My Social Media and Content Marketing Predictions for 2014

It’s the annual end-of-year-what’s-happening-next-year prediction time, something I have proved to be very bad at ever since 1997, when I got pissed at the Indianapolis Colts for cutting quarterback Jim Harbaugh and bringing in some hick rookie from Tennessee to take over a playoff contending team.

Peyton Manning

This guy. It was this guy.

But I’m going to keep trying, because as my fantasy football record shows, there are people who are even worse at making predictions and they still get to keep their high-paying TV jobs. Apparently a 3-for-10 success rate is good enough in baseball and sports predictions, so if those idiots can make it, I’m certainly not giving up.

Here are my three social media and content marketing predictions for 2014.

1. Facebook’s and Twitter’s replacements will be born in 2014

I’m not saying Facebook and Twitter are going to die, but I think people are getting sick enough of their shenanigans that the networks that come after the two giants will be born in 2014. We just won’t realize what they are until a couple years later, when there’s a frog-in-slowly-boiling-water migration to the two newcomers. Keep your eyes peeled for Twitter alternatives next year and claim your favorite username while you still have time.

Part of me still hopes App.net could be Twitter’s successor — I even put $50 into their Kickstarter campaign in 2012 — but I haven’t used it enough to know how well it’s doing.

2. SEO professionals are going to continue to suffer

Google is never as happy as when they’re messing with search engine optimization professionals. The last three years of SEO changes have seen the end of many strategies that the cheaters and spammers employed to trick Google. The latest nail in the SEO’s coffin iteration of Google’s algorithm, Hummingbird, not only made high quality content a requirement, they also stopped reporting keywords, making it harder for SEOs to know why people came to their site in the first place.

These changes are going to continue until the only thing an SEO professional is good for is reading the analytics reports (and there are software packages that can make pretty dashboards with the click of a button). 2014 isn’t going to let up on them either. Look for another major shift in Google’s algorithm, and the continued closing of SEO companies that refuse to make the switch from code chaser to writer/video producer/audio engineer.

SERPFruit screenshot

This is a screenshot of SERPFruit’s analytics dashboard. Just connect it to your Google Analytics and get simple charts for your organic traffic.

3. Content marketing will become the new trend

Remember when everyone was clamoring for social media? Ah, those were the heady days. When a 26 year old could get hired as the VP of social media at a fast food chain, and when interns and recent college grads were handed the keys to the most public-facing communication channel a company had. Media had not been that much of a Wild West frontier since the very early days of radio when anyone with a transmitter could call themselves a radio station.

Now that everyone has calmed down about social media, and it’s becoming just another marketing channel, it looks like content marketing is becoming the Next Big Thing. There are companies, websites, and entire conferences dedicated to content marketing, and we’re starting to see predictions like three Fortune 500 companies will hire chief content officers. That does seem a little specific — what’s next, chief video officers? Chief analytics officers? Remember, a Chief ____ Officer is one of the most senior executives in a company. A Content Marketing Director seems more likely — but it does illustrate how important companies will realize content is to their marketing efforts.

It also means there’s potential work for all the professional journalists who have been losing their jobs at the newspapers and magazines. My only hope is that the same people who were hiring the college kids to run their social media marketing will actually take the time to find the best writers, and not assume that everyone who was born with a computer on their lap knows how to write.

Look to see an increase of content marketing production hires, as well as an increase of content marketing spending by CMOs, not only to the detriment of traditional marketing, but maybe even social media and (hopefully) SEO as well.

Okay, maybe “predictions” is a strong word, but based on the trends of 2013, I can only assume that numbers 2 and 3 are going to continue in the new year. Pay close attention to history, kids, because that’s where you’re going to learn your most valuable lessons.

By my count, I’m 6 for 10 in my social media predictions over the past three years, which is twice as good as the football pundits who rumble about their picks every Sunday morning. I’m hoping this year’s predictions can boost my total, thus helping me forget my Peyton Manning flub 16 years ago.

