This year set the foundation for brands to increasingly evaluate their social campaigns based on business results next year.
Social media is finally evolving from shiny new toy to a serious tool for marketers, thanks to seeds planted in 2017 that more marketers are expected to reap a harvest from in 2018.
Lisa Braziel, VP of strategy and special programs at Ignite Social Media, said 2017 was “the year that we had been waiting for.”
Tying social spend to business results
In 2017, advertisers gained the ability to track online conversions for their campaigns across all the major social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Reddit. And Snapchat joined Facebook in enabling brands to track offline conversions as well.
By being able to measure whether a social ad led to an on-site or in-store purchase, marketers are able to push past proxy metrics — not only likes and impressions but even clicks and views. And by being able to prove actual returns on their social investments, they can justify pushing more money back into social.
“All of our clients now understand that just having engagements on social — while it can be a great brand metric, it can also be very much a vanity metric. There has to be some tie-back to transaction. In 2017 a lot of the work was laid to determine what those metrics should be,” said T3 president Ben Gaddis.
“Looking forward what marketers are excited about is thinking about how these channels can really show lift and sales and revenue,” said Braziel.
‘Social will dominate digital’
As a result of increasingly sales-driven strategies, marketers may shift even more of their spending to social if social platforms prove more capable of driving business results than other channels in a brand’s arsenal.
“Next year will be where [brands] get more serious about allocating more dollars from their traditional digital spending and where the comparison between digital banner-like advertising and other efforts will be compared against social and social will dominate digital,” said Braziel.
While it’s early to call winners and losers, it’s likely that Facebook will be among the former. “The dominance of Facebook is going to continue. We’re seeing a big move away from publisher direct deals, and the growth of programmatic and paid social is significant. A lot of that is, unfortunately or fortunately, moving to Facebook,” said one agency executive.
However, while some social platforms may succeed in driving business results, others may struggle and see their spend siphoned away as marketers look to move more of their money to the platforms that are most helpful to brands in making their money back.
“I think 2018 is all about optimizing, making sure that what we believe would be the driver of a transaction through social is in fact the case and then optimizing that on a continuous basis,” said Gaddis.
More opportunity to experiment
That’s not to say that social marketing will become solely sales-driven in 2018. In fact, the enhanced ability to identify the opportunities that drive sales could free up marketers to dedicate more of their budgets to experimenting with those that do not, or at least not yet. If a brand knows it can all but guarantee hits by investing in certain ads and certain platforms, that makes it easier for a brand to try to swing for the fences every now and then with a campaign that may be more difficult to tie to sales but more likely to garner attention. “It opens up an opportunity for more home runs,” said Gaddis.
Also freeing up brands to experiment more in 2018 is the lowering of barriers in 2017. For example, marketers that had been intrigued by Snapchat in the past gained the ability to test out the app by buying ads through its self-serve platform. Similarly, brands interested in dipping a toe into augmented reality saw the democratization by Snapchat and Facebook of tools to create augmented-reality campaigns. As more brands are able to dabble in Snapchat or AR, they become more likely to invest real budgets in those opportunities, as evidenced by influencer marketing.
Increased investment, scrutiny of influencers
The rise of the micro-influencer in 2016 made it cheaper for brands to try their hands at influencer marketing in 2017 and to invest more in the medium in 2018. “We’re starting to see influencers become a much bigger part of clients’ communication strategies for next year,” said one agency exec.
Previously, influencer marketing had been the domains’ or brands’ PR strategies. But “as people are catching on that influencers are a great way to develop content and get brand messages out without always being from [the brand], people are seeing the value from a marketing standpoint,” said Braziel. As a result, she expects to see “larger campaigns, larger investments and ongoing [influencer marketing] programs.”
But with increased investment comes increased scrutiny. “This year will be the reckoning of influencers. You’re not going to be able to go into a pitch and say ‘influencer’ and people will think that’s interesting, cool and effective,” said Gaddis. Instead, he said, marketers will be increasingly asking, “How do these influencers actually drive key objectives?” A question that, in 2018, clients will be asking not only about their influencer campaigns but their social efforts in general.