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Social media in 2014: Facebook as a paid media only channel, content factory agencies and roped off social networks

James Whatley is strategy partner at Digitas UK where he works at the nexus of brand, content, and customer experience. You can find him on Twitter @Whatleydude.

Normally at this time of year, you can’t move for a decent 2013 review. Be it Yahoo throwing together (a quite charming) look over what’s been hot or not in 2013 or Spotify providing an interactive infographic that is both global and local, this year’s efforts have all been rather good (YouTube’s is especially good).

Expect velvet roped social networks in 2014

Of course, I’ve already made an official Ogilvy stab at what we should expect to happen in the new year, but I’ll be honest, I wrote those in October, and already I’ve thought of a few more.

Bonus prediction 1: The Content Factory Agency

Think about that for a second.

What is it?

What does it mean?

How does it work?

Try this:

There is a middle ground between the (small-to-medium-sized) social media agency’s execution and the creative agency’s ideation. It’s: how do you take an idea that lives as two to three TV-ads and turn that into a several hundred, or maybe even several thousand pieces of relevant content?

The creative agency creates the platform for the content to be created, be that agency, client, or user generated; the social media agency optimises and publishes the content where relevant/defined, and that’s it. Who picks up the bit in the middle? Where is the meat mincer that brands can pour one creative idea in at the top, and have 700 pieces of content spat out at the bottom?

You could argue that the creative agency should do this.

You could argue that the local social client/agency should do this.

You could even argue that some agencies own this space already.

But that’s just the point: where there’s an argument, there’s an opportunity. As recent history shows, while the world’s PR agencies argued over who owned social media, social media agencies appeared and ate their lunch.

The next battleground will be over the content factory. Who owns it, who runs it, and who approves it? Watch while people fight over it, there’ll be an agency solution along any minute now…

Bonus prediction 2: Facebook as a paid media ONLY channel

When dealing with a mature social media strategy, the key part is often planning how paid, owned, and earned will work together to achieve the required objective. To do that, you need to understand the channels available to you and the buckets in which they fall. This is not news. However what might be news, and let’s be absolutely clear about this, is Facebook is now purely a paid media channel only.

If you’re working under the misconception that you might one day see the headline ‘Facebook boosts organic reach for brand pages!’ then you’re in trouble. Facebook is a PAID channel, and should be treated as such.

YES of course keep creating awesome content.

YES of course keep that content calendar up to date and relevant.

YES of course keep that social media agency onboard.

But you MUST allocate paid media spend to your efforts if you want to have any hope in achieving anything on the platform. The sooner you make the slight mental shift, the whole things becomes a lot easier to to plan for.

Bonus Prediction 3: Velvet-roped social networks

Aka closed messaging platforms. Be it Instagram Direct groups, en mass-Snapchat snaps, or even - whisper it - Google+ circles, brands and consumers alike are demonstrating a tendency to be more selective with whom they share their special moments.

I will not be the first person to tell you this, and I doubt I’ll be the last. However, my challenge to you is as follows: outside of any PR value you might get for being ‘cool’ or ‘first’, can you dig deep enough into this new trend to find any valuable or meaningful return on investment? If you can, then good luck to you. But just make sure you do that before you sign off on the PO.

In closing:

After the furrowed brows and worrisome glances between financial teams in the perceived post-Olympic comedown that was the end of 2012, 2013 didn’t actually turn out too bad.

With everything that you know, with everything that you’ve learnt, and with the best team that you’ve selected, how are you going to make a difference in the year ahead?

Let’s meet back here in 12 months and review.

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