Throughout the year, our strategy team monitors digital marketing trends through reading, attending conferences, and picking the brains of our contacts at companies like Sprout Social, Mailchimp and HubSpot. Here are some of the digital marketing trends that we’re keeping tabs on heading into 2023.
1. Email Marketing Still Works
Here’s what we love about email marketing: It’s not new, but it’s effective and predictable. For a long time we’ve advocated to our clients that they should be disciplined about building their email lists through inbound marketing practices, contests, and through in-person events.
Permission is key to a healthy and vibrant email list. While you have to work to keep your lists current and engaged, you always own your lists. Plus, they’re not subject to the vicissitudes of other technology platforms, and they’re generally easy to measure. Assuming people have opted into your lists, email will also keep working after data-tracking cookies are discontinued.
With the online privacy paradigm shift we’re seeing through Apple and Google, it’s more important than ever to ensure your email marketing list is being well taken care of.
2. Social Media Platforms in the News
These platforms have been in the news a lot over the last few weeks. Here’s my take on what’s going on with them.
2023 LinkedIn Outlook
Of all of the social media platforms, we’re bullish on LinkedIn heading into 2023. While only 23% of US adults use the platform, they tend to be decision makers, and for business-to-business (B2B) focused organizations, the targeting options their advertising platform offers are second-to-none. Paid tactics can effectively drive lead generation, brand awareness, and traffic to your website.
We also recommend using this platform to promote your organization’s work culture and thought leadership— additionally, it's great for content marketing. It doesn’t hurt that Microsoft has invested in user experience improvements to both their core experience and their advertising platform over time, rolling out new features like audience events and LinkedIn Business Manager.
2023 Facebook Outlook
According to Pew Research, Facebook is used by 69% of all US adults over the age of 18 (second only to YouTube). That doesn’t mean that Meta, Facebook’s parent company, makes it easy to reach those audiences with organic (unpaid) and paid tactics.
Over the past few years, we’ve observed Facebook removing more and more targeting options, especially for B2B advertisers and faith communities. As a result, we’ve shifted a lot of our B2B client spending to LInkedIn, and in other cases have relied more on customer (email) lists and geolocation. It was no surprise to me this week to read that Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has laid off more than 11,000 employees due to falling ad revenue. And yet the allure of reaching 266 million monthly active users in the United States alone has not lost its appeal.
2023 Twitter Outlook
Twitter has been in the news almost daily since Elon Musk purchased the platform and took it private. Since purchasing the platform, he’s laid off staff (including employees needed to build new features), announced that the company will start charging for the blue verification mark, leading to havoc by brand impersonators, and has threatened to put the whole service behind a paywall. In response, some public figures have started to leave the service, and some advertisers have pulled back on their ad spend on the platform.
I think it’s important to take a step back and understand why Twitter was helpful in the first place. Most social media platforms are private by default, meaning that you can’t see a person’s profile or content unless they grant you permission to see it. And for a lot of platforms, that’s desirable. You want to share family photos with people you care about, not with strangers.
But there are a lot of instances where connecting and talking with people you don’t know is a great thing. Because Twitter profiles are public by default, they are searchable, so it’s no surprise that reporters find it to be a helpful tool in researching stories. It’s also the place to go if you want to talk with folks across the country about live media events like the Oscars, the World Series, or even the latest episode of RuPaul's drag race. Through hashtags, Twitter also brings diverse people together to discuss issues in specific industries like early education (#earlyed), or in different affinity groups (#blacktwitter).
It’s also proven to be an incredibly useful platform for customer service; enabling people to get updates in times of crisis, such as during a blackout or natural disasters; and for monitoring what’s happening on the ground in real time, such as at annual meetings and conferences.
So what to do about Twitter? Your marketing team should pay attention to your audience’s social media habits, and err on the side of a “wait and see” approach over taking a reactionary approach. You may want to pull back on Twitter spend and work to build your audiences on other platforms.
Despite a week of chaos, and a rise in hate speech that warrants a stronger response and better regulation that Musk seems interested in, when I looked at my Twitter feed last night what I saw in it was a whole lot of good: tweets from trailblazing journalists like Nikole Hannah-Jones, civil rights leader Bernice King, national treasure Dionne Warwick, and movie legend Mark Hamill; the cute antics of some red pandas at Oregon Zoo; tweets from notable critics of Musk; and Quinta Brunson’s good day.
