2017: The Future’s So Bright (People, Data, and the Right Message)…

2016 was a whirlwind of a year. With all the things that have happened since I’ve joined Vaudeville Ventures in May 2016, there has certainly been a shift in my perspective on how business and media is changing. I’ve had the opportunity to manage and execute a various array of digital marketing and content strategies for some great clients. And, with the current focus on how data and more personalized content strategies can drive more meaningful and authentic consumer actions and outcomes, it’s become clear that some focus needs to shift.

First, specific to the profession, if you asked me today, “What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?” I would reply with: the ability to master change and adapt with a flexible comfort level. We have seen so much change in digital marketing, and to succeed, people need to quickly adapt to new tactics, technology, channels, and measures. Having this ability allows us to be educated on the latest marketing techniques.

Second, specific to the mediums used for digital, my first thought is that email, although it’s in flux, still holds its position as THE medium of choice for digital marketers aiming to drive engagement and actions. Not only are emails 5x more likely to be seen than Facebook posts, but it’s also proven to drive a higher conversion compared to all other channels, including social.

Third, I believe the biggest opportunity (and challenge) for digital marketers is putting things into context and adjusting our ways. We have the ability to target the right people and read more digital cues about what’s happening in their lives in order to put our messaging creatively into context with what’s happening at any given moment for a targeted individual. We can find them.

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That adjustment is a huge opportunity for success, but as I’m learning, it’s also a challenge. With the available data and various tools needed to gather and model it, we have the ability to put a successful program or campaign into place. A lot of people in the business know they need to do it, but the struggle is real.

Furthermore, people-based marketing, or targeting at the individual level – at scale is a huge opportunity, especially if it’s able to be pushed in real-time.

Finally, there are a lot of prediction pieces being published across the media about what the next big thing NOT TO IGNORE in 2017 will be for marketers. Here are my 5 for the year:

  1. Apps, podcasts & messaging bots will become more used by businesses to market their products and services
  2. Social media as a marketing tool will become less effective – already has, and email still reigns
  3. Recommendations by celebrities and influencers will be less respected and therefore, played down by brands
  4. In-house digital strategists will be the hot job to have in 2017
  5. If it is not on your phone, your business is in the dark ages

All in all, email and content marketing success in general lies in marketers’ ability to master real-time personalization, deliver dynamic and engaging content, and leverage traditional storytelling and creativity alongside data to deliver resonating messages to the right audience.

So, in 2017 let’s be more positive, remain flexible and embrace change, and be more data- and people-centric.

The future’s so bright…

Messaging Apps Are Changing Social

The way we use social media to share and interact is fundamentally changing with the rise of messaging apps and bots.

Soon we’ll notice most social activity is no longer going to happen in public, instead transitioning to private groups and messaging apps. There will be a significant change in what “social media” is.

This is a change that will challenge everything we’ve learned about social media over the past 8-10 years. Until now, standing out in the timelines and News Feeds have been the main goal of most strategies. Soon these channels are no longer the first place people will turn for discovery and interaction. As one-to-one messaging begins to dominate the social media world, it creates an array of new insights, questions, challenges, and opportunities for marketers.

In a public Q&A session back in November 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

“Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.”

Since then, Facebook have made huge strides in the messaging space, acquiring WhatsApp for $19bn and building Messenger up to 900 million users worldwide.

When you take a look at the data, you can see why Facebook are putting such an emphasis on messaging apps and dark social, (via The Economist):

A quarter of all downloaded apps are abandoned after a single use. Only instant messaging bucks the trend. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Within a couple of years, that will reach 3.6 billion, about half of humanity. The market’s leading duo, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, are nearing one billion monthly users each. Many teenagers now spend more time on smartphones sending instant messages than perusing social networks. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service.

When it comes to sharing, private messaging is already leading the game. “According to a RadiumOne study, almost 70% of all online referrals come from dark social globally. For the UK, this figure increases to 75%.” –Via Econsultancy.

dark-social

Dark social channels include:

  • Messaging apps: Messenger, Kik, WeChat, WhatsApp
  • Email
  • Private browsing & message communities

Messaging apps have now surpassed social networks in terms of monthly active users too, (graph from a Business Insider report):

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The transition from public social media to chat apps could be the biggest change in internet culture and marketing since social media itself. However, how will brands maximize the opportunities presented by messaging apps?

Consumers consider messaging apps as more private than social media and may not react positively to the traditional interruption advertising model where brands pop up in their inbox without permission; though these ads could be coming to Messenger:

Messenger-ad

(h/t Ryan Hoover and Jonathan Tzou for this spot)

One brand that has started to experiment with dark social, and marketing through messaging apps is Adidas, who are using WhatsApp to build hyper-local communities in cities across the world and have previously used Twitter’s DM feature to invite a group of advocates to a private conversation with one of its sponsored players.

