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New Social Media Marketing Rules: Pay If You Want To Play

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2013 ushered in a series of big changes to social media marketing. Facebook, Twitter, and other networking platforms have made major adjustments to their content promotion guidelines – more specifically, they’ve redefined how users can see and share content, and opened new advertising opportunities for better promotion. Whether for good or for bad, these updates will have marketers scrambling for new strategies to maintain their reach in 2014.

The concept of paid advertising on social media isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s really taken off in recent months. Facebook introduced its Promoted Posts feature last year, which lets users drastically boost the visibility of their posts for a small fee. Similarly, Google encourages +Posts, regular posts that can be run as display ads on any of Google’s 2 million Display Network sites (essentially giving advertisers access to the entire Google web as their own branded stream). And after going public in November, Twitter now also needs to find a way to keep investors happy. Thus, select users can sponsor “promoted tweets” – including videos and photos – that show up in user feeds, trending topics, and “Who to follow” boxes.

For businesses with a budget, social media advertising can offer a cost-effective way to boost awareness of promotions, events, new products, and more. However, social media platforms have also begun to set tighter guidelines on the kinds of content free users can share. Google’s Hummingbird update earlier last year focused on “conversational search,” meaning that any content run through Google+ posts is now ranked based on what Google thinks users want to see, rather than matched keywords. Facebook, too, recently changed its Newsfeed algorithm to ensure that the organic (unpaid) content people see from their connected pages is relevant and appropriate for them, based on engagement activity. Posts that receive a high number of Likes, comments, or shares, in other words, get more exposure.

Combined with the increased focus on advertising, the tighter content rules may force many businesses to adopt a pay-to-play social media marketing strategy.

What will pay-to-play social media mean for marketers?

The monetization of social media platforms can pose real challenges for smaller businesses with fewer financial resources. It doesn’t mean the end of social media marketing, though – just more intense re-strategizing to reach the right target markets.

For one thing, well-written content will become more important than ever.  The algorithmic changes on Google and Facebook are intended to promote “high quality” articles, news, blogs, and other content – so social media posts are only visible if they’re highly relevant and engaging to users. That means content marketers will need to pay even closer attention to the value of their posts –content that not only makes users want to click, read, and share, but also helps them build credibility by sharing it.

Audiences will become more segmented.  Social media users who feel restricted by the new promotional guidelines will likely seek lower-pressure alternatives for their social networking (a recent survey by Mashable revealed that some Millennials are already giving up Facebook). A separate study by Komfo found that although Facebook’s organic reach has dropped over the past few months, click-through rates on visible content have increased. That means audiences may become more niche-oriented on social media, but perhaps also more engaged. To develop effective content strategies, marketers will need to invest more time and effort to determine exactly who and where their target audiences are.

Online advocacy will become a key marketing tool. Positive press is already one of the most powerful marketing tactics out there. With the social media advertising push, smart businesses may want to consider offering loyal customers and employees incentives to promote marketing posts on their own personal pages.

With these new changes, businesses of all sizes will need to reevaluate their current social media marketing strategies and take a more content-focused approach in 2014. Posting more targeted and relevant content is the best way to boost audience engagement – and if you can, be sure to set aside some social media funds in your budget this year, too. The free ride on social media isn’t over, but it’s winding down, and marketers who find ways to stretch their visibility will be ahead of the game.

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