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What Comes After Social?

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A version of this post originally appeared on Logic + Emotion.

Social media has been good to me. It’s redefined my career, opened new doors and enabled me to make connections that would have been impossible had the Web not gotten connected. I started blogging in 2006 and in less than a year found myself in the pages of BusinessWeek. From there things only got more interesting, not only for me personally but for the business world at large. One by one, brands, organizations and even governments had to come to terms with the connected Web and subsequently the rapid evolution of mobile. It all makes me wonder what’s next — and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Here are a few not so random thoughts. Many of them fall under the lens of marketing and communications, where I spend a lot of my professional time. Consider it thinking aloud:

Social Increasingly Becomes a Paid Game
The early days of social under the broader context of the marketing function was organic by nature. Facebook, Twitter, etc. weren’t even thinking of monetization models — for them it was about building an audience around the platforms. Today, it’s increasingly difficult to reach an audience through your social channels without leveraging a paid component.

Content Isn’t Enough Anymore
The problem with content is that it can be anything. Text. Photos. Video. It’s not enough. People don’t share content but they do share stories which resonate with them and their friends/connections. Telling really good stories is hard. Today, we have to be able to do it in a single Instagram sized image and in a six second Vine. We also need to be able to make marketing feel like something bigger—something with a larger purpose. This is not content — it’s a narrative. Narrative which stops us in our tracks and breaks through the noise to earn our attention.

Integrated Marketing Becomes Mandatory
One of the stories I love to tell about Oreo is how they launched Instagram. “Dunk In The Dark” is a diversion — a one hit wonder, but Oreo is a masterful integrated marketer and incorporated social and digital into their Superbowl advertising, leveraging paid dollars and creativity to build a sizable audience on Instagram literally overnight. Why this story doesn’t get told more is beyond me. Smart integrated marketing is the future, while social one hit wonders will become a thing of the past.

Art Director + Copywriter + Social Engineer: The Creative Team of Tomorrow
As someone who works in the “Public Relations” industry, I can reflect upon how we were quick to hire social savvy individuals who knew how to manage and grow communities. Now we hire creatives and planners who must figure out how to partner with these social savvy individuals. Madison avenue was built on the duo of art directors and and copywriters. Tomorrow’s creative team will be a trio at the core (and don’t forget analytics).

ROI Becomes An Efficiency Play
The early days of social revolved around proving out a specific ROI (did you sell more X?) for example. But in the maturation phase that we are in today — under a marketing lens, it becomes about proving out that metrics like reach and impressions were achieved at a cost reduction, or even better, cost reduction combined with qualitative benefits like better targeting (did you reach the right people?).

Yesterday’s disruption was digital. It created a new economic model and dominant players. Social came next followed by the infusion of mobile — we consume information and participate on demand, anytime, anywhere. But none of these things can be viewed in isolation. I’ve talked about the responsive marketing model recently and some even talk about the responsive organization. Even marketing in an iterative and more agile fashion has to be a connected part of a bigger machine. I believe what comes after social looks more like the aggregate of many pieces vs. the single view of one or two which have dominated the industry discourse for years. It’s time to elevate the role of digital, social and mobile as core elements of a bigger, complex and integrated machine.

David Armano is global strategy director, Key Accounts. Follow him on Twitter: @armano.

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