Although this year’s election has been the most expensive in US history to date (with a total price tag of over $2 billion), the most significant platform utilized by both Romney and Obama to enhance their visibility throughout the campaign may, surprisingly, be the most cost effective, as well.  Social media first proved its worth in the political arena during President Obama’s groundbreaking 2008 campaign.  The usage of YouTube and Facebook to connect with a vast, diverse audience had undeniably helped Obama pull ahead in the polls and capture coveted demographics in crucial swing states such as Ohio.

By creating a new form of “digital grassroots” campaign, Obama was able to successfully reach voters who spent more time on Facebook and YouTube than watching C-SPAN or reading political publications.  Additionally, the least expensive element of Obama’s campaign proved to be the social media component, as the President’s social following was largely organic and the campaign’s online ad spend was far less than its print and television counterparts.  The first ever “Social Election” was a complete success and had paved the way for future campaigns.

Fast Forward to 2012…
As the incumbent, Obama now maintains a sizeable lead in terms of social following.  As mentioned by both Todd Bailey and Mike Stricker in our “Social Media & Election 2012” Web series, Obama’s following has been substantially greater than Mitt Romney’s on networks such as Facebook and Twitter since the outset.  However, Romney’s campaign has placed a strong emphasis on social media and this has made the race to the White House much more competitive.

While the size and scope of this campaign has been greater than any before it, the role of social media marketing has played an instrumental role in the overall reach of the campaign.  Going forward, candidates will almost certainly need to make social media a major part of their campaign efforts in order to raise awareness and establish themselves amongst the ever-expanding Internet audience.

Recently, Facebook achieved one of its most significant milestones since its launch in 2004 when the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network reached one billion users on September 14th.  For Facebook, attaining a user base that consists of 1/7 of the world’s entire population is a major accomplishment.  However, many of the small businesses which utilize Facebook as an online marketing and advertising outlet are still skeptical of the network’s ability to enhance their revenues despite having the most massive user base on the Web.

Small business owners are not the only ones concerned with Facebook’s performance as an ad revenue-driven organization.  The company’s stock value remains unimpressive and many investors are reluctant to add Facebook to their portfolios, regardless of the brand’s ever-increasing visibility.  While the announcement has undoubtedly granted the world’s largest social network substantial bragging rights, it has seemingly done little to really enhance the company or its profitability.

However, a more interesting statistic has also been revealed by Facebook as of late that may prove beneficial to their brand.  As of April 2012, the network’s monthly user growth had fallen to 1.74%, the lowest it has been since its 2004 debut.  Today, Facebook claims it has reached 2.04% monthly growth.  This marks the first increase the network has seen in over 13 months and could help to restore investor confidence in the brand going forward.

Although it is critical for Facebook to increase their viability to investors and improve their company’s waning stock values, it is just as important to build consumer confidence.  As a business driven almost entirely by advertising revenue, Facebook must take greater measures to attract advertisers, particularly small to mid-sized businesses which account for a large percentage of online advertising revenue.

Facebook’s audience is clearly larger than ever before and maintains the greatest potential as an advertising and marketing platform; but the company should begin to investigate other revenue streams in order to grow from a fiscal perspective.

E-Commerce is the most likely route and could put Facebook in direct competition with online retailer, Amazon.  The development of a “Facebook Store” could position the company as a formidable competitor and drive up share prices, while simultaneously making Facebook more attractive to advertisers.  Additions of features such as the “Promote” button and the soon-to-be-released “Want” button are definitely steps in the right direction, but a more comprehensive strategy may be necessary.

For now, Facebook’s popularity may be unparalleled, but its profitability is minimal at best.  Business owners have yet to see any discernable benefits from the network’s growth to upwards of 1 billion users and an investment in long-term revenue enhancement should be considered an essential component of Facebook’s business model.  If the network is able to successfully expand its offerings beyond its current capabilities, the future of Facebook will not only be secure, but beneficial to small business owners, as well.

Terms such as “domain authority” and “page authority” are part of the everyday vernacular in the Internet marketing industry, but what do they mean for online business owners?  As it pertains to visibility on the Web and greater revenue, they mean a lot.

Essentially, a website or page’s authority is the prevalence it has in organic search engine rankings.  Higher authority correlates to more visibility and potentially, more conversions and sales.  In digital marketing, gaining said authority is a common goal of many campaigns.  In the past, that goal was achieved through efforts such as link building, content development and routine site maintenance. Today, however, social media is playing an increasingly important role and maximizing social engagement is gradually becoming a crucial part of marketing initiatives.

Greater Engagement
Companies that specialize in social media enhancement understand the value of networks such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest.  Friends, fans, likes and tweets provide much more than bragging rights for a business; they can also provide authority to individual pages or domains.  Additionally, social media is an effective platform for gaining brand recognition, which is valuable both on and offline.

Consumers spend a significant amount of time online searching for brands, local businesses or products that they like and sharing them amongst their peers.  This phenomenon has grown to worldwide proportions and has become a cornerstone of social media marketing.  Delivering content to users and offering products and incentives via social shares has proven to be impactful on the profitability and visibility of many brands.

Following Through
Once a greater social following has been established, it is important to encourage shares and feedback through social media outlets.  By creating a “call to action”, businesses are more likely to gain more momentum in the SERPs and throughout the social space.

