The 12 Hottest Marketing Stories of 2012

Well, we did it. 2012 is nearly in the books and what a year it has been.

In the last twelve months we have seen more changes to the online marketing landscape than anyone could have ever anticipated.

From Facebook and its never ending supply of news stories about updates, changes, redesigns, and new features to new marketing trends like mobile shaping the the ways we shop, surf the web, and engage with brands online—there’s been plenty to keep up with.

As we prepare to welcome in a new year, we thought we would recap the 12 hottest marketing stories of 2012.

Agree? Disagree? We want to know. Check out our top twelve and please, share your favorite marketing stories from the year in the comments below…

1. Facebook rolls out Timeline for Pages

It wasn’t long after the start of 2012, that rumors started circulated about Facebook’s not-so-secret plan to shakeup Brand Pages and introduce a new type of experience for all of its users.

In February those rumors became a reality, as the new-look Facebook Timeline became available to all Brand Pages. With a new cover photo, a redesigned layout, and promise that Timeline would help brands “better tell their story” on Facebook, businesses entered a new world of Facebook marketing and things haven’t been the same since.

On March 30, 2012 Facebook Timeline became mandatory for all Brand Pages and soon after, we were all using Timeline to engage with Facebook friends as well.

Here are a couple of posts we did earlier in the year about the switch to Timeline:

Facebook Business Timelines: Good News for Small Business

Facebook Timeline Is Coming to Brand Pages … and We Love It!

2. Over half of all Americans now have smartphones

In August, mobile reached a new milestone in the US—with more than half of all Americans now using smartphones.

The milestone turned smartphone users into a majority and today, more people own smartphones than regular phones or traditional mobile devices.

With smartphones making up 70% of total phone sales during the second quarter of 2012, this milestone will by no means be the last for mobile users in the US.

Are you prepared for the future of mobile marketing? Here are 8 things all small businesses should know.

3. Pinterest surpasses 10 million users and drives big-time results for brands

At the start of 2012, Pinterest had already started generating some buzz in the social media world.

Designers, retailers, and artists were among the first to flock to the hip new social network. For Pinterest users, it was woman who led the charge—making up 70% of active users on the site as of March 2012.

Before winter 2012 ended, the buzz Pinterest had started to generate in 2011 had turned into a full-out roar. In February, the site surpassed 10 million active users—making it the fastest independent site to reach that impressive milestone. By April, Pinterest did the unthinkable and knocked LinkedIn out of “The Big Three,” and became the third most-visited social media site.

For brands, Pinterest proved to be powerhouse for driving referral traffic and online sales. It was reported in March that Pinterest had surpassed Twitter in organic referral traffic. And in May, it was discovered that Pinterest referrals were more likely to spend and were spending twice as much as referrals from Facebook or Twitter.

So, needless to say 2012 was a very good year for the folks at Pinterest. And with pages for businesses just recently coming on the scene, 2013 could be even bigger.

Here’s a few of our favorite Pinterest posts from 2012:

10 Things You Need to Do When Getting Started on Pinterest

So You’re on Pinterest. Now What?

The Top 10 Questions Small Businesses Have About Pinterest

4. Instagram gets purchased by Facebook … we all become expert photographers

If you told the folks at Instagram in January that by September they would have more than 100 million active users, you may have gotten some questionable looks.

But after being purchased by Facebook at a price that was originally reported as $1 billion (which actually turned out to be $741 million but hey, who’s counting?), the mobile photo app startup became one of the hottest new social networks in the world.

Instagram has also gained plenty of attention from brands. Today, more than half of all of the country’s top companies are using the site for marketing purposes.

But it wasn’t all good news for Instagram in 2012. Less than two months after rolling out online profiles, Instagram made headlines in December when it proposed some not-so-popular changes to its Terms of Service. After public outcry, the company reversed its decision to possibly sell user photos or use them in advertisements but it wasn’t without causing some ill-feelings from its users.

Here are a couple of our favorite Instagram posts from 2012:

How to Use Instagram to Promote Your Business

[Q&A] Instagram for Small Businesses: 4 Organizations Share Their Secrets

5. Facebook Page reach plummets with changes to the EdgeRank algorithm

Timeline wasn’t the only new term that Facebook users were introduced to in 2012. EdgeRank, the algorithm which Facebook uses to filter the activity that shows up in its users newsfeeds, also gained plenty of attention over the last few months.

Considering that 96% of people never return to a Page once they “Like” it and that nearly all engagement people have with brands takes place in the news feed, EdgeRank has huge implications for small businesses trying to reach a target audience.

EdgeRank has been part of Facebook for quite some time but didn’t become a hot topic for most business owners until September, when Facebook made some unannounced changes to the algorithm. The effect of these changes was severe, as brands—large and small—saw reach and engagement numbers drop off significantly without any discernible reason.

And while much of the outrage has died down since September, the fact remains that today less than 16% of Fans will actually see your content on Facebook.

In November, I interviewed Danielle Cormier, who manages our Facebook Page here at Constant Contact about EdgeRank and the changes she had seen on our Page. Find out what she had to say about all these Facebook changes.

6. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Yelp all go mobile

With smartphone users now in a majority, popular social media sites have had to cater to a much different audience in 2012.

In the last year, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Yelp all released new or updated mobile apps and as a result, mobile usage skyrocketed.

Here are a few noteworthy statistics about the status of mobile usership for some of the largest social networks:

7. Email finds a new best friend in the smartphone

Social wasn’t alone when it came to feeling the effects of an increasingly mobile userbase.

Email marketing (you know, that marketing tool which people said was dying 5 years ago but continued to be the most effective tool for small businesses in 2012) has also been influenced by mobile.

