2013 has been a great year for Social Media witnessing large growth not only in user base but in the ability for social media to meet business needs. Social Media Sites continue to grow more marketing friendly allowing companies to better segment and target users. Targeted users can be serviced ads designed specifically for them and the ads themselves have new features that improve click-through rates and in the end lead to increased conversions. Some social sites are improving on existing marketing structures while others like Pinterest are just getting started. Either way the sites are becoming monetized.
Beyond the direct marketing frameworks on the sites there are also new features like Facebook’s graph search or related hashtags on Google+ that benefit both users and marketers. These new features allow users to better connect with others interested in similar topics and help them engage in conversation. Marketers can access these conversations to learn more about their followers and exactly what content would be relevant and helpful rather than annoying and ill timed.
It has been quite a year so let’s delve into changes on the top sites.
Top Ten Most Popular Social Sites
Before we talk about the top sites let’s first determine them. Below is the list of the most popular social sites in terms of monthly visitors as of January 2014. I chose to rank them based on activity rather than total active users which is listed next to the top 5 social sites.
1. Facebook – 800,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors – 1,190,000,000 Active Users
2. Twitter – 250,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors – 232,000,000 Active Users
3. LinkedIn – 200,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors – 259,000,000 Active Users
4. Google+ – 150,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors – 540,000,000 Active Users
5. Pinterest – 140,500,000 Unique Monthly Visitors – 70,000,000 Active Users
6. Tumblr – 125,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors
7. Flickr – 67,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors
8. VK – 65,400,000 Unique Monthly Visitors
9. Instagram – 50,000,000 Unique Monthly Visitors
10. Deviant Art – 30,500,000 Unique Monthly Visitors
Now that we have a better perspective about the size of these sites, let’s dig a little deeper and talk about the top five sites and the changes that have taken place on each over the past year.
For a number of years now Facebook has had a healthy lead over possible competition but there has been word of mouth and discussion that the behemoth may be losing steam and even users. This is especially true among younger demographics (teenagers) who are shifting to other social sites like Twitter which feature faster feeds, fewer ads, and seem more exclusive as older generations have adopt to the social craze and are active on Facebook. Despite shifting demographics, globally Facebook is still continuing to grow with 1.01 billion registered users in September 2012, 1.11 billion users in March 2013, and 1.19 billion users today.
In terms of notable changes to the site, this past year Facebook released its much hyped Graph Search which allows users to search topics within Facebook and receive not only relevant results but how their Facebook friends are connected to the topic. This is an interesting and helpful feature for users and an ever greater tool for marketers as it allows them to better track followers of their brand and identify likeable content to create and promote on the site. Hopefully this information will help companies boost interaction with their users and help guide them to the company website.
Related to the graph search was Facebook’s use of clickable hashtags to again help users become more involved in topics related to their friends. The clickable hashtag connects users to public conversations on their chosen topic helping promote sharing and interaction among the site’s population. Marketers can take advantage of these hashtags by seeing exactly what the masses are discussing when it comes to specific topics. Apt companies can join conversations and bring relevant and useful content to drive interaction. It also provides foolish companies the opportunity to place unwelcome advertisements in conversations and gather a handful of dislikes.
Ads have definitely becoming more frequent on Facebook newsfeeds but the company is aware of the negative backlash this may have with users and have taken steps to prevent it. One restriction that Facebook has placed on ads in the newsfeed is images in ads cannot be made up of more than 20 percent text. Marketers have to be very selective in what copy they want displayed in an ad and the ads themselves have to be more visually compelling. This focus on visual ad imagery helps unclutter the user’s newsfeed and saves Facebook from the angry backlash while still boosting ad revenues on the site.
For marketers on Facebook, make sure you take advantage of the additional information that is provided to you through these updates. Use the information to better connect with your audience on Facebook and find ways to make them customers by sharing relevant information (don’t just shove untargeted ads down their throats).
2012 seems to have been the year of Twitter, which was founded in 2006. Twitter had a monthly active member ship of 100 million in 2011 and saw this number increase to 200 million in December of 2012. This growth was very quick and highly impressive, but over this last year twitter’s user base while still growing is doing so at a much slower rate. This past November Twitter announced they had 232 million monthly active users on the site. This announcement preceded their IPO later in the month.
While the number of active users is increasing so is the number of abandoned Twitter accounts. Like any other social site, there are a number of accounts that are set up and then discarded. This pool of abandoned Twitter accounts is 651 million which may partially explain the relatively disappointing results of its IPO shares.
