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The History of Social Media Marketing: Its Evolution in Business

With the rapid evolution of technology, the early 1970s saw the conceptualization of social media. Social media platforms that we are familiar with began appearing two decades later, in the late 1990 and it was only a matter of time before social media transformed into a powerful tool in the world of business and marketing.

Let’s explore the early social media marketing efforts and the evolution it has gone through over the years.

The origin of social media

 By the late 1970s and early 1980s, computers were increasingly common to find in people’s homes, and technology was becoming more sophisticated.

The first known social media platform, Six Degrees, was introduced by Andrew Weinreich in 1997 and introduced social networking – allowing users to upload profile pictures and befriend other users. Around the same time, several blogging sites, like Open Diary, started gaining popularity, starting an online phenomenon that people know and love today.

A brief history of social media marketing

Social media began to be used as a marketing tool shortly after it amassed a large audience. Marketers saw the potential of social media in marketing. In less than a generation, it transformed from a direct electronic information exchange and a place for virtual community gathering, to a retail platform and a critical marketing tool.

The behemoth known today as Facebook was the brainchild of a young Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg. In 2004, he founded The Facebook, as it was known back then. Facebook rapidly gained popularity amongst university students, and in the same year, PayPal founder, Peter Thiel, invested $500,000 in it.

In 2006, Facebook expanded its network by allowing users from outside of universities. By October, it had garnered 50 million users, and a month later, Facebook Ads was launched.

“A completely new way of advertising online. For the last hundred years, media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be part of the conversation. And they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2006

This is how Facebook became the torch bearer for social media marketing.

While Twitter hadn’t grown as big as Facebook at that time, it changed the social media landscape. Before, social media content was limited to immediate circles, but with Twitter, it was possible to draw interactions from millions of people around the world with a single post – in less than 140 characters. It also allowed users to interact with brands and celebrities in a more effective manner.

Two other noteworthy social media platforms that emerged during this era were Instagram and LinkedIn.

Businesses worldwide started realizing the positive effects of having an active presence on social media and began creating brand pages to engage with their customers. Where previously, they relied on advertising spaces in newspapers and television for the promotion of their brands, the world of social media quickly became their oyster.

Furthermore, social media has become a passion among marketers and is now one of the top careers to pursue. The collected customer data and the utilization of performance metrics for their marketing campaigns influence most of the marketing decisions made by businesses now.

Social media in business

With the advent of high-speed wireless internet and smartphones, people could take their communities wherever they went. This kind of consumer mobility allowed businesses to introduce new, simpler methods of purchasing goods and services and customer interactions.

The end-user

In the beginning, social media enabled end users to connect digitally with people they might otherwise never have met in person. It was easy to grow and become members of online communities from the comfort of their homes. With the invention of the smartphone, these services started thriving in the mobile app environment.

Today’s technological improvements, like powerful in-phone cameras, shifted the focus of mobile apps to video and images. End users are now able to broadcast in real-time, allowing for sharing moments like never before.

The business experience

 With the rapid growth of user bases into the hundreds of millions, the business applications of social media platforms began to take shape. Because users nowadays share almost everything on social media, it makes it easier for marketers to target specific consumers. It’s no surprise that social media companies have access to some of the richest trackable user data.

Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and others started monetizing their services through sponsored advertising in various forms. At the same time, businesses discovered the huge potential that came with an active, engaged social media presence. Creating and sharing informative or entertaining content on social platforms have helped brands to grow an audience without paying for it directly, i.e., organically.

Organic social media marketing can be used to:

  • Increase brand awareness;
  • Build strong customer relationships;
  • Generate leads;
  • Increase conversions;
  • Conduct competitive research;

This combination of paid and organic social media outreach evolved into what we now know as social media marketing.

The current social media marketing ecosystem

 As social media evolved, measurement tools gave marketers the ability to understand consumers’ buying habits, demographics, and gain access to other valuable and actionable information.

Marketers, no longer limited to traditional forms of media, have found that the most efficient way to utilize social media for their marketing efforts is by leveraging existing audiences, creating the age of influencer marketing.

Brands sponsor or pay social media influencers to share and mention their latest products and offerings with their millions of followers. These individuals or influencers are considered experts within their niche and have a dedicated social following. This helps brands cut through the noise by targeting potential buyers who follow these influencers.

In-depth analytics provided by tools in social media provide deep insights into specific demographic groups that businesses can target with ads. These insights are especially helpful for recognizing potential long-term customers and generating leads.

The future of social media marketing

 The future of social media marketing will most certainly be shaped by the evolving business model, as well as advancements in storytelling technology. There are already several trends beginning to emerge:

  1. The metaverse – In this virtual-reality space, users connect with other users in an interactive computer-generated environment. The metaverse potentially transforms how we digitally interact with one another. The payments industry is also taking the initiative to support commerce in the metaverse, which is a positive sign for metaverse entrepreneurs.
  2. More sophisticated influencer campaigns – A trend that we will see in the near future is long-term partnerships and collaborations with influencers. This will build a rapport with not only the influencer but also their following, and in return, influencing brand loyalty that significantly improves conversion rates and ROI. Businesses will soon ditch one-off campaigns and invest in the right brand ambassadors as part of their social marketing strategy.
  3. New platforms – As time goes by, newer platforms continue to emerge. Consumers will prefer platforms that will allow them to personalize their content even more and at a granular level. They will gravitate towards services that focus more on privacy protection and allow more utilization of their smart devices. Certain social media platforms saw the potential of the situation and have already introduced paid subscription services. The challenge for marketers, however, will be the ability to meet these shifting demands of social media users.
  4. Social media videos – While video marketing already has a significant presence in social media, its prominence as a marketing tool is only expected to grow in the future. Currently, it is considered the top form of media content on social platforms.

Over the years, how we communicate with one another has changed with the way technology has evolved. Social media introduced a whole new democracy that allows people to follow whom they view as influencers and connect with them. Users can see what their peers are saying or are currently into, which serves as a guide to how consumers ultimately spend their money.

Advances in technology, shifting cultural dynamics, and strident financial demands will continue to transform the current social media landscape into the next decade and beyond.

Talk with our social media and digital experts to see how we can help elevate your brand.

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