One of the wisest things I’ve read this week (with apologies for not remembering the attribution) is “Elon Musk thought we’d have to learn to put up with him, but he’s learning that he has to put up with us,” referring to the active communities that make Twitter what it is today. How quickly will Musk figure out that advertisers and creators won’t stick around if the platform becomes toxic? Time will tell.
In the meantime, you could also consider proactively reserving handles on some of the alternative platforms that are jostling for the attention of those leaving the platform, like Black-owned Fan Base App, techy Mastodon, or journalist-centered Post.
Mastodon's appeal is that it is nearly identical to Twitter, and is easy to use. The main difference between the two platforms is in the sign up process - when you sign up for an account, you choose a server to host your account, and your username is a little longer than a Twitter handle. But once signed up, you can see content posted on any of the servers. Apps are springing up that help you import your Twitter followers, and others will help you post to both Twitter and Mastodon at the same time, although you should do so with caution because auto-posting from one network to another can create poor a user experience. Many Twitter accounts can be followed on Mastodon, so you can still keep tabs on what's going on.
The Washington Post has rounded up over 25 alternatives to Twitter for folks thinking of leaving. If that feels exhausting, you’re not alone in thinking that—it’s one of the reasons why efforts to migrate off of some of the largest social media platforms often fail. A smarter bet might be to invest in 2023 in building up your audience on other popular platforms.
2023 TikTok Outlook
As the platform becomes more and more popular in the US, TikTok has created opportunities for brands large and small. Even companies that sell "boring" products have had luck with the platform. We say—go for it. However, the FCC continues to threaten to ban the app, citing potential security concerns.
Gen Z uses TikTok like others use Google, searching for everything from how to get a teacher to write a recommendation to reviews for a product. If you don’t count yourself among that generation and are feeling a little behind, the New York Times offers the TikTok Guide for Latecomers. Our team also offers 1:1 coaching.
3. Impact of Economic Outlook on Digital Media Buying
According to Digiday, “media agencies are cautiously bracing for a potential recession … but despite the looming concern, media spending is holding steady or slightly increasing in 2022 … and the majority of survey respondents also expect spending to increase between 10-19% in 2023.”
So don’t panic. Whenever there is economic uncertainty, the first instinct is to cut back on marketing. This is often the wrong thing to do, because it’s important to stay in front of your customers. As Nielsen reports, “going silent on consumers is always a risky gambit for marketers, even for brands with hard budget decisions to make.” Their reasoning? “It takes up to three to five years of solid and consistent brand building effort to recover from extended ‘dark periods’ of media.” Ouch!
The other benefit of staying the course? If some advertisers pull back on spend, the inventory (available ad units) become cheaper, which can result in more bang for your buck.
4. Short Form Video Content Continues to Support Awareness Campaigns
From GIFs and motion graphics to Instagram Reels, Facebook Stories, and TikTok videos, there are a lot of engaging organic (unpaid) and paid short video formats that are eye-catching, and well aligned with brand awareness objectives. In A/B testing, we’ve found that static images sometimes do a better job of driving traffic and related goals; the best way to determine what works best is to experiment, and work with influencers who have established audiences on newer platforms.
On our website you’ll find a guide on how to go live on Facebook with video, advice from a video creator on the three videos every business needs, and how to start making videos without the hassle. Canva is a great, easy-to-use platform that makes it easy to be creative in Reels, Stories, and even TikTok formats. The platform, which is geared towards non-designers, makes it easy to find free video clips and royalty free music.
5. Google Gets Smarter and Semantic SEO tops Google Rankings
In the past, Google could only skim the internet because machine learning wasn’t sophisticated, and the internet is vast. To help it skim, content marketers and SEO experts put the keywords in places that would help a human skim, such as in the first paragraph and the headings of an article, making their websites more accessible to screen readers along the way.
However, because of advances in artificial intelligence, Google is starting to understand the meaning of your copy, and the context that a focus keyword appears in. It’s also starting to understand the relationship between words without the help of a human. With updates to the Google algorithm, Google has started to prioritize comprehensive pages that convey a knowledge of clusters of related topics.
