How Social Media Evolved for Marketers in 2015

As a function of the anatomy of modern commerce, social media continues to fortify its role as the connective tissue that binds brands and marketers together with consumers in the age of the ephemeral Internet.

More than ever before, marketers can understand who their customers are, and what they’re interested in. Marketers can tailor their approaches to content marketing, email, digital advertising, and more based on the behavior of key audience segments on social networks.

Not surprisingly, few marketers contest the value of social. In fact, 65% of marketers rank social technology as their highest priority for spend, according to Gartner. But what we often miss in the conversation about social media marketing is its role in the creation and consumption of viral media, and what viral content says about the larger digital consumer base.

Look back throughout 2015 at viral media in comparison to other years. Memes dominated the viral Web in years past; memes about cats, dances, and e-card philosophies—memes that marketers generally struggled to co-opt into campaigns. These elements of the Web haven’t gone anywhere, but in 2015 activism, entertainment, news, and politics dominated much of the social Web in terms of virality. Marketers found actionable elements in only some of these conversations, but many of the viral occurrences throughout the year contained hidden insight into the inner workings of digital commerce.

We learned that Net neutrality is a major concern for the denizens of the digital world. The launch event for the music streaming service TIDAL, along with Taylor Swift’s public disagreement with Apple Music, showed that heavy handed influencer marketing can dilute the merits of the practice to the point of detriment. We also learned that one of the most esoteric elements of hip-hop music—the rap battle—could provide an opportunity for brands to create connections with untapped audiences. Through video game releases such as Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid V, and the colossal successes of Disney’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, marketers know that “nerd” culture has officially completed its transition to the mainstream. Social media was the catalyst, the facilitator, and communication apparatus for all of these moments.

As a democratizing agent, social media puts customer directly in touch with the companies and causes they care about—or care to discuss. Consumers on social shared their candid opinions with Subway after its famed spokesman’s outing as a pedophile, and repeatedly took politicians to task throughout the year’s presidential debates.

Features such as buy buttons and deep audience tools will continue to proliferate as more customers get comfortable purchasing and sharing in social settings—plunging marketers deeper into social media marketing. However, marketers must take care to understand the nuances that shape and mold digital culture, from the minutia of social media etiquette to identifying trending content. Social media can prove risky for marketers, but its benefits far outweigh its implicit risks. Understanding what moves users on these networks goes a long way toward minimizing those risks, and most important, toward making connections with customers that would be impossible or improbable through any other means.

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