But the company has been making changes that will hopefully make it more profitable helping boost its stock price. One of the most noticeable changes that was introduced were one-click, lead generation cards. These cards are essentially ads presented to Twitter users which have a one-click button to bring users to a company’s separate landing page. The whole idea of the cards was to make it simpler for twitter users to connect with companies and has resulted in a simpler conversion process for companies active on Twitter. More conversions hopefully means more profits for companies, happy users, and boosted stock prices.
Similar to Facebook, Twitter is also including more imagery in the news feed. The company, famous for its 140 character limit, is looking into adding visuals in its post stream including on its iPhone and Android apps. As a marketer, make sure to take advantage of this trends before you get left behind and your text rich ads are ignored by social users.
LinkedIn was built to connect professionals online and for a number of years was left alone by marketers. But with the continued growth and additional capabilities on the site, ignoring LinkedIn is foolish, especially as there are new tools that allow marketers to better target individuals.
One such tool is sponsored updates which allows marketers to promote specific posts on the company page to the news feed of specific individuals. This can be especially helpful for B2B businesses which make personal contact in order to sell their products or services. I would expect the conversion rates of such targeting to be much higher than other paid channels.
However, ‘cold-calling’ individuals with ads on LinkedIn is not the place to start. Just as professionals on the site build relationships, companies can connect with professionals online and then keep track of these relationships by using LinkedIn Contacts. Contacts pulls in up-to-date information on different individuals you wish to track and provides a timeline of your interactions with them. It will still be up to you to create a relationship but LinkedIn helps you track and maintain the relationship.
So you can build relationships, track them, and target individuals with ads on LinkedIn but what about those who stumble upon your page when searching for related information. LinkedIn created Showcase pages for that exact reason. These pages are niche pages you can create which are connected to your main company page but are designed with a specific customer persona in mind. This way your followers can receive updates from not just your main webpage but a niche page that contains only the information they are interested in.
In marketing it is all about segmenting and targeting and this definitely holds true when it comes to marketing on LinkedIn. If you have a presence on the social site, especially if you are a B2B company make sure to take advantage of the targeting tools that are offered.
The importance of Google+ has increased over the past year and not necessarily because of its user growth although it has grown quickly, outpacing Twitter and LinkedIn, bringing it to a total of 540 million active users. The importance of Google+ lies in the fact that it explicitly factors into Google algorithm for search results; essentially making a +1 more important than a “like”, “follow”, etc. Not only is interaction and active posting important on Google+, but having up to date information is essential. The information fed into Google maps as well as other services is pulled from a company’s Google+ account. If you are a marketer for a company and your Google+ account is out of date, you need to fix it now. To learn more tips on using Google+ in your marketing efforts, click here.
Google also put some work into their social site this past year. The most noticeable difference was the site’s facelift which included updated maps as well as its brilliant messaging system Hangouts (which I now prefer over Skype). Similar to Facebook, Google is also making use of hashtags, which it uses to create relevant conversations among users. ‘Related Hashtags’ will be added to your post after Google reviews the content. These hashtags can be clicked by viewers of your post who will then see the post card flip and display other posts related to the topic. Just like on Facebook, marketers can use these hashtags to learn more about topics via conversations, and then create relevant content to add to the conversations.
To further assist marketers, Google developed its unified dashboard. While Google services used to be managed from different interfaces, the new dashboard allows marketers to manage their URLs, ad campaigns, and notifications all from one place. Changes you make in the dashboard take immediate effect across all your Google tools. Don’t forget that Google is a company seeking profits (PPC!). With all of the services located in one place, the company hopes that you will take advantage and choose to use more tools (and pay for them too) rather than seeking third party software. If you are a marketer, you will have to measure out the convenience against any additional costs when adding Google’s dashboard tools to your toolkit.
As online marketing continues to see a trend toward visuals, Pinterest should be one of the first social sites that comes to mind. Pinterest, which was valued at 2.5 billion dollars this past year, has enormous potential to create revenues, and appears to heading the direction of Twitter and Facebook by introducing ads and becoming more marketing friendly.
The company has begun experimenting with ads and has created what they call ‘promoted pins’. Just like promoted posts, these will show up on user’s boards and can direct users to external webpages or a company’s board on Pinterest. Expect the experimentation to move slowly as only a few companies have been given access to advertise on the site. The ads are being carefully regulated to make sure they do not detract from the user experience. Outside of direct ads, marketers can also use ‘Rich Pins’ which can be used to promote content. The pins allow you to add additional information to your post and are used most frequently for topics like recipes, products, and movies. For example, a movie pin can add locations as well as playing times in the pin helping turn a passive interest into a conversion.
