Within a few short years, social media has evolved from its start as just another novel communication platform to become a core channel for driving customer engagement. But not all social networks are created equal. Facebook, with an audience of more than 1.3 billion monthly users, remains the largest social site in the world. A whopping 92 percent of marketers use the network to promote their brands, and when it comes to Facebook's advertising arm, the average return on an advertising investment tops 152 percent. Despite its effectiveness, however, Facebook is not without its flaws.
As the next generation of users comes of age and competitor networks including Twitter, Instagram, and even newcomer Snapchat mature, Facebook's power and reach could dwindle. Only 34 percent of Facebook's users are between the ages of 18 and 29, and analysts predict the percentage will continue to drop over time. Moving forward, the value of marketing on Facebook alone will become increasingly diluted.
With roughly 270 million monthly users, Twitter is far behind Facebook in size, but with more than 500 million tweets sent daily, the network isn't short on content. Plus, it's performing better in terms of what advertisers call the "dream demographic." According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, 45 percent of users are between 18 and 29 years of age. They're also more educated, with 40 percent of them having a bachelor's degree or higher (versus 30 percent for Facebook), and more likely to be wealthy—48 percent of Twitter users earn more than $75,000, compared to Facebook's 41 percent. Twitter also welcomes more male users; 50 percent of Twitter users are male, but men constitute just 40 percent of users on Facebook.
Other networks have their strengths as well. LinkedIn, for example, is unparalleled for social marketing in the B2B space because it's the network of choice for most business professionals. Instagram, on the other hand, is singlehandedly changing the B2C space by leveraging consumer-generated content to drive digital word-of-mouth marketing on a massive scale.
"When clothing companies encourage customers to share photos of themselves wearing certain items with a branded hashtag, consumers think, 'Here's a picture of a woman or man just like me, wearing this product, and they love it so much they've decided to share that image on Instagram.' When it's a photo of a model wearing the same item in a banner ad, the effect is totally different. People will always trust their friends, or simply fellow consumers, more than they trust brands," Ryan Goff, senior vice president and director of social media at MGH, an integrated marketing and communications agency, says.
The digital age has made it incredibly simple for consumers to conduct thorough online research before committing to a purchase or a brand, and most take the time to read reviews, compare information, and virtually shop around. As a result, despite the lengths to which marketers go to get all the right campaigns in front of consumers, word-of-mouth marketing still reigns supreme. And that's why social marketing is gaining so much momentum.
Social networks tend to humanize brands, make them more approachable, and make them seem like friends, Goff says, "but the last thing you'd want a friend to do is try to sell you something." As advertising technology becomes highly targeted and powerful, brands continue to discover new ways to sell their products; social media, however, is not the place to do that. On social networks, relationship building is the name of the game.
Good content, not campaigns, builds trust
Consumers are becoming increasingly numb to advertising content in all forms. Many marketing emails get deleted before they're ever opened, pop-up ads and preroll video ads are closed as soon as that little "x" button appears, and banner ads are simply ignored. There are too many campaigns out there for consumers to pay attention. Only the smartest, funniest, or most risque ads get noticed, so for