Social media adoption: How will marketing spending patterns change?

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Although social media adoption rates are still relatively low—more and more companies are jumping in. And, as they do, we may see a dramatic shift in marketing spending patterns.

Today, most B2B companies are just dipping their toes in the social media waters. Some have launched blogs. Others are experimenting with Twitter. Still others are adopting a wait and see attitude.

Yet, if the conversation at a recent event hosted by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council is any indication, most B2B marketers are ready to move forward. Right now, their biggest challenge is figuring out how to justify social media investments to skeptical management teams.

As I wrote in a recent article on using social media to accelerate sales, I believe this is just a temporary hurdle. Early adopters are already beginning to address these questions. Moreover, many conventional marketing investments are difficult to measure—and there’s no reason to believe that it will be harder to measure their social media counterparts.

Social media represents a thin slice of marketing budgets

So far, social media has had relatively little impact on marketing spending patterns. In fact, the articles that I've read report that companies are still spending most of their money on conventional marketing programs. Moreover, most of the money marketing that marketers are spending online is going to email newsletters, search engine marketing, and fulfillment of these and other direct marketing campaigns. Those marketers that are launching social media campaigns are still experimenting--and most of the early adopters are just running pilot projects.

That’s changing very quickly though and the question in my mind is, “How will marketing spending patterns change as companies’ use of social media increases?” Here are some predictions.

Spending on content production will increase

Spending on content production will increase as word of mouth marketing moves online. Traditionally, word of mouth spread from person to person—usually one at a time. Most people only had conversations with those they knew and trusted—or those that these individuals introduced to them. Moreover, these conversations didn’t start until after the buyer identified a need.

Today, conversations start earlier. Rather than just contacting their colleagues for information, prospects turn to blogs to explore their options. That means that marketers who want to guide the conversation need to join the conversation earlier—either as a blogger or as a commenter on others' blogs. Either way, they need to produce engaging content if they want to capture attention and shape prospects’ buying criteria. And, since there’s no barrier to publishing blogs, marketers often need to produce a lot of content to cover all their bases.

Once buyers identify a need, they often turn to others to help with selection and validate their impressions. In the past, these key influencers included others in their companies, trusted advisors, and perhaps reference accounts proffered by Sales.

In the future, prospects may tap their social networks for customer reviews or to identify others who have had direct experience with the vendors they are considering. This means that marketers will need to maintain a presence in all the places where those that influence the buying decision congregate. Marketers will need to create content to keep fans engaged—and address detractors’ concerns.

This spending will span all media

Today, most marketing communications are delivered in print. Now that it is no longer expensive or difficult to produce and deliver content in other media, more companies will deliver audiovisual communications online and audio communications via podcast.

Companies will bring content producers in-house

Due to the sheer volume of communications, companies will require full-time personnel to prepare engaging content for humans, optimize this content for search engines, and measure success. Rather than outsourcing creative and analytic functions to agencies, marketing departments will bring writers, graphic designers, and videographers in house.

Companies will allocate funds for social media platforms

Rather than re-inventing the wheel, companies will invest in browser-based solutions that will help them easily and cost-effectively develop, launch, test, and adjust social media campaigns. They will “rent” SaaS solutions rather than “buy” packaged software thus ensuring they always have the latest technology.

Companies may reduce spending on public relations

Reporters are already trolling the web in search of news—rather than waiting for company press releases. If this trend continues, companies may reduce the money they spend on PR professionals to raise aware of their companies and solutions.

Small companies may increase spending on business intelligence

Today, few small companies invest in business intelligence on an ongoing basis—mostly because this information is not readily available. While they couldn’t afford in-depth marketing research, travel to customer sites, or even analyst reports, small companies may be able to justify lurking and listening to conversations among bloggers and within social networks.

What are your predictions?

If these predictions prove true, tomorrow's marketing staffs will look very different--even though their goals and objectives will remain the same. Online marketing has already changed marketing spending patterns. Social media will also have an impact. Where do you think we’ll see these changes next—and how do you think they’ll impact the overall marketing budget—and the way companies structure their marketing organizations?

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