Social media is a long-term investment for a business.  Profiles must be carefully maintained and frequently updated.  However, a properly optimized social media presence is almost certain to increase authority and ensure success in the online marketplace.

What do Google, Microsoft and Apple have in common?  A lot, actually; and following their respective developer conferences earlier this summer, several new commonalities have been revealed.  We now know that new tablet devices are being developed by Google and Microsoft and that Google and Apple are both looking to capitalize on their mapping software.  We’ve also learned that iOS 6, Windows 8 and Android 4.1 are going to incorporate more Internet and social media functionality than any previous operating systems.  This enhanced focus on social connectivity will undoubtedly be an important component of these new systems, but its impact on Internet marketing may be even greater.

A More Social Future
Despite Facebook’s apparent inability to succeed on Wall Street thus far, the network is still as popular as ever.  With upwards of 900 million users, nearly 1/7 of the world’s population is using Facebook.  That’s an impressive reach for a social network that began less than a decade ago as a college project.  Microsoft and Apple have both seen potential in Facebook and their confidence in the brand is reinforced by its incorporation into their new OS offerings.  The move to integrate social media directly into the operating system itself will only bolster its popularity, which will significantly impact the Internet marketing industry.

Effects on Internet Marketing
SEOs and SMOs are likely to see a substantial rise in their client base.  Online marketing initiatives will become increasingly valuable as the Internet itself continues to become more accessible.  Today, the role of social media in marketing initiatives is larger than it has ever been and it has proven effective for many companies worldwide.  Search engine optimization and social media are expected to become even more closely related going forward, as well.

The release of iOS 6 and Windows 8 are also likely to impact current social media campaigns and increase their overall effectiveness.  The future of social media looks to be very bright and with the help of tech industry mainstays such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, it may become the very cornerstone of online marketing.

What are your thoughts on the future of social media marketing?  Drop me a line at brymshaw@webimax.com or on Twitter @brwebimax.

On May 31, Microsoft premiered a “Release Preview” of Windows 8 on their website which features a downloadable version of the upcoming operating system with limited functionality.  Additionally, the release includes several applications that will be integrated into the new Windows environment; which is based on the “Metro” language seen on the Windows Phone OS.  Among the applications included with the preview is a new program called “People”, which is an obvious indicator of Microsoft’s recognition of the impact of social media on Windows users.

Operating Socially
The new Windows People app is designed to seamlessly integrate social media platforms such as Facebook and Google+ directly into the operating system itself.  People’s interface will display notifications from various social networks and allow users to interact and engage on those platforms via the program.  By making social functionality available on a user’s desktop, the accessibility of networking sites is greatly increased and is likely to appeal to a broader audience.

A New Era for Online Marketers?
The impending final release of Windows 8 creates almost endless possibilities for Internet marketing companies and social media marketers and advertisers.  The ability to deliver rich content such as photos and videos directly to a user’s desktop as well as enabling sharing capabilities is very beneficial to SMOs.  Essentially, the People application will not only enhance the reach of such campaigns, but their value, too.  Microsoft’s recognition of the social media trend is not only a milestone for the social networking industry, but it may be the beginning of a new era for online marketers, as well.

Facebook, Google+, Twitter and virtually every other social network have become more than pastimes for the millions that use them daily.  Today, these sites are the product offerings of multi-national corporations and have not only changed many aspects of Internet marketing, but impacted popular culture around the world.

From Humble Beginnings…
The world’s largest social network now boasts over 900 million members.  That figure accounts for nearly 1/7 of the world’s entire population.  Not bad for a company that began in 2004 as a small project of then-Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg.  While the story of Facebook’s origins and rise to prominence is well-documented (and has even won Oscars), the reason for the site’s success is not as obvious.  Like many social networks before it, Facebook was merely intended to be recreational.  It was designed as a platform for people to interact and engage online, while possibly (and hopefully) generating some ad revenue to keep the business afloat.  Fast forward to 2012; Facebook is a publicly traded corporation with global reach and more importantly, international influence.

…To a Global Phenomenon
The rapid expansion of Facebook goes beyond Wall Street.  The advertising and marketing industries have noticed the impact of social media in the wake of Facebook’s growth.  Even news journalism has changed on the post-Facebook Web.  In one form or another, social media is now incorporated into the business model of virtually every company with an online presence.

Jumping on the Bandwagon
Success breeds competition and Facebook is no exception.  Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn have arrived on the social scene in the years following Facebook’s emergence as the number one network and more are likely to come in the months and years ahead.  While none of the aforementioned sites are even close to Facebook’s membership, they are showing exponential growth.  In fact, Pinterest even became the world’s third most frequented social network while still in its beta phase.

Looking Ahead
However, like many industries, social media is not without flaws and is bound to change and evolve according to the demands of its user base.  Facebook’s IPO and the subsequent backlash that it has suffered have demonstrated that social networks need to assert their influence in the online marketplace and prove their value as viable advertising outlets.  Additionally, social media sites must strive to remain in the Internet limelight in order to retain their ability to attract potentially lucrative online marketing campaigns.  There is certainly a place for social networking on the Internet of tomorrow, but innovation will undoubtedly be the key to future success in the social space.