Each semester on the first night of my Social Media Marketing class, it’s inevitable that at least one student says he or she is here to find out why they need to have their business on Facebook or Twitter. The answer is simple: Because your existing and potential customers are there, all 158 million of them.

A Short History of Social Media

In 2002 the first social site was launched. Friendster aimed to connect online gamers around the world. A year later, developers broadened the scope and launched MySpace (Tom!) where users literally had their own space on the web. It was back in those early days we started to see celebrities using MySpace as a way to connect with fans. Business owners dipped their toe into the uncharted waters, as well, but it wasn’t until the next generation of social media launched that saw a place for businesses to really reach potential consumers.

Facebook launched to college students in 2003, and opened to anyone over the age of 13 in 2006. But back in 2004, they introduced advertising to the site. Founder Mark Zuckerberg told his college paper it was a way to offset the cost of servers. What Facebook offered advertisers in those early days, was a way to reach a very specific audience. Ads could be targeted to anyone with a certain .edu email address.

 

And that was that. It was the primitive online version of direct mail.

Jump ahead to 2007 when Facebook launched Pages — a way for businesses to have an official presence on the network. Companies like Coca-Cola built up audiences they could reach on demand through the sheer magic of the “Like” button.

Starting back in 2012, Facebook began cutting back the number of people who saw a post from a business, estimates have ranged anywhere from 16 to 2 percent of an audience sees a post.

Today and Beyond

While a companies’ ability to reach users organically on social media has decreased, the influence social media has on buying decisions has increased. A McKinsey study surveyed 20,000 Europeans and found that social recommendations are behind more than a quarter of all purchases made. That’s quite a bit higher than the 15 percent previously estimated.

And while Facebook continues to dominate; you can’t discount Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat. Each provides businesses with an opportunity to reach a unique audience.

Social media is obviously a powerful medium and shunning it won’t do a business any good. So as the medium continues to reinvent itself, here’s a look at what we’re likely to see more of.

• An increase in employee posting and sharing. As more millennia’s enter the workforce and move up the ranks, more employers are asking employees to use their own personal networks to share company news. Personal networks get an average of eight times more engagement and 25 percent more shares. TIP: Don’t make it mandatory for employees to share. It needs to be relevant to their audiences. For example, a web developer wouldn’t share a new product line on their LinkedIn network, likely populated with other web developers. But the redesign of your ecommerce site they worked on makes a good fit for them to share.

• More data on paid advertising. We can use data — and don’t overlook historical data — to reach the people most likely to but the product or service we’re selling. Facebook is leading the way with this by continually growing their advertising platform. Just this week they announced new partnerships, including one with Nielsen, and a new portal where partners can gather data right from Facebook, Instagram and their Audience Network for advertising clients. TIP: Don’t just place your ad and look for new Likes. Get into your Facebook Insights to see where your ad is doing the most good and adjust your budget accordingly.

• More and better native ads. These “sponsored” or “promoted” posts reach a specific audience without looking like an ad. They appear alongside organic content and they are personal, engaging, and speak to me in my hometown, not on a national level. The best one I’ve seen is one where a Bakersfield resident shared how going solar has impacted their electric bills. Living here in California’s Central Valley, with our 10 months of summer, solar is enticing. Seeing that sponsored post in my Facebook feed that named a specific neighborhood … it got me to click. Forbes reported that Pandora even began experimenting with sponsored songs late last year.

* Both types of paid advertising have the advantage of reaching current followers and non-followers, as well as specific geographies and demographics.

It’s been coined the “Reachpocalypse” and it’s upon us. No longer can businesses turn a blind eye toward social advertising. It’s already come a long way from the beginnings of Friendster and MySpace, and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. Wherever it is, it promises to bring even more niche advertising capabilities for businesses.

 

Jamie Butow is a Partner Manager at Tru Measure, specializing in social and online reputation management. She has an undergrad degree in journalism and a Master’s degree in media psychology.