Maybe Social Media Marketing SHOULD Replace Traditional Marketing

Whenever I give a talk on social media marketing, I always point out, “we don’t actually recommend that you replace traditional marketing with social media. Rather, it should be another tool in your marketing toolbox.”

Why? Why can’t social media marketing replace traditional marketing? In a lot of cases, the traditional marketing has outlived its usefulness, and is just a waste of money. Not every time for every marketer. But many marketers are spending money on something that’s not working anymore.Toolbox

I can think of five reasons why you should replace traditional marketing with social media or content marketing.

1. You Aren’t Getting a Positive ROI

You ned to spend money to make money. But you need to make more than you spend, in order to make it worthwhile. You can’t just throw money away on a marketing channel and call it “branding.”

Because unless you’re Nike, you don’t have branding-level money, you have “this had better f—ing work” money. So spend the money in a place where you know you’re going to make more money than you spend.

One client stopped spending $60,000 per year on trade show marketing because they weren’t getting anything out of it.

“We’ve measured it, and we don’t make any money on the shows,” they told me. “We just go because we’ve always gone.”

The company switched that entire budget over to content marketing, and in the first six months, they got two new clients that grossed more than their entire annual trade show budget.

2. You’re Overspending

A common trick of the Yellow Pages companies is to break everything out into a monthly price, so all their features and add-ons seem small. “It’s only $5.99 more per month.” “That’s only $3.99 more per month.” “Oh, and that’s a paltry $6.99 per month.” Before you know it, you’re spending a lot more than you intended.

On top of that, your prices will increase even more the following year. Your vendor will often send you a contract renewal with some barely noticeable rate creep, hoping you’ll sign it without too many questions. Soon, any prices you were paying are greatly increased from when you originally signed it.

Combine that with the fact that you weren’t getting a positive ROI in the first place, and it’s either time to renegotiate or drop the channel completely. Your vendor’s salespeople should be able to show you how to measure your ROI (they can’t do it for you, but they can show you how). If they can’t, cancel.

Social media isn’t free, but it is controllable. If you hire an in-house person to do it, you can control the costs. If you outsource to a third-party, they can show you the ROI and prove their value.

3. Your Audience Isn’t Using Traditional Media

Are you relying on newspapers to reach 20-somethings? Are you advertising your home decor products on ESPN? Or you’re still rocking the Yellow Pages ads even though you’re trying to reach smartphone users.

This is where it pays to do target market research. Find out where your target market is likely to see (and not see) your advertising. If they don’t read newspapers, stop advertising in them. If they don’t watch ESPN, quit buying TV spots.

Next, figure out where they do spend a lot of their time, and how they gather news and information. For many people under the age of 30, that’s on social media. Quit spending money on advertising outlets that aren’t yielding anything, and start focusing on content marketing and social media marketing.

4. You Need to Reach a Target Audience

Who’s your target audience? And don’t say “everyone.” Because unless you’re Target, “everyone” isn’t an audience.

Who are the typical buyers of your product? Men over 40? Moms? Single 20-somethings?

How would you typically reach them? TV advertising comes close, but there are so many viewers who aren’t in your target market that you’re wasting money. TV costs are based on total viewers, not targeted viewers. You’re paying for people who will never buy your product to see your commercial.

Radio? Same problem as TV. Plus, there’s more than one station your target audience listens to, so you have to double or triple up.

Direct mail? You can target your audience, but you don’t know who opened your mail, or what they did with it.

With social media marketing, you can target a specific group. Whether it’s advertising to certain demographics on Facebook, or running a content marketing/local SEO campaign for search engines, you can specifically target only those people interested in your product, and ignore everyone else.

5. You Don’t Have a Big Budget

Like I said, social media isn’t free. But it’s relatively cheap, when compared to traditional marketing. TV and radio ads can cost many thousands of dollars. Billboards on highways often cost $10,000 or more per month. And on and on.

Social media marketing is a fraction of that cost. It can easily reach your target audience, and won’t cost as much to do it.

