The New Era of Creative Storytelling (Part 1 of 2)

{Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part post focusing on the history and set up of how social media has been used by marketers. Part Two will explore what we’ve learned and what social media marketing looks like moving forward} 

It’s helpful to look back at history and understand how and why things happened before talking about how we can improve our digital storytelling.  This is a social media history tour through the eyes of a guy who has been involved in the industry since the pre-MySpace Days. (Some obvious, but not-as-relevant-to-social-media details have been omitted so this post doesn’t turn into more of a novel than it already is):

Pre-2003 – The Early Blogger/AIM/Friendster Period
Blog period1

What Was Happening?

Bloggers were the Herrerasaurases of the social media world. Blogging is kind of a grey area to include in a “social media” history, but certainly, one that, when combined with chat rooms and message boards, opened the gates for person-to-person online communications. We also had early messenger apps/software like AIM and Yahoo! Messenger that allowed college students to better organize Fantasy Football drafts and junior/high schoolers to create screen names they would regret later in life. Then, Friendster became a thing.

Key Dates:

AOL1994: Links.net is widely acknowledged as the first “blog”

1997: AOL Instant Messenger is launched

1998: Google and Yahoo! Messenger are launched

1999: LiveJournal, Blogger and Napster are launched

  • RateItAll.com was also launched, beginning the sub-Era of “Onlinius Reviewius” that continues in different frustrating forms to this day

2001: Wikipedia is launched

2002: Friendster and LinkedIn are launched

What Were Marketers Doing?

There were very few “social media marketing” efforts during this period, but a LOT of banner and pop-up ads. As a PR person though, I tend to focus on the importance of blogs in this era. For the first time, we had a one-to-many form of communication that wasn’t run through traditional advertising or media outlets. People could start a blog and say anything they wanted, factual or not. Much time was spent trying to point out inaccuracies, finding offline ways to educate people, and working with the media to report accurate information. Oh, and in 2001 Subservient Chicken launched.

2003-Late 2006 – The MySpace-College-Facebook-YouTubian Period

Blog period2What Was Happening?

MySpace launching in 2003 was to blogging as autonomous cars will eventually be to vehicles. You didn’t need to understand how the internet works or how to write HTML code, you simply just signed up for an account and you could connect with friends, share music (R.I.P. Napster) and write anything you wanted. Facebook launched shortly thereafter but was only available to college students for a period (which ended up being part of its initial “cool factor”). YouTube also came online, allowing for simple hosting of larger video files without having to download them to your desktop – and giving us such gems as the Atlanta Grape Lady and the Myahee kid.

Then, in September of 2006, Facebook opened to anyone over the age of 13 with an email address.

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 10.50.19 AMKey Dates:

2003: MySpace and Skype are launched

2004 Facebook and Flickr are launched

2005: YouTube and Reddit are launched

2006: Twitter is launched and Facebook opens to the general public

What Were Marketers Doing?

Early adopters were utilizing MySpace to successfully market products and events via what were essentially banner ads (We ran a successful Inn at Auraria leasing campaign on MySpace in 2006 aimed at college students in Denver). But this was somewhat of a Wild Wild West period when it came to marketing. In 2006, MySpace actually surpassed Google as the most visited website in America, around the same time YouTube was acquired by Google. It was a huge time of transition toward easier hosting of content via platforms like Flickr and YouTube (setting the stage for individual creative content creation), but aside from tagging content for search and bands marketing themselves on MySpace, this was mainly a time for marketers to test theories for reaching audiences via digital platforms. People were connecting in a peer-to-peer fashion, but not so much business-to-individual. Individuals had their “Top 8” while marketers were more focused on their own blogs (Including the first-ever GFM blog post).

2007-2010 – The Social Network Floodeous Period

Blog period3What Was Happening?

