From Premise to Paradigm: A Social Media/PR Retrospective of 2014

Though it only just ended, 2014 looks like it will go down as a watershed year for communications professionals.  Certainly it will be noted as the year in which the lines between social media and public relations essentially vanished. As recently as 2013, those were blurred lines (sorry for that dated cultural reference…). However, the two disciplines are now so intertwined that it’s impossible to tell where one starts and the other ends.

2014: Year of the Media Feedback Loop
Admittedly, owned media and earned media are still separate entities, but their increasingly symbiotic relationship has made cross-pollination the norm.  Time and again during 2014 we saw content published on social/owned media spark earned coverage in traditional media, which in turn created waves of social/owned postings, moving the narrative in different directions…directions which were picked up again (“earned”) in traditional media…and on and on.  You could call 2014 The Year of The Media Feedback Loop.

The Death of the E-Mail Pitch
2014 was also the year in which social media direct messaging supplanted e-mail as the most-used channel for pitching earned media stories. Admittedly, there are some who still prefer the older technology, but it seems best suited for mass message distributions – a concept that is now as quaint as the “blurred lines” reference.  Another notable technology of 2014, Spam Filters from Hell, made these Old-School mass mailings (or any cold pitch e-mail) practically useless.  The reality of 2015 is that unless you have interacted with the media target on some level, your pitch will fall on deaf ears and blind eyes.

More than ever, social media channels in 2014 became ways to establish credibility, push out story-stimulating, potentially viral content and – at just the right moment – throw a dart-like, bullseye pitch via direct messaging. The rules of the PR game changed, big time, last year…all because of social media.

There were several other social media trends that moved from to premise to paradigm in 2014. Here are a few of them:

Custom Content (Content Marketing) Reigned Supreme
Custom content was just a buzzword in early 2013; by the end of 2014 it was a marketing communications requirement.  We are now helping create custom, personalized content for virtually all of our clients, and across all industries – from service-driven arenas like travel/tourism and healthcare to product-focused sectors, like beer/wine/spirits.

Social media budgets have more than doubled in the last few years and that trend will continue in 2015. Much of this will be devoted to creating personalized – and visual – content. Why visual? Visual data is processed more than 60,000 times faster by the brain than text. What does this mean? The likelihood your post will stimulate an action (like a click-thru) is much higher if a picture is included than if it is straight text. Recognizing this, platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have fine-tuned their platforms accordingly. This was no coincidence.

SoLoMo (“social, local, mobile”) was more than just a catchy new acronym in 2014, it was an exploding pattern of online behavior. Accessing social media became the number one activity consumers used their smartphones for last year. What did this mean for brands? Since consumers have defined by reach, location and mobility, brand communication strategies had to start incorporating plans for reaching beyond the computer.

Brand-engaged consumers now typically take action with their smartphone before anything else – conducting research, looking for deals, doing location searches or simply making the purchase. How did we address this new consumer behavior pattern? By increasing our clients’ emphasis on promotions, content and calls-to-action in the most natural and timely of places – smartphones.  By using geographic location, social communities, and interactive marketing, our clients were able to be in the right place at the right time to capture and take part in conversions…and, ultimately, increase sales.

Tortoise vs. Hare: Social Commerce Grows, albeit slowly
Social commerce – the process of initiating the sale of a good or service via a social media post – continued to gather steam this past year. There is no longer any debate about whether social media influences consumer purchase decisions. As far back as 2013, we saw that 84 percent of consumers like companies that offer coupons on social networks, and 49 percent have bought a product based on a positive social media experience.  Naturally, we expect to see a continued uptick in sales attributed to social media in 2015 and beyond. As they started to do in 2014, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and their partners will continue to fuel the social commerce experience with direct click-to-purchase actions.  It may take a little more time for the bulk of consumers to warm to the idea of making a purchase from a single tweet…but they will.

So will these trends continue in 2015? While it is too early to say for sure, our guess is…absolutely!