Think of it this way: It can cost less than $100 per day ($3,000 per month) to advertise on a single cable station, but you’re going to spend $30,000 or more (sometimes much more) to create a high-quality spot. A six month ad run is going to cost you $48,000. Then you need another six-month ad. Or a two month seasonal ad. Or more than one commercial.

(And let’s not even talk about how you’re spending a lot to not reach your target audience, or how difficult it is to track ROI.)

Social media pricing varies, but an outside agency can manage social media anywhere from $1,000 – $5,000. It may seem like a lot, but it beats the $96,000 per year you’re spending to create and run two TV commercials on one cable TV station.

Can we completely replace traditional marketing with social media marketing? Not yet. But every day, traditional marketing’s effectiveness is slipping into obscurity. It’s not dead, but it’s certainly coughing a lot.

For some companies, however, they need to stop spending money on traditional marketing and advertising and make the switch to social media marketing instead. It’s where your customers are spending most of their time, it costs a lot less, and it’s easier to reach your target audience.

Photo credit: jasonwg (Flickr, Creative Commons)

One More Reminder Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Eggs in Facebook’s Basket

Michael Koploy, an ERP analyst for SoftwareAdvice.com, wrote an interesting article — Adding a Pinterest-Twist to Fix Facebook Commerce — about why companies shouldn’t put a lot of effort into their Facebook pages, like setting up an ecommerce site (or as Koploy calls it, an F-commerce site — ‘F’ for Facebook).Abandoned storefront in Coles County, Illinois

Many experts have weighed-in on why Facebook storefronts are often unsuccessful. A large part of it simply boils down to the fact that Facebook isn’t an e-commerce site. This results in a contextual disconnect.

“Most people don’t go to Facebook wanting to purchase something,” says Josh Davis, social media strategist at ITFO Communications and blogger at LL Social. Davis believes that retailers were initially excited by the advertising potential, but are now realizing shopping-intent isn’t there.

In short, the context for F-commerce is wrong. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru accurately likened F-commerce to “trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Facebook’s core focus is clearly stated on its login page: “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Facebook is not about shopping. And it’s not about retailers. But Facebook is good for connecting people to each other.

Last week, we discussed why it’s a bad idea for companies to quit blogging to go with Facebook: Facebook owns the channel, you don’t. When they change their rules and their interface, you’re screwed. When you change your blog, you can decide what, where, when, and how.

But companies like Gamestop, J.C. Penny, and Nordstrom all pulled their F-commerce efforts after failing to receive any kind of pay off. And that’s just a year after investors swore up and down that F-commerce was going to put the hurt on online retail giant Amazon.com.

I hate predicting failure of new ventures, and pointing my finger and going “neener neener” at people who tried something and failed (unless they’re complete a-holes; then they deserve it). But I’m not surprised, and am rather pleased, that these companies got smart and cut their F-commerce efforts before they lost their shirts.

The big surprise they would have had — and it’s the same damn surprise that businesses who put a lot of money and effort into Facebook always get — is that one day, Facebook will decide, “we don’t want you to have X on your page any more, so we’re going to ‘improve’ the network.”

They did it with FBML in 2010 (Facebook Markup Language, which companies spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on to design these gorgeous sites). They did it with Groups, after begging organizations, companies, and loose collectives to spend all their time and effort to get people to join. And they did it with the non-Timeline iFrame pages, after people spent hundreds and thousands of dollars to recover from the whole FBML fracas.

Orangutan feet

Orangutan feet. I don't know what orangutans read for inspiration.

Mark my words, it will happen again within the next 12 – 18 months. Someone’s going to spend thousands of dollars, get their page looking all pretty and just the way they want it, and WHAM! Facebook will change it yet again.

Facebook, like Koploy reminded us, is a place to connect. It’s a place where friends gather. We don’t hang out with our friends at the bar to buy stuff. Companies that are doing F-commerce need to pull out before they get the big F-U.

Put your money into improving the SEO of your ecommerce site, doing more social media marketing, and using Facebook for what it’s intended for: posting Instagram pictures of your feet and gag-inducing GIFs of your favorite inspirational sayings typically found inside the doors of high school lockers.

