This article was featured as a guest post on EyeforTravel in July 2011

There has been much debate over the past few years over the value of social media marketing, particularly whether it achieves a real return on investment for businesses.

A recent Marketing Week article highlighted some interesting statistics that confirm that social media is here to stay for the long-run.

The findings were based on a survey completed by more than 17,000 managers and business owners across 80 countries, including 4,000 from the UK. This is what it found:

1. Companies are increasingly winning new customers via social networks

2. Businesses in the UK allocate a third of their marketing budgets to social networking campaigns

3. Globally, the number of businesses recruiting new customers via social networks has increased 7%

4.  Worldwide, 52% of companies are using social networking to engage with their audiences

Over the past year, there have been significant improvements in social media monitoring and analytics, an increased emphasis on real-time search and information distribution, and many reports have confirmed that social media is increasingly playing a role in many businesses marketing activity.

So, what are the social media trends to keep an eye out for?

Here’s what we think;

Social media will more prominently affect search engine results 

In addition to crawling traditional content of a company’s website and blogs for relevant keywords, search engines will also pull results from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Therefore, as we search online, we will start to see more real-time information in our results from these sites.

rsz_1seo(1)Already this year, we have seen that Bing has started to push relevant content from our personal networks to the front of search results, making them more personalised. Google made a similar move also, firstly challenging the Facebook ‘Like’ button with the introduction of their ‘+1’ button and now they’ve made a move that directly challenges Bing, by using results from Twitter, Flickr and other social networks to help users make decisions on content based on the recommendations of their friends.

Here at Digital Visitor, we recently conducted our own in-house research to see which social media sites were appearing in the first 5 pages of Google for 100 top travel companies.

What we found was that 59% of the companies we looked at had a social media profile on page 143% on page 2,27% on page 325% on page 4 and 11% on page 5. While YouTubeFacebook and Wikipedia were the most frequent sites that appeared, Wikipedia had the overall best ranking position at 10 (page 1 position 10)Read more here…

If your brand is not yet engaged on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube, now is the time to get involved. It will only continue to influence your brands results on search engines, and the more your content is shared, liked, and tweeted, the better!

Social media as a customer service tool

Social media allows businesses to quickly and economically communicate to a large audience. In 2012, we will see more organisations using it as a customer service tool.

Im a tweeter_smallSome recent examples include;

Social media and relevance

Social media has become everything to everyone, and as more people and brands engage via the ever growing number of social media sites, the question of how to match up relevant information with the right people will become vital for businesses to succeed.

With over 98,000 tweets per minute695,000 Facebook status updates per minute79,364 Facebook wall posts per minute and 600 new YouTube videos uploaded per minute (and this is just the tip of the iceberg) it’s essential to provide people with the information that you know they are interested in or they will quickly be ‘turned off’.

Here’s a great infographic on what happens in 60 seconds on social media and the web…

More companies will include user reviews and ratings on their websites

‘47% of consumers prefer to read ‘reviews on a company’s website’ over magazines, forums, shopping comparison sites, newspapers and social networking sites’

‘Reviews enhance sales by up to 18%’

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There are a flood of statistics across all industries that prove why online reviews are important for businesses today, particularly how they impact purchasing decisions, so we will start to see more businesses gathering user reviews and ratings on their websites.

Read more about the importance of online customer reviews on your website…

More companies using social media sites for competitions (and some really creative competitions too)

While there have already been some great examples of companies using social media sites such as Facebook to run competitions, we will see more companies launch exciting and creative competitions via social media to make them really stand out from their competitors.

Only recently, KLM ran a very interesting competition on Facebook.  The ‘Tile & Inspire’ competition invited people from around the world to create a digital Delft blue tile, containing an inspirational message. A selection of inspiring tiles (approximately 4000) will be printed on 30×30 cm size foil and will be glued to the exterior of a real KLM plane that is set to fly to many destinations around the world.

Competitions are an excellent way of fostering new audiences on social media channels and indeed on your own website. They provide you with an exciting way to broadcast messages about your brand and products to a large number of potential new customers but if using Facebook, be warned, there are very strict rules that you must adhere to if you want to ensure that your competition is legal according to their regulations.

Facebook only recently changed their rules regarding competitions, so to help you get up to speed on what you need to know, we’ve put together a list of rules that you need to be aware of…

Greater impact for social media in B2B sector

Traditionally, B2C marketers have been the first to see the real benefits of social media marketing and while it has been on the rise among B2B brands, the impact and benefits of social media marketing for this sector will become more valid next year.

study earlier this year by B2B magazine confirmed that B2B marketers are embracing social media marketing on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter in particularly, with LinkedIn cited as the most important social channel.

To find out more about our solutions and services, call +44 (0)1179 111 420  or make an enquiry….