In fact, checking email was found to be the most popular activity for mobile users in 2012.

Expect mobile to have a huge impact on email marketing in 2013 and beyond. Until then, here are some more mobile insights all email marketers should keep in mind:

8. People continue to watch a lot of online video at home and on-the-go

Online video continued to be a major player in 2012, with more videos being uploaded and watched than ever before.  Visible Measures’ Q2 2012 Social Video Advertising Report found that almost 900 million people watched video in the second quarter of 2012, making it the second largest quarter for social video ever.

Mobile has been a major influence in the online video world. In the last 18 months, YouTube has seen a 400% increase in mobile viewership. Today more than a quarter of all videos being watched on the video sharing site are accessed on mobile devices.

YouTube ended 2012 by releasing a brand new mobile app in December. The new YouTube Capture app comes equipped with many of the same features—including color correction, stabilization, and editing—that users find on the YouTube site.

Expect mobile viewership to continue to skyrocket in 2013.

Here are some of our favorite online video posts of 2012:

6 Kinds of Online Videos You Can Make Without Spending a Dime

3 Ways to Convert Online Video Viewers into Customers

9. LinkedIn gets a new look and plenty of new features

Over the years, LinkedIn has faced some pretty serious questions about the type of engagement that actually takes place on the site.

While the site was able to establish itself as the professional social network in years past, in 2012 there were still some doubts about how much time users were actually spending on the site. To make matters worse, in April, LinkedIn was knocked out of the “Big Three” of social networks, with Pinterest taking the spot as the third most popular network.

In the months that followed, LinkedIn rolled out a number of significant changes. In July, LinkedIn got a facelift—making it easier to navigate and much more aesthetically appealing. Soon after, LinkedIn added more engagement features like commenting and sharing to LinkedIn Today, the sites social news source.

They have also added more networking features like LinkedIn Endorsements, which makes it simple for users to endorse the talents of other professionals. And now lets users follow updates from industry leaders through its new Influencer program.

In November LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner reported that traffic to the sites homepage was up 60% since its redesign. We’ll see if that results in increased user engagement in 2013.

In July, our marketers discussed the LinkedIn redesign; listen to the Speakeasy Podcast to learn more.

10. Mobile changes the way people shop, online and in-store

There have been plenty of studies this year about the impact mobile is having on consumers.

Two of these studies in particular, provided some revealing details about just how important mobile marketing will be in 2013 and beyond.

In February, a survey from Leo J. Shapiro and Associates found that two-thirds of smartphone users have used their device to aid in shopping.

According to the February study:

  • 81% of those who use a smartphone to aid in their shopping to do before arriving at a store
  • 57% use their devices while in the physical store
  • 23% use their mobile devices for shopping-related tasks after leaving the store

And how are consumers using their devices?

  • 72% are looking up facts or product features
  • 54% are reading product reviews on retail sites
  • 52% are comparing prices at other stores
  • 44% are comparing prices on retail websites

Learn more about the study here.

In September, Google did some research of their own. The goal was to determine the true value of providing a positive mobile experience to your target audience.

According to the study:

  • 72% said mobile-friendly sites were important to them
  • 74% said they were more likely to revisit a mobile-friendly site
  • 55% said that a poor mobile experience would hurt their perception of a brand

Bottom line? Providing a mobile-friendly experience matters and those that are not may be putting their reputation at risk.

Learn more about the study here.

11. Facebook and Twitter roll out new ways for brands to pay for attention

In 2012, the perception of social media as the only “free” marketing tool changed significantly.

While Facebook Ads were available to Pages before January, Facebook announced last December that in 2012, Sponsored Stories would begin to show up in Fan newsfeeds.

And while this may have sounded like a foreign concept to Facebook users and brands then, today, Facebook offers a wide range of advertising options that businesses can pay to use.

Twitter also rolled out more advertising options in 2012. With Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts, brands can target specific audiences based on interest, keyword, and location and have their message show up in Twitter searches, in news streams, and on mobile.

With Facebook continuing to filter user content with its EdgeRank algorithm and the number of tweets-per-day now over 400 million, expect social advertising to play an even bigger role in 2013.

12. Email marketing is still #1

Back in May, we decided to take the pulse of small businesses to learn more about the problems our customers were facing. We asked more than 1,000 small business owners, “What marketing tool do you find to be the most effective for your business, today?” 83% said email marketing.

Obviously, we were thrilled. But a number of other studies this year reaffirmed our belief in this trusted marketing resource.

In August, a report from Monetate, an e-commerce software firm, found that email marketing is still driving more overall sales than social media efforts.

Here are some of the key findings:

• 4.25% of visitors from email buy something

• 2.49% of visitors from search engines buy something

• 0.59% percent of visitors from social media sites buy something

A more recent survey from Wanderful Media, which looked at the online experiences that have lead consumers to visit a store to make a purchase, found that 60% had done so after receiving a promotion via email. In that study, email outperformed online search, online ads, and social recommendations.

While plenty has certainly changed over the last twelve months one thing remains the same: email marketing works. By being able to connect with customers in the place they go everyday—the inbox—businesses are able to build the type of trust, loyalty, and recognition that will enable you to strengthen ties with current customers, generate word of mouth, and grow your business in 2013.

Looking ahead to 2013 …

We’ve got big—nay, HUGE plans for 2013.

And we want you to be part of it. In the New Year, we want to make sure we’re answering your questions and helping you follow through with all your marketing resolutions for 2013.

Make sure to subscribe for our free Hints & Tips newsletter (on the top right of the screen), and make sure to check back with us daily to get the help you need to grow your business.

Happy New Year!

What do you think? Did we get these top 12 right or were there other online marketing stories that caught your eye in 2012? Let us know in the comments below.

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