Photo credit: Abandoned storefrontColes County Tales (Flickr, Creative Commons)
Orangutan feet Macinate (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Bad Idea: Companies Quit Blogging to Go With Facebook

The number of companies that maintain blogs dropped by nearly 25% from 2010 to 2011.

That’s not a very smart move.

But it’s a growing trend. According to an article in USA Today, more companies quit blogging, go with Facebook instead, the percentage of companies on Inc. magazine’s fastest growing 500 dropped from 50% in 2010 to 37% in 2011. And only 23% of Fortune 500 companies had a blog in 2011.

Dr. Nora Ganim Barnes, the UMass Dartmouth professor who wrote the report, and world-class social media academic, told USA Today that blogging may not be the panacea that businesses thought it would be.

“Blogging requires more investment. You need content regularly. And you need to think about the risk of blogging, accepting comments, liability issues, defamation,” she said.

The problem is, the companies are taking their energy and efforts to Facebook instead. That’s not a dumb strategy. After all, at 800 million+ users, you have to fish where the fish are. And there’s a whole lot of fish on Facebook. [Read more…]

Employers Should NEVER Be Allowed to Ask for Facebook Passwords

This whole “employers asking for job candidate Facebook passwords” thing is complete bullshit.

Not only is it an infringement of personal privacy, it’s unconscionable that they would make a person’s private life part of that hiring decision.

In some cases, employers are even asking current employees for their Facebook passwords as a condition of their continued employment. It was bad enough when they required employees to friend someone from the company, now they’re demanding total access to the things you wanted to keep hidden from everyone but close family.Doorway to the International Spy Museum, Washington DC

That’s not to say that a person who is wildly inappropriate or shows poor decision making skills should still be hired — if you’re stupid enough to post your half-nude keg stand photos for the entire world to see, maybe you don’t deserve that job as a kindergarten teacher — but if you’re smart enough to keep it private, or better yet, not to put yourself in that situation in the first place, then employers shouldn’t be snooping around.

Employers are free to Google a potential candidate to see what they can find, for the same reason. If you put your stuff online online, you should be willing to stand behind it. And if you wish you had never put it out there, there are ways to hide it. Or at least make sure it’s not seen by people who think a YouTube video montage of you yelling at children and puppies makes you a horrible person.

But as far as I’m concerned, Facebook is like your house with a giant picture window. You would never parade naked in front of the open window, but you have some things that you do that you would prefer to keep private and personal. Those are the things you keep in your desk, in a closet, or under the bed.

Yet, employers asking for Facebook passwords are basically asking for the key to your house so they can root through your drawers, read your diary, flip through family photo albums, look at your bank and credit card statements. They want to see what they can find, to determine whether they should hire you in the first place, or let you keep your job. They don’t have any reason for this search. They don’t think there’s anything incriminating to find, or have any evidence that you’ve done anything wrong. They just want to see if there is.

You would never let the police put a speed tracking device on your car to tell them when you speed. You wouldn’t let them come into your house uninvited for a quick peek. Why would you give employers the open opportunity to waltz in whenever they’d like, to see if there’s anything they maybe ought to be concerned about?

Don’t give me this “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you should have nothing to fear” bullshit either. I haven’t done anything wrong, and yet I’m not going to let anyone into my life, house, or Facebook account to snoop around in the hopes they can find something incriminating.

I’ll admit that there may be some sensitive jobs that require a background check. But the thoroughness of this type of probing make Facebook snooping look like a quick drive-by glance through your front window at 30 miles an hour.

I have not met a single individual who supports this. At least no one who is facing the fear and desperation of unemployment, or the desire to keep their job. Nor anyone whose job it is to professionally argue that Facebook snooping should be allowed. If anyone thinks it’s okay to give your employer unfettered access into your personal life in order to get/keep your job, let me know.

But if you, as an employer, are going to snoop around my personal Facebook account, then by all means, let me snoop around yours. Give me your password, and I’ll poke and prod at my leisure. Maybe I won’t find anything salacious, but do you really want someone poking around to see all your private messages and the photos that you marked “friends only?”

