By now we have come to accept that social media is the most powerful form of communication in our present time. Real-time activation, deep personal data, mobile engagement, and over a billion people within reach mean that marketers must master these platforms or switch careers. Whether you are a marketer that remembers MySpace or one that is teaching the boss how to SnapChat, we all must prepare to upgrade our games to win.

Some of us have seen digital innovations sweep through corporate halls before. We remember when email, search, websites and banners were “test & learns” that had no proof of ROI and questionable prospects for scale. Over time, we followed the consumer’s mass adoption of these platforms and lifted our corporate disciplines to adopt new habits and achieve success.

Social media started as an experiment, then first gained discipline as a way to monitor customers’ conversations about our brands. Software was procured, dashboards were developed, and global listening stations are now manned continuously. Community managers were given responsibility for maintaining a presence across proliferating platforms. But they rarely had a seat at the strategic table.

Social media is increasingly seen as a primary channel for brands to reach customers with mass marketing Today, listening means less, and social media is increasingly seen as a primary channel for brands to reach customers with mass marketing messages. Success on social is fundamentally about paid media now. One leading global CMO recently issued a directive that no Facebook post could be placed without paid media behind it. Paid media means bigger budgets and a much higher level of organizational involvement.

When senior marketers start taking the social ball away from community managers, the landscape we operate in will change quickly. Based on nearly 20 years of playing a part in similar transformations at the world’s largest marketers, I predict we will see four changes in social media marketing over the next few years:

Quantity Of Quality Content

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, 77% of B2C marketers are planning to increase their investment in content production in the year ahead. It is a remarkable number given the unending pressure on budgets, and “non-working” costs in particular.

A few factors are driving this shift in spending. First, social media marketing is evolving from a text-only conversational post (“What cocktail are you drinking this weekend?”) to ideas and inspiration (“Try this award-winning cocktail recipe”). It turns out that most people don’t care to converse with faceless brands, but do appreciate useful content. Social algorithm feeds are punishing the former and rewarding the latter.

Second, creative wear out in the social media world is one to two weeks, while a print ad or TV commercial stood for months. When you can laser target your audience, they quickly get sick of seeing the same thing every 10 minutes when they pop open an app.

Third, marketers increasingly witness benefits in deploying personalized content to individual customers, based on who they are and where they are in the purchase funnel. The more we know about our customers, the more specific content we need to win them over.

From Work Flow Management To Working Dollar Maximization

As social media has made its way into marketers’ budgets, an ecosystem of software startups has been funded to help meet their needs. To date, some of the largest marketing software companies have focused on making it easier to create and route the posts needed to keep a constant flow of posts. These “workflow solutions” are built for junior marketers who need to source a stock photo, and before posting is complete, they are asked to make sure the creative is on-equity.

This approach isn’t good enough when the CMO is overseeing social strategy. Senior marketers who are spending big dollars will require more sophisticated tools than workflow software meant to “make it easy.” And I have heard many marketers shrug that these tools deliver no proven ROI – a massive challenge with today’s spending constraints.

I believe we will see the rise of a new set of solutions that will add a layer of performance-driven recommendations. Instead of seeing a calendar of upcoming holidays, we need software that suggests specific occasions where our brand and audience intersect. Any photo source should come with predictive performance-based recommendations or a simple way to run live A/B tests. The marketing cloud salesperson of the near future will walk in with a promise to double social ROI in the first six months of a contact.

Back To Measurement Basics

Old school marketers continue to struggle with the measurement of social media. On one hand, we appreciate real-time, real-world performance reporting. On the other hand, we still wonder whether there is any value in all of those clicks, likes, pins and hearts. Ecommerce and direct-response marketers have it easy, but the much larger group of brand marketers are struggling.

I believe the elevation of social media strategy and spending will bring us back to core brand impact metrics that we have lost track of – Recall and Persuasion. You might remember a time when most of the brand advertising we placed was tested with consumers before it was released. We measured Recall, the percentage of people who remembered that your brand was in an ad, and Persuasion, the percentage of people (net versus control) that would choose your brand after being exposed to the ad. Many brand marketers made their careers on creating business-building campaigns through this research.

If anything, social posts need Recall and Persuasion metrics more than traditional media ever did. That’s because social has less stopping power and is often includes useful content—which may either add to or distract from a brand’s message. Social ads have to work harder to breakthrough, and we need to start by measuring its effectiveness. In the months ahead we will see marketers create comparative databases for these measures, and be able to link Recall and Persuasion scores with in-market ROI.

Agencies Will Live Or Die On Data

The next time your creative agency comes in to present ideas, ask them what data sources they used to drive their output. If you hear silence, it is time to look for a new partner. With an infinite number of options for creative output, shame on any agency that is not tapping the infinite amount of data about what customers are thinking and feeling.

Already we are seeing agencies shift toward social creative production – and my point above about the escalating need for quantity of content is a big driver. But too few are investing in sources of data to drive decision-making.

The biggest challenge for agencies is that they have razor thin margins, and investing in data and insights to guide the creative process is not free. But I believe once their clients set expectations–and agree to pay more for data input and result output–we’ll see the winning agencies adapt first.

A lot of changes that are upon us are not entirely new; rather they represent a return to discipline and the craft of marketing that too many of us have forgotten along the way. The higher-level skill needed by the modern marketer is a desire to understand and embrace what’s new, combined with the classic understanding of strategy and organizational behavior.