What will social media have in store for businesses in 2014? According to Social MediaSocial MediaExaminer’s “2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report,” 86% of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business. Companies seeking to reach new and existing consumers will need to stay ahead of the current social media trends. Let’s predict what social media techniques, tactics and tools will be utilized by marketers in 2014.

1. Content marketing reigns supreme
Content is king and content marketing will rule on social media platforms in 2014. Already the most widely used content marketing tool, social media will make pushing content easier and more accessible than ever. However, creating quality content will be critical. Consumers will sift through the clutter to find the best material, while search engine algorithms will reward publishers of the most clicked content. More and more brands will emerge as publishers of their own content this year, pushing content along channels, such as website articles, e-newsletters, blogs and videos that integrate seamlessly with social media platforms. Marketers will also be responsible for tracking the success of their content marketing efforts down to the individual piece, measuring the effectiveness of how the content is shared on social media. Social media will continue to play a critical role in content marketing.

2. Budgets become bigger
Social media marketing will become more of a necessity for businesses in the new year. Recently, StrongView reported that 93% of surveyed marketers plan to increase or maintain marketing budgets focused on customer engagement in 2014. And 46% plan specifically to increase social media spending for the year. As content marketing along social media channels grows, media buyers will need to allocate more funds toward content promotion, as well. Paid placements, particularly Facebook Advertising, will be essential for content to be visible to targeted audiences, and effective on social media platforms. Companies striving to keep up with the competition will move from treating social media as a group effort to hiring specialists instead. In-house social media experts will be entrusted to advise on social media planning, creation, execution, reporting and analysis. More time, money and effort will be devoted to social media strategy as businesses increase brand awareness, loyalty and influence.

3. Images are worth a thousand words
Image-based content will continue to drive social media engagement next year. On Facebook, images receive 50% more interaction than text-based posts. More than 3.4 billion images have been uploaded to Google+. Stunningly, recruiters spend more time studying user profile pics instead of the person’s actual qualifications on LinkedIn. Originally a text-focused platform, Twitter images are the social media channel’s most shared and clicked-on content. Recently, Twitter introduced expanded images, allowing users to see inline images with tweets. Photo-centric Instagram developed its answer to Snapchat with Instagram Direct, which allows users to send private pics directly to up to 15 followers. Brands like Gap have already taken advantage of Instagram Direct with exclusive image-based contests. Pinterest is the fast-growing, image-sharing social media channel with 80% of its pins being repins. That means pinned images are highly likely to be shared by other users. As photos continue to generate higher engagement rates than text-based content, marketers will develop more branded images for social media platforms in 2014.

4. Pinterest means business
As the prevailing image-sharing platform, Pinterest represents perhaps the greatest revenue-generating potential of all social media channels in 2014, especially with the female demographic. According to Shareaholic’s Social Media Traffic Report, 15.22% of overall traffic driven to publishers in September 2013 came from Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. However, Pinterest is the fastest-growing referrer of traffic, expanding to 66.52% in share of overall visits for the previous year. In 2013, Pinterest drove 41% of social media traffic to ecommerce sites, while the average shopper referred from the network spent between $140 and $180, as compared to $60 to $80 spent by visitors referred from Facebook. With more referring traffic, higher conversion rates and a user base that spends, Pinterest has emerged as the top advertising social channel for “top of the funnel” advertising. As a result, expect the number of Pinterest business accounts to increase in 2014 from about 500,000 today. Pinterest’s popularity and direct linkage to existing sites makes it a must-have for marketers this year.

5. Twitter goes more direct
Marketers will learn to leverage Twitter’s new direct message (DM) feature, which allows users to opt in to receive DMs from anyone. This functionality enables companies to promote their brand and products directly to Twitter users without needing to follow them. Conversely, Twitter users will be able to privately message business with specific customer service issues. Continuing the theme of image sharing along social channels, Twitter’s DM also permits business to send images to users, creating new branding and advertising opportunities. The expanded DM functionality allows brands to reach more customers specifically with advertising and service communications.

