In August, I started this series of 6 content marketing trends affecting your success in 2016. So far we’ve covered content promotion, interactive storytelling, and episodic content creation. This week, we look at the ever-growing social media platforms ecosystem, focusing on the fringe platforms that look to surpass legacy networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
And I admit to not being social media’s biggest supporter. Even a year ago I remember telling my team to stop focusing on social media, and instead put time into quality content creation. While you need both to be successful, I didn’t put nearly enough attention on community building. So as the ecosystem of platforms available to marketers expands, this piece will serve as a roundup of what you need to know about solutions from Instagram, Snapchat, Medium, Pinterest, and Periscope/Meerkat.
This piece will also include my personal opinion and experience with these networks, which you can take or leave—whatever floats your boat, folks. But first, let’s look at the numbers.
Investment in social media platforms continues to increase, largely driven by new-network adoption. Of the new players receiving significant chunks of cash from brands, Instagram reigns supreme.
A report from eMarketer forecasts Instagram will have nearly $600 million in advertising revenue in 2015, rising to $2.81 billion by 2017. A separate report from RBC Capital Markets and Advertising Age found that 72 percent of US marketers were interested in allocating money to Instagram for advertising in the next 12 months. Moreover, Shareablee found that consumer actions for US brand pages on Instagram more than doubled year over year in Q1 2015. The company’s new features like Discover, lenses, geotags, and other sponsored content solutions have only helped that growth increase.
But Instagram isn’t the only network flirting with primetime exposure. RBC Capital Markets also found that 41 percent of brand marketers were interested in investing more ad dollars into Pinterest campaigns, and 36 percent were interested in Snapchat marketing. In fact, the top three networks dominating additional social marketing investments next year focus on visual media.
What makes these numbers stand out isn’t the fact that they’re growing in popularity, but that these upticks in dollars and cents seem to be coming at the direct expense of other ad solutions. According to research from Digiday and Rocket Fuel, more than 70 percent of advertisers worldwide are likely to include audience extension solutions in ad campaigns (think display, syndication, etc.). Of the three most popular ad networks being used—in-house networks, integration with ad servers, and third-party ad networks—each saw year-over-year declines.
Brands are shifting where they focus their paid ad dollars, exploring new social media platforms over traditional display and retargeting solutions. When it comes to organic social media programs, Adobe research found that smartphone-based traffic from social networks increased 100 percent year over year. Social media has hit its stride, and whether you’re developing a paid or organic strategy, there’s a lot you need to learn about the up-and-coming players available to you. Below I cover the platforms you need to know now, and make a suggestion on whether to go paid or unpaid on each platform. Bold, I know!
I love Twitter. Last week, I even Tweeted about how I couldn’t imagine a world without Twitter. But it’s losing timeshare to other platforms, specifically Instagram. I, like many Americans, have found myself spending more time scrolling through Instagram, double-tapping funny pictures, friends’ selfies, and branded content. Instagram has become Twitter, but visual.
A few weeks before Instagram’s five-year anniversary, the company announced that it had reached the 400 million monthly active user mark, and that 80 million photos are shared per day on the network. According to TechRadar, engagement on Instagram is also seven times higher than on Twitter and Facebook.
In a survey published to VentureBeat, people spend approximately 31 minutes per day, on average, using Instagram, a 10-minute increase from the previous year. This growth is very real.
But what makes Instagram such a special marketing tool is that it allows marketers to bring their companies’ aesthetics to life, visually. All of the work done during branding processes—finding the right color pallet, picking the perfect adjectives to describe a business, selecting images that embody the company’s personality—can be communicated with great detail through regular photo uploads to Instagram.
Apparel brands like Brooks Brothers and Barbour can draw on their legacies in new ways by featuring age-old classics front and center. And those images resonate, pulling in Millennial prepsters and wannabe-Brahmins from every corner of the Web. People curate their lives full of content that reflects who they want to become, and Instagram makes this process simple.
Recently, Instagram opened its advertising API to every brand, subsequently increasing the volume and frequency of sponsored posts featured in the average users’ stream. While this accessibility gives smaller brands exposure to Instagram’s massive audience, it does change the user experience enough that people noticed.
The survey published to VentureBeat also noted that 58.3 percent of Instagram users are unhappy with the number of ads they see on a daily basis, up from 41.4 percent prior to the ad shift.
The lesson here: ‘Grammers are more than happy to engage and connect with brands and their influencers, so long as they have control of what appears in their streams. Because we use Instagram as a means of aligning our #LifeGoals with what we see on social, a random product push or post sticks out.
