In the last month, every digital marketing agency and social media strategy blog published countless articles, with occasionally baseless and sometimes arbitrary predictions, on the next year in digital marketing. As someone in the digital marketing business for a decade, I've read social media trend pieces like these since before they called it social media. This year, I read countless (okay, 70 because I counted) and I'm more confused than before.
Some of the predictions this year were ridiculous on their face. No, we won't all wear Oculus Rifts around the office at any point in 2015. No, Facebook won't buy Twitter. No, Vine isn't the secret to saving legacy news organizations.
Some ideas surfaced in multiple articles, however, and this consensus seemed like the real predictions for 2015. Below I've extrapolated from endless blog copy the actual 10 things digital marketers should know in 2015. (You'll get the best experience if you read this on your hoverboard, with an Oculus Rift. Just kidding, that's 2016.)
Everyone agrees: Content remains king in 2015.
If one of your complaints about life is that brands don't create enough content, you're in luck. There is almost total agreement amongst digital brand strategists that consumers can't wait to devour and share your brand's content.
Video will somehow manage to be more ubiquitous in 2015 and will live in more places than YouTube. We're entering a world where brand video content will probably autoplay on every single social media platform. Look at the insanely fast rise of Facebook video, it's rapidly become a serious challenger to YouTube. Twitter, which already owns Vine, has announced legit video hosting integration.
It won't just be videos that brands produce in 2015. Longform blogs are making a comeback, because SEO still matters and you need something to post on Facebook. The best brand blog content won't live on their own sites, but on media sites like Buzzfeed, where it'll seem like something a user might read intentionally.
Remember Serial? Marketers do, which insures 2015 will probably be the year of the awkward brand podcast.
There is agreement that getting people to talk about your brand's content is the best way to get it shared. Also, connecting your brand's content to a popular cause might give users a legit excuse to watch it. So look for more brands to care about causes in 2015 and be ready to share that excitedly with all your friends and family.
As the Internet grows globally, users want a local experience. Expect 2015 to be full of "Uber for X" and "Tindr for X," providing goods and services to the doorsteps of yuppies in America's largest cities.
The trick is for brands that don't provide services is to also offer their users a local, relevant experience. This obviously means more geo-targeted mobile app advertising; you'll also see an increase in the amount of locally targeted social content as well.
Despite a lot of talk, Facebook and Twitter will remain the most important social channels in 2015. Instagram and Snapchat are growing, but can't drive traffic or conversions as effectively as the previous two, although both could pivot to provide brands more organic ROI.
Many authors smartly think that social campaigns need to be "omnichannel," 2015's way of saying cross-channel. It's true, but doing this isn't as easy as it sounds. Brands now have to tell omnichannel narratives that respect the voice of the whatever platform they're on. But focusing on one channel can lead to the best creative, like a personal favorite, the Taken 3 LinkedIn campaign. Figuring out how to strike the right balance between omni and single channel is key and depends on your desired audience.
Because they feel that the big two social networks have flatlined (or at least grown stale) in America, users are scrambling to alternative networks like Whisper or Yik Yak and personal messaging apps. Look for smaller social apps to pop up that serve specific communities or interests.
Pay However, Wherever
Being able to pay for stuff in dozens of different ways is what 2015 is all about. Pay in a store on your iPhone or send your kids currency on Snapchat, Venmo, Text To Give, PayPal, Bitcoin, and actual cash. We've never had more ways to pay for things before. Brands should expand the ways their customers can pay for goods, easing the checkout-time burden that keeps me from impulsive buying. Organizations should make it as easy as possible for supporters to donate.
WhatsApp, Line, Snapchat, Kik, Dasher all offer us more ways to communicate with each other directly, and offers brands another avenue to advertise. Lots of brands have already run paid and organic campaigns on these channels, but look for these to become more sophisticated and creative in 2015. Also look for these apps to offer better paid options to a hungry advertising marketplace.
There's no doubt that 2015 is a year focused on creating personalized content for fans of brands and organizations. As written above, some of this content will be localized, and some of it will live on niche, targeted social networks. Much of it will be sophisticated, based on the amount of information marketers already know about their followers and targets. The question many experts are asking is, "If marketers know more about their targets than ever before, why are they still creating such broad creative to satisfy everyone?" 2015 will answer that question with specifics.
Mobile is no longer a rising trend, it has arrived. We now live in the age of the mobile majority, meaning the smartest campaigns will be built to be mobile-first.
The more interesting story is the global one, as more of the world goes online for the first time from their smartphones. This will lead to an increasingly multicultural internet, which will complicate things for marketers who have to learn about an entire world of social networks, but make things more interesting for everyone else.
Influencer Marketing Goes Big Time
Now more tools than ever exist for brands and organizations to discover and connect with prospective influential fans. Are you selling an organic toothpaste? Now you can identify the exact people to sample for maximum brand exposure. Just created a great piece of content on LGBT rights in Mississippi? It will be no problem to find influential users to amplify that message.
But influencer marketing can go beyond sampling or amplification. Partnering with key influencers to create content for their audience that promotes your brand will become more common in 2015. Users have built huge, engaged and loyal audiences on hard-to-crack networks like Vine and Instagram. Sponsored content is for more than just mainstream media sites, in fact your dollar will go further working with individuals who have built credibility with their audiences.
Having an "always on" social team will be something more than just what airlines and banks have in 2015. Customers expect faster responses and brands that can afford it should offer that over social.
There is a growing gap between brands that understand -- or can afford -- real time and brands that don't. We'll see more odd things like this year's TV broadcast of Peter Pan, which was live-tweeted with hilarious (sometimes even intentional) results by a bizarre collection of brands.
Brands are getting better at understanding which real-time conversations to stay away from and which to fully embrace and that will be clear in 2015.
Pay To Play
Pay-to-play social is not going away in 2015, it's becoming more necessary.
Seventy percent of social media marketers will increase their spends in 2015. The reasons are clear: Pinterest is opening up promoted pins to all marketers, Facebook has gutted organic reach, and Twitter is the noisiest place ever. If you want to get your content seen on social, you should be willing to spend a little money to do it. If you want to have a direct relationship with your fans, you should look to build your email and SMS lists. These are channels that brands can literally own.
Bonus: Big Data
Everyone says big data is going to be even bigger in 2015. I didn't include it as a "Top 10" because data, analytics, and reporting informs all strategies. Every idea in these 10 is impacted, complicated and ultimately enhanced by the growth of big data. Get used to it.
I was surprised at how few authors thought games (not gamification, but real games) were a marketing growth opportunity in 2015. Just as sponsored content has become better, less overt marketing, this should happen with gaming in 2015. Brands already have to be video producers and soon they'll have to be game developers too. I can't wait to play Flappy Birds with Coca-Cola bottles.
Ryan Davis is a Brooklyn based digital strategist with over a decade of experience. Former Favorites: Social Media Director @ Blue State Digital, Digital Director & Co-Founder @ The Four 2012, VP @ Vocativ, Digital Organizer @ Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential. Ryan sends an almost weekly newsletter and tweets a lot at @RyanNewYork.