the end of paths to purchase, showing evidence that Instagram is also acting as a convincer channel:

Social can also act as a convincer channel

Social isn’t just influencing the behaviour of younger demographics, but older ones too. See below for the demographics of users coming to one of our clients’ websites through Facebook.

Social doesn't just influence older demographics

In 2016, one of our most successful social media campaigns was, in fact, for a client that primarily targets 55+ year olds.

Do you know where social sits in your customers’ path to purchase? Do you know which segments engage the most? Are you attributing the results of your social media campaigns correctly?

Now is the time to rid yourself of assumptions and find out the answers to the above – and many other questions besides.

Algorithms, pay-to-play and the cost of not investing

However, there’s a catch. Social is not a source of unlimited “free” traffic.

All major social media platforms are driven by algorithms, and the problem with algorithms is that they almost never work in your favour in the long run. Both Facebook and Instagram had big algorithm updates in 2016 that limited organic reach for brands; if you want to reach new audiences on social, you’re going to have to pay.

The good news is that due to the sheer amount of data that these platforms own, the paid targeting options on both of these platforms, as well as other social platforms, are second-to-none. In addition, it’s very often far cheaper to advertise to people who aren’t necessarily at the point of need (as they would be with, say, paid search), meaning you can be laser-targeted with your ads at a fraction of the cost of other types of advertising.

Social media should not only be looked at in pure ROI terms, but also in terms of the cost of not investing. How much could you be missing out on if you don’t invest in social media channels? The brand below would be missing out on a hell of a lot of conversions, for example:

Social channels can drive conversions

So ingrained is social media in the psyche of entire generations of people that ignoring the rapidly increasing role it plays in your customers’ journey could be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make.

In the final part of this 3-part series, I will discuss how to meet these marketing challenges head-on.

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