Verdict: Paid advertising may help grow your audience, but my advice to you is stick to unpaid marketing options when using Instagram.
Okay, so I’m honestly obsessed with Snapchat. I use it every day, it totally destroys my monthly data plan, and it somehow has me taking selfies in public. This surprises me because not even two years ago when my sister suggested I download the app I laughed in her face. In that time, the network has shed its sexting label and has become the media industry’s greatest social ally.
The Financial Times recently reported that Snapchat is on track to hit $100 million in ad sales this year, double its recent $50 million target, with another quarter left in the year. The company has been ambitious with its advertising solutions, testing a variety of features over the last 12 months.
Today, brand marketers and publishers have a lot of paid options to choose from when developing a Snapchat marketing campaign. Beyond the networks traditional sponsored Live streams, the company features three unique opportunities to explore in 2016.
For media companies, the Discover tab may seem like a promise that never delivers. Many organizations have been tight-lipped about the traffic they see from this feature, but Cosmopolitan recently opened up about its long-time relationship with Snapchat—this data is as juicy as the content you’ll see featured inside the magazine.
According to Digiday, Cosmo says it’s averaging 3 million viewers a day on Snapchat Discover. The magazine’s digital presence had averaged about 1.8 million views a day, but jumped to the 3 million milestone over the summer. Kate Lewis, Vice President and Editorial Director of Digital at Hearst, says Snapchat plays a big role in this growth.
She also noted that Cosmo delivers high content-consumption rates for advertisers on its Discover channel. Meaning, 72 percent of users who watch the Cosmo channel click through to the story, whether it’s an ad or not.
In addition to the Discover feature, Snapchat is set to launch a “Sponsored Lenses” feature that allows users to insert new special effects into their selfies. Regular users have experimented with lenses already, giggling as they throw up rainbows and make their faces explode. Brands are eager to join in on the fun. According to the Financial Times, Snapchat will charge a brand up to $750,000 for a lens on a “peak day” like Halloween or Thanksgiving, and $450,000 for on off-peak day.
Lastly, brands have begun to experiment with Snapchats geo-tag filters. W Hotels is the first hotel brand to jump on this bandwagon, introducing a new campaign that allows hotel guests to add personality into their humblebrag snaps.
As part of its campaign, W Hotels introduced filters that say clever lines like “You Wish You Were Here,” instead of “Wish You Were Here.” Other options include “Current Situation” and “Auto Reply: 000.” This option gives users creative control over how they engage with the brand, making the entire process transparent and organic.
Verdict: You can build up an organic following on Snapchat, but the company’s unique ad options make paid social ideal here. But you better have deep pockets.
Medium, the content-driven network of writers started by former Twitter founder Ev Williams, recently secured $57 million to scale its platform and offerings. I’ve been a big fan of Medium since it launched in beta a little more than 3 years ago, but the network’s purpose took some time to solidify in market.
Now, Ev has seemingly invented a marketplace perfect for today’s content-obsessed culture. By pulling together brand-name creative talent, Fortune 500 brand sponsors, and VC funding, Medium has transitioned from a Xanga-like collection of personal diaries into an organization primed to reinvent magazine publishing altogether.
As a direct result of this funding, Medium has quickly changed its look and brand sponsorship offerings to catch up with the rest of the social advertising market. Some of the bigger changes came to the company’s mobile apps, which were redesigned, to provide an even better experience to users. According to the company, app users already spend more time reading content on its app than on the Web. The update also includes new ways to discover stories on the platform, introduces user profiles, and an activity feed that makes discovery easier (and sponsored content more native).
Perhaps one of the bigger updates comes with a new opportunity for brand marketers. Medium recently opened up its publishing API, which syncs with WordPress and Blogger so far, to allow publishers to syndicate into the Medium community. The company has already inked partnerships with media companies like The Awl, Discovery, Fusion, Steven Johnson’s How We Get to Next, Mic, MSNBC, and Travel + Leisure.
“Not all content needs to be written in Medium to benefit from our network and interaction. To make it easier to publish to Medium—and, therefore, broaden the scope of content available to readers—we’re opening up a publishing API,” Ev wrote on the corporate Medium channel.
Ev continued by stating that, in the near future, his team will be “exploring new ways for professional and independent content creators to connect with both brands and their readers.”
How are brands currently taking advantage of Medium as a social media network? MSNBC uses its channel to “share political commentary and informed perspectives hot off the campaign trail and from inside 30 Rock.” Mic uses Medium as a syndication platform.