We still have a relatively fragile economy, and people have been unemployed for months, or face a devastating financial loss because of new unemployment. For employers to dangle the golden carrot of survival in front of a candidate in exchange for the ability to snoop into a person’s private life are slimy, underhanded, and extremely unethical. There is no earthly reason, short of working for a federal agency where you’re allowed to carry a gun or know state secrets, that employers should be allowed to become electronic voyeurs into someone’s non-work life.

Companies that do so face the threat of lawsuits from disqualified job candidates, loss of corporate Facebook accounts, and possible legal action as Congress and several states seek to make this against the law.

Photo credit: Tony Fischer Photography (Flickr)

Dear Executives, Social Media Does Not Render Your Employees Stupid

Social media does not make people stupid. It does not make them irresponsible, lazy, or unproductive. Social media will make you money, however, if you do it right.

I talk to a lot of business owners and executives who worry that if they start using social media to market their business, their employees’ productivity will plummet.

I’ve had meetings in the last two days with two different business owners. One has embraced Facebook and blogging fully, the other is worried that Facebook will hamper his employees’ ability to get work done.

The first employer urges his employees to do stuff on social media. Almost requires it. His Facebook page gets dozens of visits a day, which is awesome because they sell such a niche product, the customer base for the entire country can be measured in the thousands.

The other employer says — and rightly so — that they have so much administrative work to do around the office, he doesn’t want their Facebook efforts to distract them from getting their admin work done.

The first employer wants to know how he can do more social media marketing. The second employer wants to know the bare minimum he can get by with.

As Doug Karr says, asking what the minimum you can get by with on social media is like asking how slowly you can drive a race car.

Social Media Marketing is Not About Playing

Facebook lets me see kittehs

ZOMG! Facebook lets me play with kittehs!!

We as employers trust our employees. We trust them to answer the phones and be pleasant to everyone who calls in. We trust them to make travel to other states and make sales calls and presentations. We trust them to take payments from customers and put our money in the bank. We trust them to buy products from other companies. And we even trust them to use computers without standing over them, watching them type every email.

So what is it about social media that scares the bejeezus out of every employer and makes them think that the second they allow Facebook onto their computers, their entire workforce is going to turn into a bunch of 13-year-old girls jacked up on Red Bull and the most recent Justin Bieber sighting?

If you trust these people enough to do business in your name, collect and spend your money, and talk to your customers, then you need to trust them enough to continue to do these things while Facebook is unblocked on their computers.

If you don’t trust them, that’s your fault. If you don’t trust your employees to not screw around, you’re the problem, not Facebook. You hired the wrong people, and that’s a management issue.

Hire people who will get their work done, and make your expectations for social media usage clear from the outset. These are people who can help your company be more profitable, so why not take advantage of that?

Social Media Marketing is About Making Money

The whole reason for a business to be on social media is to make money. Period. It’s not to play Farmville on Facebook. It’s not to pin the latest novelty cake on Pinterest. It’s not to take photos of a rusted out piece of farm equipment on Instagram. It’s to find people who would be interested in buying your products or services.

Every business owner and manager is always looking for a way to make more money and be more profitable. The problem is, many of them are hampered by doing the things that don’t make them money. Doing payroll. Filing claims. Managing inventory. Filling and shipping product orders.

The problem is, payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping don’t make you money. Marketing makes you money. Finding new customers makes your money. If you’re a business owner, and you’re spending your valuable time doing payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping, instead of generating revenue, outsource them.

Hire a bookkeeping firm to manage payroll. Hire a virtual assistant to file your claims. Hire a $10 hour college student to count inventory and stick orders in boxes. The less of this non-revenue generating work you can do, the better.

Spend the newly found time pursuing new customers. Spend it on Facebook, Twitter, or writing your blog. It doesn’t take long to bring in a couple choice clients to recover the costs of having a part-time employee handle the grunt work that’s actually losing you money. Have them handle more of your non-revenue workload, and find a couple more. You can grow just by having someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

But it starts with letting go of the fear that your employees are going to be struck stupid the second you allow Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn on your company computers.

