This year’s SXSW Interactive was abuzz with conversation around the role of content for brands and its implications for the future of social marketing and advertising. The deep-seated notion that content sharing on social is cost-free became a heated debate, and new paid capabilities rolled out by the social networks surfaced many new questions. Where do the lines between organic and paid content converge? How and why are brands leaning into a more journalistic approach to content development?
One clear takeaway emerged after discussing content’s role in advertising with industry veterans from Forbes, The New York Times, Dell and Social@Ogilvy: Brands’ owned content is highly engaging when it offers value to social audiences but will also increasingly require paid dollars to ensure reach and resonance.
Social feeds are more cluttered than ever
As consumers, we now live in a sea of social signals. Staying up to date on every post on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (to name a few) is virtually impossible. Twitter alone averages 5,700 tweets per second. Combined together, consuming content from these networks is both an art and science. The art comes from creating “pause worthy” content that actually stops users in their feed and signals a valuable experience worth consuming. The science comes from building engagement through this medium and in turn signaling to the network that your brand’s activities are worthy of being surfaced organically.
Organic brand reach is declining
Even with high quality content and surging engagement rates, it’s clear social networks are de-emphasizing brand content in the organic newsfeed. This is helping maintain the integrity of relevant experiences for users. And as marketers, we should know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Similar to any other marketing channel, paid placement is the only way to ensure reach. The days of free social media broadcasting are gone, and the new dawn of paid narrowcasting is now the name of the game. The good news for brands? You don’t need to reach all some-odd-million of your fans or followers with every message. Paid social promotion and advertising are forcing marketers to be more mindful of sharing the right content, to the right targeted audience, while simultaneously guaranteeing it gets served.
Brands have more insight into what to “boost” socially
Sophisticated brands are already looking more strategically at activity that drives impact - be it customer engagement, word of mouth through shares, and even conversions. The networks and social software companies are presenting new, unprecedented insights into these areas. The advantage? Many brands already understand what excites, inspires and activates their social audiences and can use this to guide their paid social programs. As with other traditional channels, social marketers can now test, measure and iteratively improve paid social efforts by learning what resonates with their consumers and actually moves the needle.
Paid social as an integrated, evergreen component of marketing
The convergence of owned, earned and paid media is finally here. We’ve tossed the concept around in passing for years, but until now, marketers have been able to thrive without actually adding the “paid” component as a mainstay of social programs. Staying present in the newsfeeds of consumers with a now lower organic serve rate is only the tip of the iceberg. When brands start assessing multi-channel strategies – paid integration with TV or promoted trends and ads during real-time events – a larger potential for paid opportunities begins to emerge. Pairing paid programs with relevant social content during peak engagement periods could fundamentally change the marketing landscape. Instead of setting out to share a message, brands will now have the chance to also own the related digital conversation.
Shifting from purely organic social content to integrating paid within the mix is our new reality as marketers. With it, we need to start asking new questions:
How are we going to create the new surplus of content needed to feed our social communities? How will budgets need to shift to cater to growing needs of fresh content and a paid budget for its distribution to reach the right audiences? What new team dynamics and cross-collaboration doors need to be opened to make this possible? And, how will we create new processes to integrate and assess its impact across the holistic marketing mix?