Former President Bill Clinton is quoted as once saying, “Follow the trend lines. Not the headlines.” Ironically, in digital and social media marketing, a “trend” can be both a direction in which something is changing or developing AND a popular topic, such as “the hurricane damage is ‘trending’ on Twitter right now.” Either way, trends can be useful guideposts and relevant information by which we make important decisions about how we run our businesses.
While every prognosticator will have his or her own take on the trends in online marketing in 2017, a review of recent research reveals the following to be the most prevalent. Also, such stories can focus only on those topics the writer knows best, but they are typically less inclusive. Like President Clinton, I have chosen to follow the most important (but not too many) trend lines and not the headlines.
Go mobile or go home
By the end of 2016, more than 80 percent of all Americans will be carrying and consuming content on a smartphone at all times. And the numbers just keep growing. According to Smart Insights’ Mobile Marketing Trends report more than 50 percent of all searches are done on mobile. However, the introduction of wearable devices has made “mobile” a moving target. As we enter 2017, one out of every four consumers will be donning Bluetooth devices, smartwatches, fitness trackers and, to a much lesser extent, gizmos like head-mounted optical display technology.
In addition, mobile messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat allow users to message outside conventional social media networks. They have stated they will not allow paid advertising to “tarnish” what users consider to be private conversations. That said, mobile messaging app owners may find other ways for businesses to use their platforms as usage continues to grow in 2017 and beyond.
The CliffsNote on this first trend is that ALL of your content should be optimized for mobile devices. Not doing so is virtual business suicide.
Cross-device and everything nice
Similarly, the notion of creating and marketing your content across multiple devices is less of a trend and more of a reality. It’s a must-have, not a nice-to-have. At any given time in the day, your targets are likely using a PC, a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone…and maybe even wearing a smartwatch.
According to the digital performance advertising company Criteo, “Today’s [customer] uses a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. It’s getting more and more unusual for the decision-making process to involve just one device and one online touch point. This means there’s a growing need for advertisers to have an effective cross-device strategy, pinpointing the advertising mix that works best for them.”
‘Chewbacca Mom’ and live video
Remember the Texas mom Candace Payne who recorded a Facebook Live video in May 2016 from the parking lot of a Kohl’s store, donning a mask that forever made her “Chewbacca Mom”? That “simple joy,” as she titled it, garnered 161 million Likes, 3.3 millions Shares and more than 3,700 Comments!
The launch of Facebook Live and the Periscope streaming video app, joining the ranks of Snapchat and YouTube, have made video the hottest online marketing tool of the past year. The trend is so new that many businesses haven’t been able to use it (or use it effectively) with customers in a way that increases social media engagement. That said, Facebook Vice President Nicola Mendelsohn has said that in five years, Facebook will “probably” be “all video.” (That’s a scary thought, huh?)
Based on a “show-me-don’t-tell-me” premise, video storytelling is here to stay. The challenge for businesses that want to capitalize on this megatrend is “comfort level.” Not all of us (me included) are comfortable with the notion of spontaneous, homemade videos posted on our social media platforms. The solution? Find someone either inside your company or outside (like a spokesperson), who is comfortable, and get crackin’ on video content that will engage your customers and prospects.
1 + 1 = 1
Like any other “industry,” the online marketing world is consolidating into a smaller group of larger companies. In his book “Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” Tim Wu, a Columbia University professor, says this trend has been followed since the rise of the telephone in the 1800s.
Facebook owns four of the six most downloaded apps; Twitter bought Periscope before it was officially launched; and Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in early 2016.
The implication to businesses and marketers is that the online landscape will continue to shift and change (through consolidation), making it necessary to keep a keen eye on such changes and adapting your online marketing strategies and tactics accordingly.
In the early days, gaining visibility in social and digital channels simply required time and tenacity. But those days are coming to an end because “screen time” is going to the highest bidder. Facebook, Instagram and others are finding faster and better ways to monetize their platforms. Just like any other forms of paid media, a credit card buys you more eyeballs.
According to the digital marketing research firm eMarketer, “Facebook is still the big winner; on a worldwide basis, the site will take in more than two-thirds of social network ad revenues [in 2016], leaving 7.9 percent for Twitter and less than a quarter of the pie for everyone else.”
Pinterest opened its “Promoted Pins” to small and medium-sized businesses in 2016 and Snapchat remains vastly popular. With so many social media channels coming to fruition, the competition for ad dollars will continue to increase.
Run the numbers
In May 2016, the Direct Marketing Association reported that 70 percent of companies are still not collecting data from their social media and digital marketing efforts. The association stated that 47 percent of marketers indicate that social channels offer the greatest opportunities. That’s compared to 37 percent who see outbound email and websites as the hotbed of opportunity, followed by 26 percent for SEO.
And speaking of SEO, many small businesses in our industry aren’t running the numbers on their own websites. Take a look at your website analytics to avoid being one of them and losing sales.
Analyze Website Success
- Identify what you want site visitors to do: create a call to action (CTA).
- Track conversion rates: A conversion rate tells you how many site visitors acted on your CTA.
- Understand abandonment rates: If you track this, you’ll be able to tell where visitors drop-off, and what’s needed to achieve higher conversions.
- Identify bounce rates: The average bounce rate for a website is 40-50 percent, but visitors don’t always bounce for negative reasons. Consider your bounce rate vs. conversions. High bounce with low conversion rates is a problem.
- Monitor cost per acquisition: Track the leads generated through your website, as well as those that close in an actual sale. Evaluate what you’re spending vs. the revenue generated.