In other words, smart content marketers and SEOs are starting to target by topic instead of keyphrase. Focus keywords are still important (don’t stop optimizing for them), but we’re seeing more pillar pages in the top search results for broad search terms. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day you’re writing content for humans, and high quality content that is helpful is going to win. For more on this topic, we love this article written by our colleague Andy Crestodina.
6. Weird, Wild, and Wonderful AI-Generated Graphics
Also our radar for 2023 trends is DALL-E and similar tools that use machine learning to turn written prompts into graphics, generating illustrations and photography that range from the photorealistic to weird, funny, and sublime. All of the images of Thanksgiving turkeys below were generated using this free tool.
Now in its second iteration, The Verge offers a great overview of the tool and "How DALL-E could power a creative revolution." (And if that's not mind-blowing enough, you can learn about Meta's new tool, which converts text to video.)
7. Say Goodbye to Your Bounce Rates - Big Changes Ahead for Google Analytics
On July 1, 2023, Google will stop supporting "Universal Analytics" (i.e., the Google Analytics tags that have tracked website performance since 2005). Our current recommendation is to have both UA and Google Analytics 4 tags running on your website right now so that when the switch happens you’ll have accumulated some data history. You can also go ahead and set up new Google Analytics goals.
With this change comes a new suite of metrics—engagement rates are the new bounce rates. (Views by page helps you understand which pages attract the most visits.) On the whole, the new platform offers more customization and is less intuitive, so reach out if you need help setting up goals, making sense of reports, or setting up analytics dashboards to track success.
8. Let Gen Z Want What it Wants
The thing that drives me crazy about many of the articles about Gen Z's online preferences is that they fail to acknowledge that one of the things that defines Gen Z is where they are at in their lives. Born between 1997 and 2012 (making the oldest members of Gen Z 24 in 2022), these young adults are still figuring themselves out.
To me, it’s not surprising that Gen Z doesn’t want their parents, grandparents, aunts, and cousins to be privy to and judging every interaction they’re having with their peers, or to every exploration of their identities. They don’t want to have to explain every TikTok reference to people who are older than them. And like all of us, they want to be entertained and express themselves creatively.
I wish that platforms like Facebook, unpopular among Gen Zers, would stop trying to cater to them and just let them be and focus on the people who are using the platform. We saw this in action when Instagram users (Instagram is owned by Meta, which also runs Facebook) complained so much about the platform’s shift to TikTok-style videos that the platform rolled the feature back. If GenZers want to use (private) group chats to keep in touch with friends and scrolling more visual platforms brings them joy, so be it. As businesses our task, no matter where our audiences are, is to meet them where they are at.
My guess is that these young adults may feel differently when they graduate from college and scatter across the country, leaving friends and family behind, or when they start their own families and want to stay connected with relatives and friends in new ways.
9. Conversational Marketing
A trend over the last few years, expect to see an increase in conversational marketing or chatbots, which are sometimes handling customer inquiries instead of lead capture forms. Conversational marketing uses scripted messaging, branching message trees, and AI automation to engage with people when they’re on your website or visiting a social media platform. Machine learning and natural language processing have made chatbots more sophisticated. That said, conversational marketing needs to be carefully planned, scripted, and tested. If you’re not careful, it can also create a frustrating customer experience rather than a great one.
No matter what business challenges you’re facing in 2023 and what opportunities you’d like to capitalize on, we’re your partners in navigating the trends and assessing whether they are vision aligned. From social media and email marketing, to strategy and SEO (and everything in between), we've got your back when it comes to navigating the marketplace successfully. Contact us today to discuss how we can help!
Thank you to Collin, Jackie, Caitlin, and Daniel for their contributions to this article.
Sarah Best (CEO/Chief Strategist), along with her team, has won over a dozen awards for her work including best use of a social media platform from Travel + Leisure. Her work has been featured in SUCCESS, Mashable, TechCrunch, Crain's Chicago Business, National Geographic Traveler, Chicago Tribune, and other publications.
She was tapped to speak at Social Media Week for the MacArthur Foundation, and has been selected twice for SXSW. She is an alumna of New York University, and received a certificate in entrepreneurship from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at Babson College. She's on the board of several nonprofits.