Three Seismic Threats to Marketers Hitting in 2015

Marketers' Social Reach Increasingly Costs Money, While Consumers' Social Media Is Increasingly Private

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What's even scarier than a polar vortex, epic drought or snowpocalypse? Entering 2015 unprepared for some of the shifts in consumer behavior that will hit big brands especially hard.

There are three trends in particular that marketers need to get ahead of:

1) Social media increasingly means paid media. Years ago, community managers or social strategists didn't need to know a thing about how media buying works. Promoting posts was one way to get added exposure, but hardly a necessity. Earned reach was never free of course; that notion devalued the work of strategists, account executives, community managers, creatives, producers and others. Yet there was a time when marketers could get enough visibility for their content without buying media.

The rules are changing. Facebook has now decreed that brands need to pay to get visibility, even when it comes to reaching people who opt in to follow those brands. With Twitter, Instagram, and other social platforms, the only way to ensure wide reach is to support strong creative with paid media. (See how many of Twitter's most engaging tweets of 2014 were paid posts right here.)

With each month, there are fewer marketing success stories centered around earned and owned media unless without paid media support. That doesn't spell the end of creatives and community managers working on social content, as consumers are far more likely to share relevant and engaging content than a typical ad. It's easy to buy views but almost impossible to buy advocacy.

2) Default social activity shifts from public to private. Social media usage keeps skyrocketing. Yet much of the growth is coming from private social activity, where people are sending messages and multimedia directly to select individuals or groups of friends, rather than sharing everything publicly. With Snapchat, messages even self-destruct. Of the fastest-growing social apps between the first and third quarters this year, according to Global Web Index, three are private messaging apps (Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and Line); the other two are Instagram and Pinterest.

People using private messaging apps don't want to be targeted and tracked. Marketers can't monitor all their conversations. Snapchat has been experimenting with ad products, but Snapchat is precisely the kind of platform where too much advertising will cause users to defect. As private social activity cannibalizes public social activity, marketers will have to find a way to stay relevant with these nearly invisible audiences. One hint of future models is BuzzFeed's deal to distribute content through the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat. If chat app users embrace such publishers joining, then ad-supported content models may follow.

3) People are buying from each other instead of from brands. What if it doesn't matter how big your brand is, how many locations you have, how great your products are or how good your service is? What if, instead, people would rather buy products and services from each other? What if people started buying less in general and sharing more? That's the situation affecting a growing number of brands.

First came Airbnb directly competing with hotel chains while owning no hotels of its own. Uber and Lyft tend to compete more with small businesses such as taxi operators and car services, but their loftier goal is to get people to share cars rather than buy them. Grocery delivery service Instacart, now valued at $2 billion, won't obviate the need for people to buy groceries, but it could upend how marketers and retailers promote products in-stores. There are disruptive services in practically every vertical, and as more of these startups and models catch on and attract massive cash infusions, more brands will struggle to stay relevant. Jeremiah Owyang's Crowd Companies reported that collaborative economy companies have attracted $8 billion in funding since 2005, with about half of that coming in 2014.

All of a sudden, dealing with a polar vortex seems so much easier by comparison.

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