Comedy website Funny or Die have also been utilizing Kik to distribute content since early 2015 and have seen some great results:

“It’s amazing how quickly we built up a following on Kik,” Patrick Starzan, Funny or Die’s vice president of marketing and distribution explained in a blog post. ”It took about three months to get to 1.5 million chatters, compared to the two or three years it took to get the same number of people on social networks.”

When we send out broadcast messages to our Kik chatters – usually with links to new videos – we see conversion rates as high as 10%. That’s pretty substantial since we only send out the broadcast messages once a week, whereas we’ll send posts to social networks like Facebook and Twitter five or six times a day and see lower conversion rates.”

Right now, it’s a time for testing and learning to figure out what works and how open customers are to interacting with brands one-to-one setting.

Here come the bots – with the biggest apps, where users are spending the majority of their time, becoming platforms to which other apps integrate to.

“What are bots?”, you ask:

Essentially bots are a way to simulate conversations human users. You can interact with bots for entertainment or to get things done. For example, instead of phoning for a taxi, you can now order an Uber using a Messenger bot.

Unlike apps, bots don’t need to be downloaded, they live on servers, not a user’s device. This means using bots should provide a smoother experience for the user as switching between bots doesn’t involve tapping on another app.

The trend of apps and bots living within larger platforms has already taken off in China, where a large number of brands run bots through WeChat. And yesterday at F8, Facebook announced more about their Messenger bot store, following hot on the heels of Kik, who announced a bot store of their own last week.

According to Wired, bots within WeChat enable its 600m monthly users to book taxis, check in for flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, manage banking, reserve doctors’ appointments, and even apply for mortgages, without leaving the app.

 

What does this all mean for marketers?

Organic engagement on many social channels is in decline, but at its heart, social media has always been about connecting with people one-to-one. That won’t change. What will change is the strategies and platforms we use to connect.

As customers transition to private messaging, it’s essential for marketers to remember that above all else, messaging interactions are opt-in experiences, much like email lists. And with permission also comes a higher set of expectations.

Content delivered through messaging apps and bots will need to be relevant and more personalized than a Facebook post to your whole audience, and oftentimes users will need a reason to open up a conversation or opt in.

The possibilities for messaging apps and bots are endless, and Messenger opening up a bot store could be the most significant launch in the tech and marketing industries since Apple first launched the App Store.

I look forward to the commentary (complete with conflicting opinions) that will come out of these developments. What do you think?

Instagram Tools to Tackle the New Algorithm

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Is your business ready for Instagram’s new algorithm? Everyone can calm down just a little. Instead of getting nervous about audiences finding your content, let’s focus on ways to analyze your Instagram engagement. Tracking engagement will help you execute quality content that keeps you at the top of the Instagram feed.

Here I’ll outline three tools to track and evaluate how people respond to your content on Instagram. A couple weeks ago, Instagram announced that they’ll be releasing an algorithm that will prioritize what’s shown in users’ feeds. This algorithm will determine what content Instagram believes people will be most interested in and then show the most relevant posts at the top of the feed, regardless of how many accounts users follow or what time zone they’re in.

If you use Facebook for content marketing, you know how important it is to make sure you’re ranked highly within a social media platform’s algorithm. Algorithms that prioritize content in a user’s feed can (and will) inevitably affect your business on those platforms.

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When the Instagram algorithm kicks in, maintaining high levels of engagement will help keep your content on top, whether you’re a small company or a large one.

Your focus should instead be Instagram Analytics Tools.

As the algorithm launch approaches, it’s important to use analytics tools to see which portion of your Instagram audience is interacting with what content, what content is performing best, and which audience segments you may be missing. As you learn from these analytics, you can create stronger and more relevant content that your audience will be more receptive to.

Though Instagram shares the same ad platform as Facebook, the platform does not yet have an analytics tool like Facebook’s Insights and Audience Insights. But, we’re in luck! There are a number of third-party Instagram analytics tools available for businesses and marketers to measure their marketing efforts.

The following three tools will help you to track and evaluate the success of your content & strategy around it on Instagram.

Simply Measured

Simply Measured offers a variety of reports and analyses, some of which are free and some are available only with a paid plan.

free report on instagram engagement from simply measured

Simply Measured’s free user report offers detailed analysis for a single Instagram account, including metrics on top posts, best times for engagement, and the amount and types of engagement.

When you first visit the site, you can get a free user report on any Instagram account (with up to 25,000 followers) in exchange for following the company on Twitter. This user report provides an in-depth analysis of the past two months, including your top post, best days and hours for engagement, top photo tags, top filters, and the amount and types of engagement you’ve received on your posts.

simply measured graph of optimal times to post on instagram

Knowing what days and times are best to post content can help you increase your engagement on any platform.

Additional analytics tools come with pricing plans starting at $500 a month, and include features like cross-platform analysis, social brand and hashtag monitoring, and the ability to add unlimited users to the account at no additional charge.

