Social Media Day was celebrated on June 30, an annual event now for the past nine years. Setting aside a day to mark the development signifies the importance of the phenomenon that has overtaken global media communication.

Going by the latest statistics, social media is a platform that marketers may ignore at their own peril. Instead of being one of the channels of advertising, it is progressively becoming “the” channel for advertising and marketing.

According to the latest Global Digital Report 2018, the number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.196 billion, up 13 percent year-on-year. The number of internet users is a little over 4 billion and mobile phone users is more than 5 billion. All these numbers are seeing an uptick year on year of more than 5 percent. The global increase in social media usage since January 2017 is 13 percent.

Among the various social media platforms, Facebook has the most reach ( 2 billion users),and is a great platform for organic opportunities. There is a 10.7 percent average post reach vs page like and 26.8 percent average paid post reach vs total reach on Facebook . Over 50 million businesses use Facebook Business Pages. And over  2 million business use Facebook for advertising.

After Facebook it is YouTube and WhatsApp with 1.5 billion and 1.3 billion users, respectively. These are closely followed by Instagram, Tumblr (claim over 600-800 million users). Pinterest , Twitter and LinkedIn claim between 200-300 million users.

Marketers need to optimize their reach among audiences by targeting the right people with the right content. And the amount of user data being generated by the social media platforms makes it easier to target the desired consumers. Facebook has developed some of the most precise ad targeting tools, giving access to a vast consumer data base, which can be cherry-picked for advertising.

A progressively innovative technology for posting and updating videos and posts on social media platforms is driving advertising money there. Companies are now spending more money on social and digital ads than on TV advertising.  A younger generation of tech savvy people, which is said to spend almost 9 hours on a device pursuing some social media platform, has driven the market to these channels. An eMarketer report claims that by 2020 more money will be spent on social media than the entire TV market. In social media, ad spend will grow by 40 percent ( £ 1.3 billion) between 2018 and 2020 from  £3.29 billion to  £4.5 billion.

“The social media juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down commercially,” said Bill Fisher, UK senior analyst at eMarketer to The Guardian. “You have the Cambridge Analytica Facebook privacy issue and it is difficult to know right now whether it will have a fundamental impact on user numbers. Until we see significant numbers of users coming off we are not going to see any drop in ad revenues. Advertisers follow eyeballs and there are plenty of eyeballs on social media.”

Facebook is restricting access to News Feed for businesses and has launched Explore Feed for companies to advertise on. Facebook is increasingly becoming a paid platform similar to TV, print and other broadcasting media and to reach any audience on Facebook now is going to cost companies . But sadly, most companies, nearly 51 percent according to statistics, are ill-equipped to handle this, as they have failed to provide an adequate social media budget.

Future social media advertisers and marketers need to take cognisance of where the market is going to be up in the game. Developing a social media strategy for your brand or business is essential. Do not take the path of one size fits of all. Customise, target and adapt according to your product and business needs. Choose which social media platform suits you best. Yes, Facebook has the most audience, but you might need a niche audience that frequent a more professional platform.

Videos are overtaking the social media platforms aggressively. According to a Cisco report, more than 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic in 2018 will be in the form of videos.

Be consistent with your posts, add value and engage with your audience. Freebies, fast responses, and unique and innovative media engagement campaigns are the future. Keeping a dynamic web presence with a quick landing page for all devices is essential. Outsource web development services from an experienced, reliable digital agency or keep an in-house team, if you can afford it.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a greater part in targeting the right audience by testing hundreds of social media ad variations. Emerging technology will help advertisers place best performing ad images, posts, and videos that will boost visibility and help in conversion rates. Research your target audiences’ social media consumption habits. Timely placement of ads ensures greater visibility and returns and engagement .

Big businesses are increasingly realising the importance of social media platforms and are acquiring and integrating them. Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn being a case in point. IBM, Adobe, Salesforce are other companies which have made forays into such acquisitions. These platforms give ready-access to customers and data to fuel their AI-based marketing reach.

It’s never been more important to ensure that your advertising efforts are optimising audiences with the right creative and reaching the target. A blind placement of random ads and creative on social media platforms will not work. Use th e right analytic tools and AI tech to track content performance and conversions and retention of customers.