Pinterest is also becoming more marketer friendly in its creation of onsite analytics, which, while not robust, certainly provides information to marketers that were in desperate need of it to come to some form of ROI. The analytics include metrics such as most clicked and most pinned, and can be filtered by dates and times.
With measurement capabilities, promoted content, and ad introduction, expect Pinterest to monetize itself in the future. If you have potential customers on the site be carefully watching the social site as it shifts to greater advertising.
“But what about YouTube!” you may be shouting. We can’t end the social discussion of the past year without touching on YouTube. While not normally referred to as a social networking site it is still essential to social marketing efforts.
The website now owned by Google has more than 1 billion unique visitors and over 6 billion hours of videos watched each month. While the site is internationally renowned and there are 61 localized versions of the site for 61 different countries, 80 percent of the traffic comes from the United States. So what has 2013 done for the site?
Not much, at least nothing beneficial for the users. 2013 has seen a ton of bad press for the numerous changes that Google implemented during the year. These disliked changes began when Google first purchased the site in 2006. Google made its first large change back in 2011 when it required that users sign into their Gmail accounts in order to access full privileges on YouTube like commenting. Google took it a step further last September by requiring that you be signed into your Google+ account to access those same privileges. Hopefully this means less trolling and more responsibility in commenting but it also means Google can better track your interests and learn more about you for its search results.
Google also blocked all Microsoft phones from downloading the YouTube app last August. While Google spokespersons said that the app was blocked because Microsoft had neglected to make the appropriate changes to the app I am guessing that Microsoft was banned because it was blocking ads on YouTube which is a major source of revenue for Google.
Other adjustments during the year included comments being grouped together into clusters of conversations which makes them frustrating to navigate. There are also several glitches including missing reply buttons and requiring users to open a new window every time they click on a hidden comment. However, there have also been some benefits. Clickable links can be placed in comments and hashtags (which Google introduced on Google+) can be created.
Despite any benefits, petitions have gone out to Google requesting that they return to prior designs of YouTube. Will Google make adjustments? Most likely not, and the reason why is that there is no website that can deliver as YouTube can giving Google a monopoly on the resource.
When it comes to marketing on YouTube, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is targeting. Make sure you are sending your ad to the right people at the right time if you want it to have any effect. Second is that you need to cut through the mess. YouTube is a site full of videos to watch so why should a user bother watching a boring advertisement? They shouldn’t. It has to be something worth watching or they will skip it or if you bought one of those annoying 15 second, non-skippable ads they will open another tab and play the video again without the ad (guilty).
If you made it all the way through the article I am proud of you and you should have learned quite a bit regarding social marketing. If you skimmed through the article hopefully you learned quite a bit anyway. Looking back on 2013, here are the key lessons that we have learned and ones that you will need to take with you into the coming year:
- Marketing Friendly Social Sites – As noted, most of these sites are already monetized and are building tools for marketers to use which incentivize you to purchase ad space or spend more time on the site. Take advantage of these latest innovations to guide customers to your site and increase your bottom line. Through next year, expect to see similar applications being developed to a greater extent.
- The Age of Mobile is Here – Mobile devices are being used all the time and are now an essential part of search as well as social interaction. There is a pattern of users viewing a brand, a post, etc. on a mobile device and then pursuing the interest later on desktop. Make sure the content you share, or ad you create, is designed for mobile users who will quickly be scrolling through news feeds.
- It’s All About Imagery – Noted in the article, the movement in Social Media towards increased visuals has not stopped. Users quickly skim or skip text, but an image will catch their attention. Keep this in mind as you share content on different social sites.
- Target the User – Take advantage of new applications like hashtags, graph search, Pinterest analytics, etc. to learn who your ideal user is and where they are on the site. After you understand this information, create content or deliver your ad where it needs to be.
- Cut through the Garbage – As these sites become better for marketing they also attract more businesses. Users are subjected to more ads, more content, and more crap from companies in their news feeds. If you cannot create something valuable to the user, they will skip over it as they are becoming very good at ignoring adds. Before you invest time spreading content, make sure you have invested time in creating valuable content.
- Create a Conversation – Last, but not least, it is an important reminder that social websites should be social. Target users, deliver valuable content, and then converse with these individuals to build a rapport. Social provides you an amazing opportunity not only to draw leads, but to develop a visible brand personality that would otherwise take years to build using traditional marketing methods.