At this time, Medium is still early on in developing solutions to connect brands with its network of creative talent and readers. However, both media companies and brands have already begun to experiment with paid options here. I’m betting big on Medium in 2016. This company may completely change how the media industry works—so it’s worth spending the cash if you have it available.
Verdict: For brands able to experiment with new technologies, partners, and platforms, I highly encourage spending money with Medium to get ahead of the curve here.
In total, Pinterest has raised $1.32 billion in funding. It’s a smaller network of 100 million monthly active users, most of whom are further along the purchasing cycle and willing to engage directly with brands. And with a valuation of $11 billion, there’s a lot of vested interest in the success of this network.
Recently, Pinterest has been making a new pitch to advertisers, telling executives to hand over their search budgets in exchange for Pinterest marketing programs. That’s a big gamble, telling advertisers to abandon paid search in favor of Pinterest’s slew of solutions and new features.
According to CMO Today, Pinterest is attempting to position itself as a “catalog of ideas” through which people search for things. To convince prospects to part ways with some of their search budget, the network has to promise results from its newly minted products and targeting options. Let’s take a look at them.
Pinterest is adding new features to its Place Pins. Whenever a user Pins content to a “place,” a map preview, address, phone number, and opening hours will automatically be added to the Pin. This makes it easier for the networks’ broader community to quickly contact retailers if they see something they like on the site. Furthermore, this feature benefits small-to medium-sized retailers, which often don’t benefit as much from paid social media offerings, as networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have traditionally favored their bigger name clients.
In addition to the expanded Place Pins feature, Pinterest has also announced that it’s expanding its “Buyable Pins” feature to new ecommerce platforms like Bigcommerce, Magento, and IBM Commerce. Merchants who use this feature keep 100 percent of the sales, as the company makes money via its advertising tools. Again, this feature could benefit big sellers like Target and Walmart, but it will most likely be used by smaller businesses looking to sell their boutique-like products to an increasingly quirky audience.
A third new release that should excite social media marketers comes with the introduction of Pinterest’s API for building new apps and third-party integrations. This new sandbox-like environment offers developers open source code for building new products on top of Pinterest’s framework. This could help organizations build out tools that drive referral traffic to Web pages as well as personalize the Pinterest shopping experience.
While many of Pinterest’s new advertising features better enable small retailers to sell their products online, some big name brands are doing pretty cool stuff on the site. For example, Ziploc fully redesigned its mobile site to tie into its Pinterest marketing program, and the work paid off. Ziploc sees its Promoted Pins repined at 2.3x the network’s average, with an engagement rate 40 percent ahead of the norm, according to Ad Age.
Verdict: If you’re a large B2C organization looking to sell your products, Pinterest might not be the solution you need. However, the network is an amazing brand-building tool. When it comes to Pinterest, organic all the way!
Since I started writing this blog, I couldn’t wait to get to the Periscope and Meerkat section.
I hate these apps, and I haaaate the people who constantly write how-to articles about live streaming video content. They’re overhyped, immature networks, and just not worth investing in on the B2B side. That’s not to say some B2Cs can’t do cool programs with the apps, but you have to ask yourself, what’s worth live streaming, really?
According to social analytics company Topsy, there have been 1.6 million tweets with “LIVE on #Periscope” in the last month, compared to 120,000 tweets with “LIVE NOW #meerkat.” Periscope also recently announced that its app has more than 10 million active accounts on iOS and Android. Meerkat has not disclosed its recent number of users.
When you look at brands doing anything worth talking about on these apps, you get Doritos, who held a 12-hour live stream of it smashing stuff together at a high velocity. Yup, the company fired items from cannons at each other and watched from the sidelines with their smartphones in hand. Exciting stuff, super clever brand marketing.
Honestly, pay attention to Periscope and Meerkat in 2016—they may introduce a worthwhile feature or two—but for now, I wouldn’t spend anymore than five minutes thinking about them in terms of your strategy. That is, unless you’re a consultant or webinar-addict who just cannot get enough of marketing influencers talking bout themselves live on camera.
Verdict: Delete these apps immediately.
Social media marketing will only become a more complex practice in the enterprise. Multi-divisional strategies will compete for the lion’s share of a brand’s audience. As a content marketer, use these fringe options as a way to differentiate both internally and externally. But seriously, if I catch you live streaming your how-to marketing tips, I will revoke your marketer card and run it through the shredder over by finance. I’m serious.
For those looking to create something cool, my vote is to try out Instagram, Snapchat, and Medium.
This is just one of the major trends impacting your 2016 marketing strategy. For information on the other five trends, don’t forget to check out the series round-up.