6. LinkedIn is best for business
LinkedIn is the leading social media networking site for professionals with more than 238 million users. In 2014, LinkedIn will emerge as the top source for business-related content, fueled by its Influencers program. The Influencer network consists of high-profile CEOs, entrepreneurs and thought leaders from every major industry. Professionals will continue to curate and generate B2B content, but at a much higher rate. With so much more relevant content, marketers can take advantage of LinkedIn’s branding, advertising and product-featuring opportunities. LinkedIn will remain the premier social destination for business networking and promotion.

7. Google+ user base continues to grow
Marketers will flock to Google+ to successfully engage with consumers or for its ancillary benefits. For one, Google+ will continue to have a profound effect on search engine rankings. Google’s search algorithm is shifting toward rewarding quality content over keyword placement, emphasizing posts along its own social media platform. With built-in authorship verification, Google+ will serve up your relevant posts in search results. Additionally, businesses that wish to utilize YouTube, Google Analytics and other Google products must do so with a Google+ account. Furthermore, service offerings associated with Google+, such as Google Hangouts live video and +Post paid advertising, will give marketers more opportunities to engage with consumers. This year, more marketers will set up Google+ Pages for businesses, primarily because it’s backed by Google. From there, businesses will create meaningful two-way communication with consumers on Google+.

8. Contests create excitement
Marketers will launch more creative contests to increase brand exposure and engagement, and to promote businesses along social media channels. With Facebook loosening its policies on contests, marketers will create more promotions, such as sweepstakes and giveaways, to gain more fans and interact with existing ones. Challenging consumers with interactive contests, like quizzes and photo captions, will create more social media engagement. Marketers will continue to utilize third-party apps, such as Gressorial, OfferPop and WildFire or program their own custom tabs on Facebook, to acquire more fans and email addresses for follow-up messaging. Marketers will also take advantage of the new direct functionality on both Instagram and Twitter to integrate less intensive contests into typical promotions on those social media channels. Because contests offer an incentive, consumers will be more likely to message directly or email with the brand – perfect for building new contacts for additional marketing opportunities. Contests will become the preferred method of marketers looking to expand reach and build lists via social media marketing.

9. SoundCloud is music to marketers’ ears
What’s the fourth largest social sharing platform with 250 million active users? You might be surprised to hear that it’s SoundCloud – the leading audio-sharing social channel. The second half of 2013 saw a huge surge in SoundCloud activity, placing it behind only Facebook, YouTube and Google+ in usage. Often referred to as “the YouTube of audio,” SoundCloud now closely integrates with Google+ and allows bands to select images from Instagram for cover art. In 2013, SoundCloud debuted its Pro Partners programs in which brands promote their accounts to the platform’s users. This is not intended for just musicians and radio stations, but for any brand with audio content, including radio spots or spoken company profiles. Marketers will keep their ears open for opportunities to leverage this fast-growing social media channel for audio-based promotional activities.

10. Big data analysis allows for better results
Marketers will begin to make a more direct connection between big data and social media to make wiser decisions. Marketers will be able to pick up on consumer patterns using automated tools to crunch large sets of market research. After identifying these behavior trends, marketers will then be able to communicate directly to consumers with timely offers and promotions via social media channels. Again, data analysis comes into play to see which social media engagements worked the best for subsequent interactions. For example, a marketing team analyzes big data for a national sneaker shop. Mining the data, the team discovers that there was a recent spike in social media activity at the same time of a particular sneaker release. Immediately, the marketing team offers a 10% discount for the sneaker via a promo code on Twitter and a downloadable coupon on Facebook. Upon further analysis, the team realizes that a significant amount of the online chatter was due to certain stores running out of stock for the popular sneaker. The marketing team connects with the local stores to check on the sneaker availability. Then, the team engages with the customers on an individual basis via social media to coordinate setting aside the sneaker for purchase at the same discounted price. After the sneaker promotion ends, the marketing team again evaluates the results to see if the social media efforts resulted in coupon redemptions, customer satisfaction and increased overall sales. In this manner, big data analysis will allow marketers to listen, learn and adapt to consumers along social media channels.

