The universe of social media is just that: a vast body that is always expanding. About 1.65 billion social media users are active worldwide, and 1 million new accounts are created every day.

Social media has proven to be fertile territory for advertisers, and as the user base grows, so does the value of that ad space. Combined digital spending by just U.S. media and entertainment companies was $7.34 billion in 2016, and that figure is predicted to rise to $11.52 billion by 2020.

Despite all that investment, advertisers struggle to capitalize on the vast audiences present on social networks. The CMO position is the most volatile role in the C-suite, with the average tenure lasting just 3.6 years in the consumer market. There are even some murmurings that this position churns as often as 18 months in some sectors. So what are marketers and advertisers getting wrong about social media marketing? They spend billions more on it each year, but it doesn’t deliver the returns executives expect.

The problem is directly related to the pace of change. The social media universe changes as quickly as it expands. Platforms rise and fall in popularity, user behavior swings in one direction then another on the basis of unpredictable market forces such as celebrity behavior, and advertising strategies go from impactful to ignorable in record time.

In social media, change is the only constant. Until digital marketers learn to stay ahead of the evolution, social media marketing will be plagued with wasted investments and lost opportunities.

Trends On The Horizon

The next big shifts in social media marketing are already in motion. We have seen a number of big companies come to the realization that marketing without a target is ineffective at best and embarrassing at worst. Taking a scattershot approach to online ads only exposes ads to scores of uninterested customers.

Procter & Gamble recently cut $100 million from its quarterly marketing budget after realizing how unfocused and ineffective its online efforts were. Not only was the company paying for ads that attracted only bots, but the company’s ads often appeared next to off-brand or even objectionable content. They were actually paying millions to degrade the company’s image.

Over the next two to three years, we will see a proliferation of more sophisticated bots, driving the value of nontargeted web impressions and mobile ads downward significantly. The popular belief surrounding display ads is that without quality retargeting techniques, you’re likely showing your ads to click farms, bots, and everyone but your actual buyer. That’s why the average click-through rate for anyone seeing a mobile ad, bot or otherwise, is only 0.05 percent – that’s inefficiency at its finest.

This means marketers and advertisers will be looking for alternative places to put their mobile display spend, which is forecast to be $37 billion in 2017. Channels with hypertargeting, such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, and emerging experiential channels, are going to become more intelligent through artificial intelligence and machine learning. This will force marketers to spend more on these channels and get creative on where else to deploy their budgets.

This will lead to at least a partial shift to co-marketing efforts in which complementary brands leverage their individual images and voices to connect with new audiences. Grassroots advertising will also gain prominence as brands dedicate less effort to persuasion and more effort to participation. We originally saw this with flash mobs and social media “takeovers,” and those same kinds of experiential marketing strategies will increasingly become the norm.

Finally, mobile devices are now the primary driver of internet traffic, with 51.2 percent of users getting access through something besides a desktop computer. Traditional terminals and even laptops are increasingly seen as work tools. Mobile devices, by contrast, are for entertainment, leisure, recreation, and shopping.

Brands that don’t spend aggressively on mobile and deliver seamless experiences in the process will suffer moving forward. Users are eager to shop on their phones or tablets, and they will enthusiastically seek out competitors if a brand makes that difficult. A “mobile-first” strategy is important now, but it will soon be essential.

Staying On The Cutting Edge

No one-size-fits-all approach to marketing exists, especially on a platform as dynamic as social media. But that does not mean brands lack best practices to rely on for staying relevant. With that in mind, here are five approaches to social media marketing that should be considered required:

1. Perfect Mobile Purchasing

Consumers want to shop on mobile devices. That means the mobile conversion page has to be perfect. It must be fast, intuitive, and appealing, or fickle consumers will lose patience and abandon the purchase. Your conversion page must lead to a closed sale or at least capture a consumer’s email address almost instantly. Update and test your page until it works smoothly across all devices.

2. Experiment With New Channels

Advertising agencies have an incentive to stick with well-worn strategies and to take conservative approaches, but that leads directly to marketing efforts that are outdated and irrelevant. CMOs have to understand when, where, why, and how they are resisting innovation , then systematically work to explore new approaches.

3. Accept Bad News

Digital marketers are often guilty of celebrating the good news and ignoring anything that contradicts it. But that produces nothing but a lot of wasted investment and false optimism. You have to get honest about your failures before you can hope to enjoy any real successes. Stay up-to-date on what’s happening with your company, your competitors, and your industry.

4. Cultivate Brand Ambassadors

The more voices you bring into the conversation, the more effective your social media messaging will be. Identify a group of true brand enthusiasts and solicit them to give feedback on your advertising ideas. Instead of assuming a campaign has impact, go and prove it in advance.

5. Follow The Leaders

Social media is still something of an advertising frontier. Rather than try to invent original and innovative approaches, look at what some of the leading social media advertisers are doing. Follow your competitors and members of your target audience on your own social media accounts, and see who’s doing what best. That doesn’t mean copying their efforts, however; it means understanding what these brands are doing well and adapting those strategies to your own brand.

 

Brands that don’t ace social media marketing will be starved for attention. As social networks begin to integrate the world’s entire online population, they will become the dominant advertising platform. Preparing for that inevitability sooner rather than later ensures strong brands don’t tumble into irrelevance.