Forget the social media predictions and digital resolutions already buried in your inbox. From class action lawsuits to new challenges with big data, here are five real issues marketers face in 2014.
1. Facebook’s Image Problem – We've all read the UK study by now, citing the teen/tween exodus from Facebook for other channels guaranteeing more privacy (i.e., “parent-free” zones). But how many also read the eMarketer study soon thereafter, highlighting Facebook as still a key marketing tool for Gen-x? Chances are you read one, but not both. One study talks about teen/tweens and the other talks about their parents. As influential as teens/tweens are in their household, their parents still control the purse strings. Unless you read both studies, you could have mistakenly inferred that Facebook was no longer a viable way of reaching the teen/tween households, but that’s simply not the case. How many marketers changed their strategy as a result of only reading the UK study? Was it the right thing to do?
Tip: This year, it will be more important than ever for marketers to pay close attention to trending stories, citing the latest data around the popularity (or lack thereof) of social networks like Facebook. Do your homework. Analyze the data. Ask around. Determine which data really applies. Facebook will continue to have an image problem, fought in the press over settings and privacy issues, but it’s not going anywhere and still used by more than 700 million active users every single day. It could still be the best social media platform for reaching your audience. Don’t prematurely chuck it out of your marketing mix.
2. Privacy Moves from the Kitchen Table to International Courts – Facebook currently faces a class-action lawsuit for apparently mining users’ private chat messages. And one look at how Google is doing internationally proves privacy infringement has taken an ugly turn to involving masses upon masses of people – entire countries and more. And then there’s what Forbes calls Target’s “nightmare” data breech. The last twelve months have been horrible for consumer confidence in social media and online privacy in general.
Tip: Privacy issues are here to stay. In fact, it will probably get worse. For marketers, as stewards of their brands, they must take ownership in the fact that they must remain informed on the latest issues and legislation and deliver a customer experience that always adds value. Mishandling crisis communications and bad customer service in a world of 24/7 news cycles and social media is no longer acceptable, yet still takes place. Speed, accuracy and transparency are what the public demands. Sluggish brands risk becoming the latest headline and could see their bottom line suffer. Conversely, marketers who don’t seize opportunities to improve their marketing and communications processes based on what they learn from others also fail their customers. The public is hungry for strong, personalized relationships with brands; responsive customer service and less infringement. Mistakes will be made but when addressed quickly and transparently, the public is surprisingly forgiving. Marketers who get this could forge stronger relationships in 2014 than ever before.
3. Freemium Measurement Tools No More – 2014 will be the year many beloved “freemium” measurement apps start charging for more than baseline metrics. Combine this with more measurement expertise and a shift away from simply analyzing simple “vanity metrics” like number of followers or likes for meatier metrics and big data. Resource-strapped teams will feel the biggest pinch here as they’ll need to pony up cash for access to tools that can deliver. The good news is, pricing for premium versions of freemiums don’t always break the bank. For example, for $20, a TweetReach report can give you an incredible amount of information around the impact of a hashtag or twitter handle including reach, mentions and influencer engagement. Other Twitter tools like Topsy and Twitonomy are increasingly popular, but diving deeper than a few standard metrics will cost you – and add up. Still, you may want to consider upgrading LinkedIn and Hootsuite accounts – both of which vary and require monthly subscriptions. Multiply this across a few clients and it adds up quickly.
Tip: Revisit your favorite freemium tools and see what’s still available for free versus a nominal fee. Instead of one-offs, consider monthly subscriptions to save on tools over time. Check out upgrade deals that could cost more but save you resources and man hours. Do this immediately. If not factored into your budget upfront, you could be caught flatfooted when it comes to reporting time or forced to absorb an unforeseen out-of-pocket expense.
4. The Content Credibility Debate Will Flourish – In the quest for more traffic, relevancy and Google ranking, trusted online news sources are increasingly opening up websites to contributed content which begs the question, “can I trust what I’m reading?” For marketers, the line between earned and owned will blur, and for readers it will become that much harder for them to differentiate between biased and neutral content. An already skeptical viewer may be turned off from a brand or news source if they feel what they are reading smells fishy. Doubt fuels distrust and could turn consumers off a brand completely thus impacting purchasing behavior.
Tip: For Marketers and PR professionals, bylines and op-eds are part of what we do. But they are typically balanced by journalists doing what journalists do – writing credible news stories with a discerning point of view. Marketers will need to ensure their content is personalized and aim for impact – arming their content with relevant information that always informs and educates readers to make decisions and enhances their customer journey along the way.
5. Strapped Teams Will Experience Strategist Skillset Gap
Last year, I predicted that the data ambiguity would continue among organizations and that it was essential data scientists skilled in measurement and analytics be hired to fill that gap. This year, marketers will be challenged to make sure those skills transfer to others. It is one thing to bring in specialists, but another to keep them silo-ed or few in numbers. Also, data-scientists who are excellent storytellers can pretty much write their own ticket in marketing right now and if not used properly, they could be looking to leave your organization for something better.
Seasoned data scientists with storytelling acumen are still few and far between. Further, being able to think strategically only comes with experience, as does technical prowess in social media platforms and analytics. So how do you marry the two if they sometimes come from different worlds?
Tip: Organizations must pay more attention to their workforce at all levels; identifying skillsets among their existing data analysts and social media strategists. If they can identify just one or two “Jedi” among their current workforce, and support a robust training program, valuable skills can be transferred across teams and bridges formed between otherwise siloed departments. This can serve as a boon for strapped teams who would otherwise lack the resources to bring on new talent.
These are just some of the challenges marketers face in 2014. For these and other trends, check out The Holmes Report and Aarti Shaw’s compelling 2014 Digital Trend Forecast where I provide my thoughts along with others on what marketers face this year in social media.
Jessica Payne is the Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing at PAN Communications.
Do you agree? Leave a comment below or tweet me @jpaynebu on Twitter.