11. Social media ROI is easier to prove
Right now, 87% of marketers want to accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) from their social media efforts. Additionally, C-level professionals want to see cost-per-customer acquisition relative to social media investment. Reporting on social media needs to go well beyond the “Like.” This year, marketers will utilize more social media ROI tools, such as HootSuite, SocialMention and Klout in conjunction with Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics and Google Analytics, to show value. Moreover, social media efforts must align with business objectives and move the meter. For example, it won’t be enough to simply attract new followers on a company’s Twitter presence. Twitter activity will need to demonstrate a significant increase in customer service or sales with real numbers to support the results. Furthermore, social media influence will be the most sought-after metric in 2014. Marketers will look to monetize social media through friends of friends – referrals to ecommerce. Great content gets shared, so that’s what marketers will publish along social media channels to expand their network of online shoppers. An increased investment in social media marketing will require more tangible results.

12. Video sets into motion
Video will continue to be the hottest content type for social media marketing in 2014. Companies will try to create the next great viral video buzz while spreading awareness of the brand through short videos. YouTube will continue to be the mecca of all video, with Vimeo as an admirable alternative for video sharing. However, more easily administered microvideos will be the real boon for brands this year. Vine (6-second videos) and Instagram (15-second videos) will compete to be the short video platform of choice for businesses. Currently, Vine videos are four times more likely to be seen by your audience as compared to a regular branded video, according to the 7th Chamber. While Vine videos generated a higher engagement rate and number of retweets than Instagram videos in 2013, Instagram currently enjoys roughly 10 times the user base than Vine, plus the backing of Facebook, which now owns it. Short, branded videos will be extremely popular this year and pushed along Twitter and YouTube mobile channels for maximum visibility. Marketers will look for ways to produce professional, yet authentic videos efficiently and cost-effectively in 2014 to cater to consumers’ appetites for video.

13. Blogging bounces back
Blogging will enjoy a renaissance in 2014. Marketers will feature blogs as key organic content hubs and search engine optimization drivers. Bloggers must create quality content in a crowded, competitive online landscape. Blogs will be a key component of SEO, especially with Google. Google Authorship will give Google+ bloggers an edge in exposing their content, while the updated Google Hummingbird algorithm will demand organic, relevant content on blogs. Marketers will integrate multimedia, particularly video, in their blogs. As about 28% of marketers have optimized their blogs for mobile, there will be a large investment in responsive design. Marketers will also take advantage of the branding potential afforded through self-hosted, custom solutions. Bloggers will also pay to increase exposure for their blog, while also offering more advertising opportunities to monetize their blog in 2014. Still blogs remain a prime source of original brand-published content and will rebound in popularity in 2014.

14. CRM connects with social media
Social media will begin to integrate more directly with customer relationship marketing (CRM) in 2014. Social CRM (sCRM) will seek to re-engage with customers, build stronger brand interaction, turn analysis into sales and convince decision-makers to invest in social media marketing. Tools for listening to social media will allow businesses to engage in conversations customers, solve service issues, make improvements and monitor interactions in the future. Technology will play a major role in marrying social media marketing and CRM. Marketers will automate the process of managing customer relationships. To help marketers with the automation process, the top sCRM platforms include Microsoft Dynamics CRM/Yammer, Mzinga OmniSocial, Radian6 (a SalesForce ExactTarget marketing cloud), and Nimble. As customer service is handled more online, CRM and social media will continue to merge.

While new social media platforms, practices and plans develop in 2014, many of the truisms will remain. Social media will still be about consumer engagements and encouraging two-way communication. Consumers will continue to seek high-quality content in all its various forms, from text to video via social media channels. Social media will touch every facet of successful inbound marketing strategies and serve up content where consumers want it most. This year, marketers must follow best practices as they incorporate the latest trends for successful social media marketing.

Read more: Social Media Marketing Predictions for 2014


2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report

Marketing budgets focused on increased customer engagement in 2014

Images versus text – which is stronger in the world of social media marketing? http://www.sbnonline.com/component/k2/22-columnist/26531#.UrMO5OJDiHs

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube referrals up 52%+ in past year [REPORT] http://blog.shareaholic.com/social-media-traffic-trends-10-2013/

Big Data and Social Media – The Best of Both Worlds