Iconosquare

Iconosquare is my go-to tool for anything Instagram, including contests, management tools, and so on. It’s also decent for analytics.

iconosquare metrics for instagram spread rates and talk rates

Iconosquare evaluates metrics you don’t see as often, such as spread rates and talk rates.

Iconosquare’s analytics allow you to track important metrics like follower growth and losses, best times to post for maximum engagement, engagement rates, and engagement growth. It also shows your best performing content, both in terms of likes and comments.

iconosquare graphs of instagram growth history

Being able to evaluate your Instagram growth history over long periods of time can help you continue to grow your presence on the platform.

Iconosquare offers a 7-day free trial, during which you can access the analytics information to see if the tool is right for you and for your business’s needs. The plus plan is currently $28.80 a year and includes features like daily email reports, comment trackers, and analytics on the key Instagram metrics discussed above.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is a popular tool that many businesses already use, and it offers detailed reporting on a profile’s Instagram activity.

You can find analytics under the Reports section. You can see detailed information on daily growth in followers (and how much that number increased or decreased in the past month), the number of posts you’re sharing, your most used hashtags, your most engaged hashtags, and the number of engagements (both in total and the rate of engagement per medium).

sprout social instagram audience growth graph

Being able to evaluate your Instagram audience growth by day makes it easier for you to spot growth trends.

The only downside to Sprout Social compared to the two analytics platforms above is that it only accumulates Instagram data for the analytics once your profile is connected – no past data is provided, which is a bummer.

engagement graph for instagram from sprout social

Sprout Social provides stats not only on the total amount of engagement received, but also the rate of engagement per medium or post.

Sprout Social offers a 30-day free trial, and the comprehensive reporting is available with the Deluxe plan, starting at $59 per user per month.

So, just the use of a few tools can be very important to your long-term success with Instagram marketing, as they continue to tweak the service and their algorithms. This is especially true with the upcoming news feed algorithm. The three analytics tools in this article can give you great insights that you need to create higher-performing content, both immediately and in the long run.

Yes, Instagram has changed its timeline algorithm, but no, it is not the end of the world for businesses.

My additional tips:

  • Create great content that’s valuable
  • Throw some money in the mix to create additional brand awareness and grow followers using all the amazing targeting options available
  • Change up your content with video
  • Get on the #hashtag #bandwagon – but DO NOT OVERDUE IT.

If you’re a brand that does not care about your followers, or if you don’t care if your followers find value in your content, Instagram may be dead for you. But, if you are like most business owners, you do care about your customers and want to provide value to them. After all, if there is not value in your brand, your product, your service, and ultimately your content marketing strategy, why would anyone care anyway?

In conclusion, fear not. Instagram is definitely not dead. In fact, this is an opportunity for you to fine-tune your content strategy when it matters most.

What do you think? How do you feel about the upcoming Instagram algorithm? Do you use any of these Instagram analytics tools? Share your experience. Do you use one that I didn’t mention here? Share your thoughts, experience, and knowledge in the comments below.

Audience Building Is Not a Spectator Sport

Building an audience from scratch and fostering meaningful conversations is intuitive and normal for individual people, but an obvious challenge for brands. From traditional marketing tactics to experiential, digital and word of mouth (including social media), marketers can’t sit idly by and just expect that their customers are engaged with their brand, or that most of them even want to engage. Yes, social media allows millions of active users globally to compete for attention, but if all of us are now publishers, who really listens?

Are we all slaves to our digital platforms? Or can we go back to the basics? Define your audience, reach out to them in person and online, engage them with what they like and want, ensure authentic conversation, create experiences and share products that relate to them so they not only stick around, they bring more people along with them.

As technologist and founder of Kapuno (an online community platform for niche discussions), Cyrus Radfar says in his recent post, “Social media isn’t going anywhere, but as it continues to get harder and harder to win the channels, the social proof communities can provide will help niche communities work together to spread the messages they decide are important through the more mass-market feeds.” He closes with a call to action, “Find your community and help build it, because that is where the next generation is going when they realize that social media won’t afford them a voice.”In every conversation we have with our clients, whether we’re in the “nice to meet you” phase, executing mid-program, or recapping our work, we consistently reinforce how an engaged community is crucial to a brand’s Integrated Marketing Communications success.

Encouraging our clients to push through Integrated Marketing to what we coined as an Integrated Engagement Plan is an achievable goal if done right, and will complete the circle of consumer to advocate for a brand. Our formula: 

Integrated Marketing Communications:

  • Brand & Agency Collaboration
  • Aim: Ensure consistency of message & complementary media use
  • Marketing to Consumers

Integrated Engagement Plan:

  • Brand, Agency & Consumer Collaboration
  • Aim: Sustained “On-Brand” Conversation led by Advocates
  • Engagement, Amplification & Recruitment with Brand Advocates
  • Marketing with Consumers & Advocates

Community and audience building goes a long way when fostering authentic brand love. It also requires marketers to think and act differently, even in the planning stages.