Social media is an almost unavoidable part of modern life, and the number of active social media users increases every day. Social media dates back to the 1990s with the dawn of the internet and sites like Myspace and LiveJournal, but today the social media landscape’s major players include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat. Social media has changed dramatically in the past decade, and a bit of a retrospective may help show us what’s coming in the future.
Social Media Expanded to Businesses
When social media sites first started gaining traction, they primarily focused on private users who wanted to make new friends or connect with real-world friends online. Sites like Myspace became hubs for teens and young adults to share their thoughts with one another while LiveJournal took off as the top choice for private blogs and online journals. Slowly but surely the value of social media marketing began to appeal to more than just private individuals.
Internet users from the 1990s will probably remember the proliferation of music pages on Myspace. Users could host a “theme song” that played whenever someone visited a page, and it would link back to the artist’s homepage. This became a fantastic way for fledgling bands to cultivate their fan bases and garner the attention of record labels and producers.
Video games were another major driving force behind social media. Imageboard sites and game forums became gathering spaces for video game players all over the world, and game developers noticed this and started realizing the potential of engaging with their customers directly. Today, the video game market has ballooned to a nearly $100 billion market value and online engagement continues to be a major player in the video game industry.
Marketing professionals quickly took note at how fast word can travel through the early social media sites. When Facebook first launched as a college students-only site where new college students could stay connected with their friends from high school and forge new relationships with their new college classmates, the exclusivity became a major draw; people inherently want what they can’t have. Facebook eventually allowed high school students to make profiles so they could more easily keep in touch with their friends from older classes and then eventually opened membership to everyone, including businesses.
Now, a business without a Facebook page may as well not be in business at all in many respects. Facebook still dominates most of the social media market, especially when it comes to business presence. Social media has empowered brands with the ability to talk directly to their consumer bases instead of hoping to gain their trust and business with legacy marketing methods and advertisements.
Driving Revenue and Enhancing Customer Experiences
Social media is a powerful marketing tool because modern consumers don’t like ads. They automatically ignore them or tune them out, and social media allows marketers to engage with their consumers on a different, more relevant, and more relatable level.
People are generally more likely to trust a brand after receiving a personal recommendation from a friend or relative, and research shows that online reviews have a similar effect. When a company creates a social media following and people outside that following start seeing positive experiences and valuable interactions stemming from that following, this creates interest and discussion around the brand and attracts new followers and ultimately, new customers.
Social media has not only grown to the point where marketers can reach their ideal customers directly, but it also empowers them with the ability to create more meaningful experiences for those customers. Social media today allows customers to voice their concerns, offer criticisms and suggestions, and receive timely feedback on customer service issues.
Making Brands More “Human”
Modern consumers value authenticity more than previous generations, and most consumers prefer to spend their money on brands that appear more relatable and human than traditional marketing outlets allowed. Instead of monolithic, faceless corporate entities, consumers today can have meaningful conversations with actual people. This naturally boosts consumer confidence and creates more valuable interactions.
Social media has also provided marketing professionals with a powerful outlet for storytelling. The concept of stories is unique to the human experience and brands capitalize on this by telling their own stories and relaying their values in relatable ways. Ultimately, social media has evolved over the past ten years to the point where engaging with companies can almost feel like engaging with other people.
Creating Conversations Instead of Ads
The ability to talk to consumers directly is profoundly valuable, and having a good interaction with a customer on social media will provide a better return on investment than the most polished, professional, focus-group-tested advertisement ever could.
Social media naturally encourage dialogue, and new features and content curation tools allow users to tailor their social media experiences to their exact preferences. Again, modern consumers instinctively tune out obvious ads. More often than not, an online shopper knows exactly what he or she wants before even starting the shopping process.
The Rise of Video Content and Live Streaming
Video content has grown more prevalent and important over the past decade. YouTube effectively allowed the rise of alternative media, and now more people than ever are eschewing traditional TV programming to watch their favorite streaming services and content creators on YouTube and other social media platforms. Live streaming has also taken off in a big way, empowering brands, influencers, and content creators to provide their audiences with a view of them real in the moment instead of scripted, impersonal videos.
Making the Most of Social Media in the Future
Social media has changed and will continue to change society. The last decade has seen some incredible breakthroughs and changes that work to the benefit of marketing professionals and consumers alike. Social media has broken down many of the communication barriers between different consumer groups as well as between individuals. The social media marketers who capitalize on the human side of social media are sure to be successful in the future. Small businesses now have access to much more of a marketing reach than they had in the days before social media, and most platforms are further refining the tools available to marketers and developers.
Ultimately, social media today is not exactly what it was ten years ago, nor will it be ten years from now. Social media marketers need to pay close attention to changing trends and attitudes and learn which facets of social media work best for their niches to succeed in the long run.