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The "total time spent on social media in the US across PCs and mobile devices increased 37 percent to 121 billion minutes in July 2012, compared to 88 billion in July 2011," Nielsen last year reported, adding that "consumers' time spent with social media on mobile apps and the mobile Web has increased 63 percent in 2012, compared to the same period last year."

Obviously, growing adoption especially of smartphones and tablets is fueling some of this growth. But here's the final staggering quote: "20 percent of time spent on PCs and 30 percent of their mobile time is on social networks."

In addition, Facebook recently shared that it has about 157 million mobile-only users and that group is growing a staggering 25 million a quarter. That level of growth would put them over a quarter billion by year end—more than those who use Twitter. And within social networks, users spend over 40% of their time within the stream.

Though it may feel as if social media marketing has been around for a while, it's important to remember that it's just picking-up steam and there will be continued growth and disruption in how consumers use social platforms.

Growth and disruption came in the form of announcements from Facebook around significant changes to the News Feed and the introduction of Facebook Home. With these announcements, Facebook swung the pendulum back toward the consumer experience and away from marketing. But one thing is clear: Right rail ads are on the path to extinction and the News Feed is the place to be to reach, engage, and convert social/mobile customers.

Since many marketers have focused their energies on right rail advertising, tab app experiences, and native posting, it's important to understand that advertising in social streams is different and the strategies and tactics required for success are distinct.

Here are three "light bulb" moments social media marketers should be aware of.

1. You're Invited!

Different from almost any other marketing medium, social streams are sacred ground—even more so when on mobile—and should be respected as such. It should be top of mind for marketers that useless irrelevance will not be tolerated; unlike, block, mark as spam, and negative comments are a simple click away. However, it can be assumed that these consumers have a certain level of affinity or interest, and that they are open to a wide range of brand posts.

The light bulb moment: A thoughtful content strategy that balances these considerations is required. Mutual value is the rule, not the exception.

2. The Party Is Fleeting

Though you may gain access to the social stream, marketers need to realize that post effectiveness—especially on Facebook and Twitter—fades quickly. Usually within hours of posting, content has already peaked and begun to trend downward. Even the most viral of brand posts last only a few days. Unlike other marketing mediums, you can't republish the same content to a consumer's social stream. (You can promote the same content or product, but the post needs to change.)

The light bulb moment: Unlike banner ads or other traditional digital marketing approaches, posts don't grow in effectiveness over time; as a result, for every campaign marketers must have a multitiered posting strategy that emphasizes a consistent cadence with new content and posts.

3. Scaling the Dialog

It is a profound paradox that it's difficult to scale reach on the world's largest social networks—mostly because the networks need to control "organic" reach so they can charge for extended reach. To influence significant numbers of people via social streams, you need to aggregate large fan communities and then, in many cases, pay per post or share to increase your campaign scope to existing fans, friends of fans, and beyond.

To pay and scale the conversation, marketers must first know that the ad unit equivalent in social media is the "post"—or Facebook status update, Twitter tweet, or Pinterest pin. Those "units" are not only unique or "native" across networks but also come in multiple formats—and the networks always seem to be developing new ones. In addition, some of these "units" (not all) can be promoted with media dollars to increase reach and effectiveness.

Successful social media advertising requires integrated strategies that consider how organic, earned, and paid media work with content and interactivity to drive outcomes. They are all inexorably intertwined and must be planned and executed accordingly.

The light bulb moment: To drive real business outcomes, native post types with links to your .com won't cut it. Marketers must consider full strategies that include targeted reach, rich media and interactivity, amplification and appropriate social/mobile conversion events. When you couple that with Nielsen's consumer trend data, the argument to create interactive campaigns in the social stream really becomes common sense.

* * *

Facebook research finds that organic brand posts in the News Feed are 16 times more likely to be clicked and 10 times more likely to be shared, liked, or commented on than standard Facebook right column ads. In the mobile News Feed, performance is a tremendous 42 times better. And, as proven by the astounding growth of Instagram and Pinterest, image-driven social networking is hugely popular, with no signs of slowing.

The first phase of social media marketing was focused on monitoring and responding, and community growth and management. Now that the tools and communities are in place, marketers are starting to move media budget into social and are asking the right questions about deeper engagement and business outcomes.

Phase two will squarely focus on bringing foundational marketing and advertising expertise and tools to Facebook and Twitter first, possibly followed by Instagram and Pinterest.

Brand marketers, gather your creative and media teams together and let's get creative about reaching and converting social+mobile consumers where they live—in their social streams.

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image of Marko Muellner

Marko Muellner is vice-president of marketing at ShopIgniter and has over 18 years of social media and digital marketing experience. Reach him via

Twitter: @markozm

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