As social media evolves to look and act more like traditional media, brands will need to continue to upgrade their content.
Channel diversification will also continue, partly driven by new advertising and social exposure options. However, brands will have to make tough decisions about investing in pay-to-play and how to optimize opportunities within non-paid social.
Those are among the key social media trends that marketers will grapple with in the year ahead, Stephanie Moritz, senior director of social media, public relations and experiential marketing at ConAgra Foods, tells Marketing Daily.
As brands' social content goes beyond text to incorporate video and other more sophisticated and costly formats, selective use of the expanding pay-for-play options will make sense, says Moritz, who also serves as an instructor at the Chicago-based Digital Professional Institute.
Compelling content continues to be the key, but going viral organically is obviously not something brands can count on, she points out. And as social networks like Facebook evolve from friend-to-friend dynamics to algorithm-driven media platforms, it becomes increasingly difficult for brands to achieve sufficient scale unless they're willing to pay.
"If your content is really resonating, you want to amplify its reach, so the right consumers see and engage with it," Moritz says. "It's fine to hope that content will go viral on its own, but the new pay-for opportunities on social platforms are more of a sure thing."
The challenge, of course, is realizing optimal results from these investments -- and that requires willingness to experiment, test and analyze. “Monitoring and finding means of quantifying interactions on social media will be a top priority,” says Moritz.
Among the new and emerging opportunities she highlights:
*Longer videos: Marketers continue to await the rollout of Facebook's 15-second video ads in news feeds (originally planned for launch last year, but delayed three times as beta testing continued). In addition, beta tests of sponsored images are underway on Facebook-owned Instagram, which last summer also introduced the ability to share 15-second videos.
All of these point to new paid options in the coming months that "promise to drive a resurgence of longer-form social video," says Moritz.
Instagram will continue to show impressive growth rates, further spurred by new features (such as the recent introduction of the Instagram Direct private, real-time messaging capability), she notes, adding: "Can advertising be far behind?"
*Facebook to monetize Graph Search: With its partnership with Microsoft Bing, availability to U.S. English version users as of this past summer, and now its testing of a mobile version, Facebook's Graph Search semantic search engine could be poised to become a serious search alternative to Google Search, says Moritz. Furthermore, she believes that a monetization scheme for Graph Search will soon emerge.
*Google gets serious: This year will see significant changes at YouTube and Google+, also aimed at enabling new advertising opportunities, Moritz predicts.
*Social TV focus: Marketers are just beginning to figure out how to unlock the synergies between TV and Twitter and Facebook, and they'll be intensely focused on this in the year ahead, says Moritz.
Having all of the pieces in place to be prepared to create the perfect tweet at the right, scalable moment is tough, she acknowledges, but the brand payoffs are potentially huge.
"Look at the response generated by Arby's' tweet about Pharrel Williams' hat during the Grammys" [more than 75,000 retweets and 40,000 favorites logged by the following morning], she notes. "Of course, the potential for embarrassing misfires or even epic failures is also high. A tweet has to fit with your brand strategy. It has to be relevant, clever or funny, without being too self-serving. That's a tall order."
*Pinterest's growth: With about 70 million active users and more than half of them now accessing the site from mobile, Pinterest is "on fire," notes Moritz.
Little wonder, then, that getting on the select list of marketers beta testing advertising in the form of Promoted Pins is "the hottest ticket since the Beatles," she says.
Now, Pinterest is sneak-previewing its personalized Interests home page, designed to highlight individual users' specific interests and help them find the pins they like.
Advertising opportunities should continue to grow, as many believe Pinterest will announce an IPO date this year (even if the date isn't until 2015), Moritz says.
ConAgra Exemplifies Trends
ConAgra's own social focuses exemplify many of these broader trends.
"Channel diversification is very important for our brands now," reports Moritz. "We're focused on understanding consumer behaviors and what's important to them, and aligning our channels and strategies with those."
Not surprisingly, Pinterest, where food and recipes are the #1-pinned category and women make up nearly 70% of users, is key for many of ConAgra's brands.
One important, cross-brand strategy centers on ConAgra's ReadySetEat site, devoted to helping consumers find dinner recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.
The associated ReadySetEast Pinterest asset, where users can share ConAgra-created pins or create their own, drives traffic to the site. The Pinterest page is currently showing about 10,000 followers, 1,500 pins and 42 boards.
"We'll be doing a lot of Pinterest testing this year, including some long, step-by-step pins," says Moritz. "We're also doing Vine how-to videos for Pinterest that offer quick solutions for the dinner dilemma."
Examples of channels and recent strategies used for male-driven brands have included offering games and music on Facebook for Slim Jim, and Twitter parties for Manwich.