The most powerful stories often have the least words. The World Wildlife Fund executed a compelling campaign to bring endangered species into the public spotlight — by leveraging a social media app that’s got us all in a love-hate relationship with the selfie. When WWF launched its aptly named #LastSelfie campaign, it urged Snapchat users to share the photos of its hauntingly beautiful wildlife images with their friends, turning the message of the selfie into something more impactful.

What makes WWF’s #LastSelfie campaign powerful is how its message and format reinforced each other. “In a way Snapchat is a mirror of real life. The images you see are transient, instant, unique, yet only live for a few seconds. Just like these endangered animals,” a video for the campaign reads. Social was the primary driver of the campaign: WWF used the timed-message functionality of Snapchat as its creative nucleus, but it also asked users to donate via SMS, and share their posts to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Some years ago, social would have been the “promotional platform” for the creative that lived on another channel — say, an article or blog post about an endangered species — or used for a standalone hashtag campaign. There’s no such thing as a social-only campaign anymore; every marketing message is innately social. They don’t scream “hey, here’s an ad”. They’re subtler and look to engage on an educational or emotional level (and, in many cases, both.) And in an age where our aversion to ads is higher than ever, that’s what people want.

Social Isn’t a Millennial Playground Anymore

The latest collection of responses from what’s arguably the largest opinion bank of CMOs – Duke’s Fuqua School of Business’ CMO Insights Survey — has some telling responses about how chief marketers think about social. Most chief marketers face a common challenge: linking social effectively to their larger marketing activities. But they’re committed to understanding that relationship better, with social media spending poised to make up 20% of marketing budgets by 2021.

Ten years ago, it might have been easier to put social down to being “a millennial thing.” But social isn’t just for millennials — data from the latest Pew Report shows 35% of US adults over the age of 65 now use social media, and 77% of US adults ages 30-49 now use social media.

Here are the trends that indicate that social can no longer be run independently of marketing.

1. “New media” will have social at its core

The proliferation of new media formats no doubt has you wondering how to deal with channel overload. With brands testing content on Snapchat Discover, Vine, and even the short-lived Peach, there is no dearth of new formats to unlock new audiences. Check out the BBC’s list of the media formats it’s exploring. As BBC’s social media editor Chris Hamilton pointed out, the rise of mobile and the importance of social media as a source of traffic “demands that we go inside those spaces that people actually inhabit”.

2. The second screen is blurring with the first

While second-screen apps might be asking too much of their audience, “mobile-social behavior” has become almost intuitive for a smartphone-owning, TV-watching population. Looking up a cultural reference on social, “snapping” your friends a particularly riveting moment in a TV show as it’s occurring, or using Facebook’s newest Sports Chat feature to interact with fellow sports fans  in real-time — it’s all mobile-social behavior, and has become an extension of our regular media consumption diet.

3. TV is making its debut on Twitter and Snapchat

We often think of social as competing with other, older forms of media. But we’re going to start seeing traditional media rely on social for amplifying its audience and creating two-way conversations out of formerly one-way messages.

So how will big brands respond? They’ll integrate social into their larger media strategy. GE CMO Linda Boff wrote in AdAge recently about the brand’s newest push to leverage moments in live programming. “We stopped filtering for scale and, instead, focused on behavior and context”, Boff writes of GE’s strategy to find the most engaging 30-seconds in the most popular TV programs, and then use social — Snapchat, Twitter, and other mediums — to create conversations around them. This new model of doing advertising will challenge traditional media strategy by adding social into the mix as the megaphone that amplifies both content and the audience brands can reach with that content. And in an age of cord-cutting, it’s not far-fetched to say that traditional TV programming should worry about things like Snapchat Discover’s bite-sized news and entertainment offerings.

4. Social video is so big that Facebook gave it its own category

It’s clear social video is a key channel to get eyeballs on your content. In the IAB’s digital viewing trends report, Facebook ranks second to Google for video sites viewed by adults in every age group. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that it was prioritizing live video in its news feed ranking and considering it a new content type. This raises the stakes for marketers to convey real-time messages through video: it’s engaging, and people spend far more time on apps that focus on video than they do on others. It’s cost- and time-intensive to produce video content that’s both relevant and good quality, but the payoff is high. Data from the IAB shows that revenue from digital video advertising tripled over the last five years.

5. Social’s becoming a point of sale (with conversational commerce to thank)

“Utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.” – Chris Messina, Developer Experience Lead at Uber

That no doubt sounds like a tech geek’s take on a marketing phenomenon. But as Chris Messina rightly points out in this illuminating Medium post, conversational commerce is something happening right in front of us — when you order your Uber through Facebook Messenger, or place a food order through messaging app LINE. As the trend for new apps moves toward making it easier than ever for the user to interact with the software — to the point that your apps “talk” to you, social will become more than an audience amplification platform. It will be the medium for brands looking to personalize customer experiences: imagine a not-so-distant future when you can have a concert ticket vendor “talk” to you via Messenger, and make a purchase within the platform itself. And have customer service available on the same platform. And then have your event reminder “messaged” to you. With emojis. If social is to be a point of sale, it has to work synchronously with every other area of marketing.

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6. Overall investment in content creation will increase

As we’ve pointed out before, content creation could make or break brands in 2016. In the CMO survey, 62.6% of companies said they would invest in content creation this year. Social is a distribution channel as well as a fertile testing ground for that content, giving you a place to experiment with different iterations and assets, and most importantly, the data to measure how your audience responds to it.


7. Great customer service is a battle advantage — and social’s at the frontline

As marketing takes the reins with creating a consistent customer experience, social media has become the front line for interacting with customers.  It turns customer service into a two-way conversation, in place of the often-helpless feeling of being put on hold on a call to customer support, or sending in a complaint form with little hope of getting a response. With customers seeking more personalized experiences, social is the answer for brands looking to prove they are human, responsive, and alert to customers’ concerns. On the backend, social provides valuable data to glean patterns in customer behavior, communication, and recurring complaints. Echoing this sentiment, our clients at Wingstop have a social media team handling all customer communications. “Due to the wide range of data we can obtain (from sentiment to streams monitoring specific keywords) this is a pool of information that we can learn from,” says Lauren Estlinbaum, social and digital specialist at Wingstop.

In response, social platforms are broadening avenues for brands to do customer support better: Twitter removed the character limit on its direct messages, and Facebook is experimenting with customer service via Messenger, with brands like Hyatt among the early adopters.

These trends signal that social isn’t just the domain of your community manager anymore. It’s not about being a “social-first brand” either. Social should be part of the DNA of any brand looking to engage a wide audience across demographics. Whether it’s making sure everyone on customer service is social-literate, or investing in social video, or exploring newer media formats to make content more shareable, it’s time to give social its rightly deserved seat at the big kids’ table.

Marketers need the right tools to do social in the most time-efficient way possible – from planning content ahead and publishing to multiple channels, to managing customer experience and analytics. The process of choosing a platform for your needs can be taxing, but our Buyer’s Guide to Social Relationship Platforms can walk you through the process.