Photo credit: bjornlifoto (Flickr)

Four Online Predictions for 2012

Okay, I’m going to jump on the trends bandwagon and offer yet another online predictions blog post where I polish my crystal ball and predict the future of social media. I think I have a decent track record going for me. In 2010, I predicted that Android sales were going to outpace iPhones, and I was only six months late on that (it finally happened earlier this year). Of course, I also said SMS would become obsolete, and that ain’t happening any time soon, so I’m batting .500.

Emboldened by my previous success — and with a promise to Allison Carter (@allisonlcarter) that this list will not mention mobile or geo-location networks — here are my four predictions for 2012.Crystal ball

1. An even bigger focus on quality of written content.

Thanks to Google Panda, the traditional SEO techniques of on-site optimization and backlinking is not as effective or important as it once was. Now, Panda measures things like bounce rate and time on site. In other words, if your site sucks, your rankings will drop. If your site is good, your rankings will rise.

Want to improve your rankings? Improve the quality of your content, especially your writing. The better your writing is, the longer people will stick around.

We’ll see a bigger push for web designers and bloggers to have better writing, not just a bunch of schlocky writing. So for anyone who has been in the quantity-over-quality camp of blog writing, you’re going to have a tough time of it in 2012.

2. Disruption will be the watchword, and the way to make money.

We’re already seeing how social media, broadband, and mobile phones are disrupting some middle men businesses. People are canceling their cable and satellite TV, and instead watching videos on Netflix and Hulu. We’re getting local news from local bloggers, or national news from each other, instead of TV news and newspapers. I even quit listening to local commercial radio, choosing instead to listen to an awesome public radio station out of Louisville, KY. Traditional media has been disrupted, but that’s not all.

We’ll continue to see more middle men being disrupted by fast phones and social media — look for advertising and PR agencies, publishers, banks, and credit card companies to take a big hit as people figure out how to circumvent these gatekeepers. Look for other people who figure it out to make a buttload of money being the disruptions, or taking advantage of the new disruptions.

(Case in point, Dwolla, which only charges $.25 per transaction for anything over $10 (under $10 is free), and is currently on course to move about $350 million per year.)

3. Citizen journalism will continue to grow and become more important.

Newspapers have taken a big hit in the last 10 years, thanks to online media — a disruption that’s been years in the making — but people still want local news. The newspapers that will survive and thrive will be the dailies in smaller cities, and the weeklies in small towns. In the big cities, we’ll see more citizen journalism as people report on their local stories. More Twitpics, more cell phone videos, more stories that are pieced together through people acting like their own journalists.

I would love to see some news-minded entrepreneur figure out a way to gather all of this content and monetize it. While that may not happen in 2012, look for online-only newspapers like The American Reporter to pick up the slack of the big city papers, and local news outlets like Patch to become more widespread and easier to use.

We’re going to see more news, commentary, sports, etc. covered up by real people, not professional journalists. I also think we’ll see smaller print newspapers get smarter about their online efforts, and even TV stations to continue to embrace the web. Could we also see someone start an Internet-only TV news style of website?

4. Teenagers will begin to leave Facebook in droves.

Their moms and dads are on Facebook. Their grandparents are on Facebook. The whole point behind Facebook was it was a place to go where you could be cool. And as everyone knows, it’s impossible to be cool when your parents are around. They’re moving to other networks where their parents are not. Even Ben Bajarin (@benbajarin) of Time Magazine is questioning whether it’s the beginning of the end for Facebook. (Hint: No, not yet. But don’t be surprised if it happens one day far off into the future.)

Where they’re all going is still unknown. MySpace is still popular among teenagers. YouTube is actually the second biggest network among teenagers (Facebook is still first). And the gaming console networks are seeing a big uptick. But when all the stats are showing that 1 in 5 teenagers are leaving Facebook, it’s time for marketers to stop with this “social media is for young people” nonsense and recognize that the parents and grandparents are embracing it more easily now.

Photo credit: JasonLangheine (Flickr)