Facebook opening to the public in late 2006 changed everything. MySpace went from a valuation of $12 billion in 2007 to being overtaken in Alexa rankings by Facebook in April of 2008. People preferred Facebook’s user experience, and the college kids were already accustomed to using it, so it immediately had the “it” factor. Entrepreneurs wanted in on the action and began launching new social platforms seemingly daily. Twitter caught fire at the 2006 SXSW Interactive festival and became every early adopter’s favorite place to meet new people across the globe. Instagram launched in 2010 (a full year after Hipstamatic), followed shortly thereafter by Pinterest. By late 2007 Facebook had also launched “Pages,” which was a major shift in social media marketing, giving businesses a formal profile on the platform.

Key Dates:

2007: Google+, Tumblr, FriendFeed and Facebook “Pages” are launched

Hipsta2008: Spotify, Ping and Groupon are launched

2009: Twitter jumps from 6M users to 18M in one year

2009: Foursquare and Hipstamatic are launched

2010: Instagram and Pinterest are launched

What Were Marketers Doing?

My favorite GroundFloor Media story took place during this period, and it encapsulates both the coming of age of social media marketing, as well as the reason PR folks became early adopters of social media marketing and content creation. In early 2008, longtime GFM client Qdoba Mexican Grill called and said a non-employee had started a Qdoba Facebook page. Carissa McCabe sat down at the center tables of the office and said, “Okay, we need to figure this Facebook thing out and how we can manage it for our clients.” Since social media was mainly a peer-to-peer medium at that time, it only made sense that communications professionals take the lead on establishing client’s presence on and managing social platforms, developing a strategy for engaging with audiences and creating the content to do so. There were limited paid/promoted options at this time, so marketing efforts were still mainly organic in nature.

2010-2016 – The Bright Shineyolithic Object Period

Blog period4What Was Happening?

The floodgates opened. Facebook’s sudden and sustained success led to a flood of new social networks keyed in on specific functions: Foursquare (location-based), Twitch (gamers), Yik-Yak (location-based discussions), Vine (short videos), Tinder (location-based dating), Snapchat (disappearing messages), Meerkat (streaming mobile videos), Banjo (breaking news and events) and on and on. LinkedIn went public in 2011 and Facebook followed in 2012 (one month after acquiring Instagram for $1B), the same year it hit the 1 billion user mark. This was also a period of the mobile-first shift. Many companies launched as mobile-only apps, skirting desktop versions altogether (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). Facebook launched its formal Business Manager for brands and their campaigns, in lockstep with its announcement to be a “mobile-first” company.

Later in this period we also started to see the “Hooli Effect” of larger, more established companies stealing features from newer startups, or simply acquiring them outright, which turned out to be very important for marketers (see below).

Key Dates:

2011: Snapchat and Twitch are launched

2012: Tinder is launched

Meerkat2013: Vine is launched; Snapchat turns down a $30B acquisition offer from Facebook, LinkedIn starts selling advertising, Instagram adds video capabilities; Snapchat launches “My Story”

2014: Facebook Business Manager launches

2015: Twitter and Facebook launched their mobile advertising apps, Meerkat and Periscope launched; Periscope acquired by Twitter

2016: Meerkat stops it services; Instagram Stories is launched

What Were Marketers Doing?

The biggest challenge for marketers in the first few years of this period was staying focused and managing client/organizational expectations. With new platforms being launched weekly, we had to counsel our clients on the balance between being early adopters/trying new things and focusing on key/core platforms where they already had an audience. Storytelling also came of age early in this period, as did segmenting audiences by platform. It wasn’t enough to simply talk about your product or business, we needed to find meaningful connections with specific audiences on specific platforms to be as efficient as possible with marketing dollars (the reason GroundFloor Media launched CenterTable in 2016). Similarly, changing timeline algorithms led marketers to be more intentional and strategic with promoted efforts and paid campaigns. We reached a point where the grey area between paid, earned, shared and organic media was infinite, and many marketers struggled to find the proper balance.

The “Hooli Effect” mentioned above has had a significant impact on users and is a great segue into Part 2 of this post. The “bright shiny object” of new platforms became less significant while users adopted new features on their tried and true social platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat). User behavior on existing platforms and the data behind it truly became king.

In part 2 of this post, we cover the Modern Age (where we are today) and the most meaningful and effective ways to reach audiences via social media.

 

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