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social media marketingWe all know the Facebook story or at least saw the movie. A site for college kids to publish their pictures became an Internet phenomenon. But while grandma may now be posting what she ate for breakfast, the real revolution Facebook has created is for advertisers. Brands are salivating at the prospect of reaching the 500 million users who collectively spend over 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook.

In 2011 and beyond, Facebook will become one of the most important marketing channels in the world. Already, Facebook is on track to generate more than $2 billion in ad revenues in 2010, far surpassing earlier estimates of around $1 billion, and will likely skyrocket past that figure in 2011, as more marketers shift budgets from TV, radio, and print to the social realm. Proctor & Gamble got a head start on this move by recently announcing it would transfer the majority of its daytime TV advertising budget to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

And, it’s not just Facebook that’s having an impact on marketing. In fact, all social media – from Twitter and blogs, to forums and YouTube – is having a profound impact on how consumers interact, find products, get deals, shop, and get information. For marketers, that means social is no longer just a channel, but an integral part of a strategic marketing plan. Social media now impacts all of a brand’s marketing campaigns, with free viral “sharing” beginning to surpass paid marketing channels like search engine marketing, display, and print advertising at driving large audiences to campaign pages and brand websites.

To be sure, brands are already spending on social media marketing-– but 2011 will likely see a huge surge in investment into social as Facebook, Twitter, and all things social become increasingly measurable and ROI-focused. The investment in online advertising iw predicted to set a new record in 2011, growing 14 percent to $51.9 billion, up from $45.6 billion in 2010, according to Borell Associates. Two of the fastest-growing segments of online advertising are the local sector and social media.

So what will the social media marketing landscape look like in 2011? Here are four predictions based on our work with hundreds of top brands to measure, track, analyze their social media marketing programs.

  1. Social media will kill the TV star — Okay, “kill” may be a stretch but did you know that more people play Farmville than watch daytime TV? A recent study by Deutsche Bank found that 7.5 million people tune into Oprah every day, whereas 43 million people play a Zynga game each day. In contrast to advertising on TV, targeted social media campaigns offer brands the ability to deliver relevant messages with precision to specific, highly engaged audiences –0 and present them with compelling offers and instantly-redeemable coupons. In contrast to the “lean back” experience offered in front of the TV, social media brings brands and consumers closer together than ever before. TV watchers may see a brand flash before them on the screen, but game players may see an offer from your brand within a game they are playing, and be offered free game credits for taking a survey, referring a friend, or making an immediate in-game purchase of one of your products.
  2. The Groupon effect is here to stay — Consumers today have a “deal mentality”. With the rise of daily deal sites like Groupon, flash sales sites like Gilt, and myriad coupon sites, consumers don’t want to buy a product unless they feel they’ve gotten a great deal on it. What’s more, customers now expect recognition and rewards for spreading the word about deals, discounts, and exclusive opportunities. They don’t just want a good deal, they want an even better deal for promoting deals to others! Most brands now use Twitter and Facebook to publicize deals, and an increasing number are experimenting with Groupon and other deal sites, but future sales belong to marketers who not only publicize their promotions, but reward sharing in real-time so buyers have a strong incentive to spread the word and extend the reach of every campaign.
  3. Mobile is social According to Facebook, there are more than 200 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices, and these mobile users are twice as active as non-mobile users. With the emergence of location-based services like Foursquare and Facebook Places, the integration of social and mobile is growing ever stronger. Today, not only are we constantly connected via our mobile devices, but as our friends discover content, deals, and discounts, they share them with us – spreading brand campaigns directly from phone-to-phone. People are beginning to expect that relevant content, including advertising, will reach them via the friends or contacts they trust. Some of the fastest-growing segments of mobile marketing include mobile coupons that customers can use by presenting a barcode on their phones to scanned at checkout; iPhone apps that allow price comparison, product searches, and immediate transactions; and Foursquare-type services that allow businesses to reward frequent store visitors with discounts and promotions. The best mobile marketing promotions and content are those that can be shared.
  4. Sharing is the new search — While Google will continue to prosper in 2011, the role of “sharing” in how people discover information, deals, and products is changing how we search and what we search for. News finds us. Fun, entertaining content finds us. Deals and discounts find us. In fact, from our own research across Meteor Solutions’ customers, we found that influencers –- those who share your campaigns across their social graph –- can directly influence 40 to 60 percent of all visits to an advertising campaign page. More and more, people will get product information through the social graph –- instead of directly from a brand advertiser. Search will remain the most efficient way for people to find something specific, but sharing will become the most efficient way for relevant, useful, and entertaining content to find us. Marketers need to create campaigns that go beyond interrupting consumers with advertising, and create content that’s highly useful and easily shareable –- such as contests, deals, promotions, inside information, and product reviews. The social graph is creating effective ways for marketers to reach audiences at scale.

Social media is no longer just a way for consumers to waste a few minutes looking at funny cat photos. Today, Facebook and other social channels are becoming the way people interact with the larger world around them –- and brand marketers are going to make sure they’re not too late to the party.

Ben Straley is the CEO of Meteor Solutions, a company offering website tracking and content sharing tools to advertisers and publishers. He’s also the lead instructor for the University of Washington Certificate Program for Advanced Interactive Marketing. He can be reached at ben@meteorsolutions.com or @meteorsolutions.

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