For a long time, there was a perception that social media marketing was free, or at least very inexpensive. Starting a Facebook or Twitter account was free, and hiring a part-time intern to manage them didn't cost much.
In reality, social media marketing has never been free. Sure, there aren't usually any hard costs required to set up social media accounts, but someone is still had to create the content, engage in the conversation, monitor and manage those conversations, etc. As we've seen time and time again, turning over your brand's reputation to an intern isn't always the wisest choice. Most brands now know the real costs of social media marketing are not as great as the opportunity costs of bad social media strategy.
Fast-forward a few years, and we're seeing more and more organizations hire entire teams to create content for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and whatever hot new social media startup launched last week. Content marketing, the creation and distribution of content to attract leads and generate sales, has become a $118.4 billion industry. According to data from DOMO and Column Five Media, every minute of every day sees over 2 million Google searches, 571 new websites, and 48 hours of new YouTube video. It's become overwhelming.
Unfortunately, it's only going to get more difficult as brands compete in a social media arms race. Rather than creating a slow and steady stream of high-quality content, most brands believe they're better off creating a ton of low-quality content in the hope that one or two pieces will have real results. Yet a recent study by InboundWriter shows only 10 to 20 percent of a company's website content drives 90 percent of its online traffic.
Meanwhile, social networks realize that brands will pay big money for access to the millions of users in their online communities, and they're going to charge more and more for that privilege. According to a recent Advertising Age article, Facebook reports: "Content that is eligible to be shown in news feed is increasing at a faster rate than people's ability to consume it."
Increasingly, to compete effectively in social media, brands realize that to play, they must pay.
To keep up with social networks' efforts to monetize their massive online audiences, companies are allocating more resources to keep up. Simply creating valuable content and then authentically engaging with your audiences often is no longer enough, especially when you have to spend more to reach those audiences. Brands know they now must create distribution strategies for that content, sometimes at a substantial cost.
Here are seven ways brands will spend more money on social media and content marketing in 2014:
1. Creating content. If brands wish to rise above the glut of content that's being created, they're going to have to improve the quality of content they create. That viral video that looks like it was shot on a family member's smartphone was actually just a bit created by the "traditional" media.
2. Promoting content. Expect social platforms to reward brands that spend a lot of money in ads on those platforms. It's a vicious cycle. Paid ads and sponsored content will help drive the "organic" reach of your other content. In addition, brands with more Facebook likes are going to see a lower cost for paid distribution because paid social ads will show greater social context. If more "likes" and followers = cheaper ads, guess who's going to start to investing in more contests, giveaways, and other tactics to reach more eyeballs and then subsequently buy more ads and sponsored content.
3. Increasing reach. As brands acquire more and more fans, followers, and "likes," and as these social networks get larger and larger, the cost to reach them will continue to increase. When a brand makes an investment in creating high-quality content, you can bet they'll ensure it reaches the largest number of people.
4. Syndicating content. Likewise, expect more dollars to go companies such as Taboola and Outbrain that specialize in placing content where it's most likely to be discovered. In a sea of content, these companies help more people find yours.
5. Monitoring, filtering, and analyzing conversations. Social media monitoring platforms have been around for years, but their hefty price tags often relegated them to a wish list for many organizations. However, as more people and brands create even more content, it's going to become more difficult to identify and act on what's relevant to you. As a result, pricey monitoring and analytics tools will be migrating from the wish list to the approved budget.
6. Paid sponsorships. Those "influencers" you're always trying to reach? They're realizing their influence is in demand and that it's not cheap. According to a recent IZEA survey, 61 percent of marketers have paid someone to mention their product, and that number is only going to rise in 2014. It's not just celebrities and athletes, either. Everyday people are also asking for more money and more product, because they can and because brands will meet those demands.
7. More full-time employees. As more content is created and more money is spent promoting and distributing that content, more people will be needed to create, moderate, measure, and analyze it. Demand for data scientists, SEO specialists, media buyers, and creatives will increase as brands try to optimize the money they're investing.
If you thought the days of trying to persuade your bosses to invest in social media were over, get ready to go back, hat in hand, and ask for even more money. With bigger budgets come bigger expectations and more pressure. Are your social media, content generation, and content distribution strategies ready?