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Strategy, tactics, ideas and tips from Creative Company.

Social marketing in 2017: Time to pay up

In most of my “looking ahead” posts I like to highlight the opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in social marketing and not get stuck on the usual hang ups … But I fear 2017 will be different.

Social marketing is going the way of traditional marketing: Opportunity will depend on what you’re willing to pay. I’ve loved and defended social media marketing for a long time (though I agree it’s not always the best marketing tactic).

I’ve argued–The power of social media to help us reach new audiences formerly nearly unreachable, audiences who want and need what we offer … is astounding. Social media humanizes our organizations, allowing customers and potential new customers to connect with our people first. It’s a way to become familiar, to build trust through conversations and posts. Eventually they’re familiar with us and compelled to do business with us. In my view, social marketing is an opportunity for small businesses to reach their audiences in a way that large corporations can’t.

successful social marketing in 2017 is going to require that you pay up.

Social media doesn’t “play fair” anymore

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something like …

“Social media is free! It has leveled the playing field between large corporations and small businesses. Anyone can use it and everyone has access to the same features!”

The changes we saw to social media platforms in 2016 send a single important message: social marketing in 2017 means you have to pay to play.

A quick recap of these 2016 changes:

Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn.

This should mean that LinkedIn ups its game (which is already being tested with business pages). But it also means they’re going to push for profit. Their first push for profit is likely in the recruitment space.

Changes to Instagram and Facebook.

Instagram’s addition of the Snapchat-like feature, Stories; Facebook’s big push for live video; The increasing creation of native Facebook content; The evolution of Facebook Messenger. This is Facebook’s attempt to train users to spend more time in and rely on Facebook and Instagram for socializing. Obviously, this makes Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook) more desirable to social media marketers.

With Instagram’s algorithm change in 2016 and Facebook’s continued suppression of posts by Pages, the best way for businesses to reach their desired audience (even those who have liked their page) is to pay for advertising or promotion and not simply posting and engaging on either platform.

The shut down of Vine.

The end of this short video platform is the reality of social media platforms: If they don’t continue to innovate, they lose users. If they lose users, they aren’t profitable … because without users they have nothing to “sell.” If they aren’t profitable, they won’t survive.

The tumultuous year for Twitter.

People have been predicting the demise of Twitter since the beginning of 2016. I didn’t buy it. Twitter has always filled a unique niche as the platform for quick news updates. Doing a search for specific hashtags reveals global reactions to events.

But 2016 was a tough year for Twitter … They floundered through changes with not much sticking. They tried live video and curating trending tweets into moments. They’ve updated their 140 character count to be less rigorous … But none of this fixes their two big problems: Financial instability and a continuing reputation of rampant harassment.

If Twitter wants to survive, it will need a much larger stream of incoming advertising dollars or something like LinkedIn’s premium account … Either way, it will mean pay to play.

If you’re thinking social marketing is your next tactic …

You can’t dabble anymore.

For social media marketing to have any benefit for your company in 2017, you must include it in your marketing budget. No more posting here and there. No more posting a video annually and hoping it goes viral.

If you’re a business, the surviving social media platforms have demonstrated they have no problem blocking access to their audiences with a paywall … And businesses have demonstrated they’re increasingly willing to pay to reach those audiences.
Is it time to say goodbye to social marketing? No room in your budget? Your best bet is to leave your social media as is (post for fun if you like). Instead focus on making the marketing efforts included in your budget really work. In 2017 social media marketing will evolve. Small businesses simply posting to their pages will see less and less return on investment.

Successful social marketing in 2017 will follow the money–how much you can invest in targeted advertising on different social media platforms and how click-worthy your creative is.

The idea of using social media to humanize your business is no longer valid. Social media for business will become what newspapers and magazines are now: A space for advertising for the right price … Not a place to connect with consumers. It’s just another place to sell to them.

On the bright side?

There’s still good news about social marketing:

  • Social marketing is still much cheaper than traditional forms of advertising.
  • It keeps getting easier to figure return on investment with social media analytics.
  • Audience profiles continue to narrow so you can target a very specific group of people with your advertising.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive to test different ads and different text to find what your audiences like best.
  • If your social marketing isn’t working, you can quickly change up your advertisement or target audience to work harder.

Unlike the old mantra from John Wanamaker, “I think 50% of my advertising is working, but I don’t know which 50%,” social media marketing and advertising is extremely measurable in real time.

I’m not giving up on social marketing.

I think small businesses can still use it quite successfully. Yet the rules of social marketing have changed. Simply posting as your business to social media platforms and gathering followers isn’t enough.

In 2017, followers actually won’t matter much. What will make a difference in 2017 is targeted, paid advertising that has specific marketing outcomes, such as generating website traffic or gathering leads or producing sales (this outcome is mostly for those selling products … Selling services via social media is usually a longer process and requires multiple interactions).

 One social marketing recommendation for 2017…

Yup. While everyone else is offering you lists of actions, I have just one: Either make paid social media marketing a part of your 2017 marketing strategy or don’t include social media in your marketing strategy at all. And then stick to your strategy and defined goals. That’s it.

Okay, it’s much more complicated than it sounds (I mean people pay us to write their marketing strategies for them) but at least you can focus on one clear action: Writing a marketing strategy for the year. (We can help if you would like objective, thoughtful expertise on your team.)

And that strategy will either include paid social marketing or it won’t include any social media marketing. This doesn’t mean you can’t post to social media for fun or for added reach of a blog post or an event … It just means that you aren’t focusing on social media for specific marketing and sales outcomes.

Does your marketing strategy for 2017 include paid social marketing?

Then you’ll want our social media image spec sheet! Each social media platform has different places you’ll put images … And many require different sizes depending on the purpose, from profile images to posts to ads. Use our cheat sheet to get your social marketing images just right.


About the author

Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales

As a millennial who has also worked in social media marketing and management for the last 2 years, Alex really has the best of both worlds: As a millennial she knows what they want and how they communicate and as a social media marketer she is able to take that knowledge and put it to use for businesses. Of course, finishing up a Master's Degree in Communication doesn't hurt either, helping her understand the significance of context, channel, and messaging. She writes to encourage conversations that help others develop actionable branding strategies but more importantly, encourage conversations about the social media landscape today and how to best navigate it.

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