Social media reached a new level of maturity in 2013 and now plays a key part in most business marketing plans, says Ed Hartigan, Head of Social Media, iProspect. Here are three trends that Ed expects to see play out in 2014.

 1. Social media advertising continues to grow

Social media has, at times, been placed in a silo and not regarded as something to be included in marketing plans. But this year we will see more integration of social into marketing strategies.

At the same time, social advertising will begin to mature. Facebook and Twitter have established their advertising products and with both platforms having gone through their respective stock market launch, social media advertising now has its place at the table alongside more traditional forms of advertising.

Through Facebook’s declared data and Twitter’s real time conversations, it will become increasingly easier for small business owners to find their audience and deliver targeted reach on a large scale.

With social media use increasing unabated, and the amount of content produced each day by small business owners and their competitors, on the rise, paid amplification might become more useful for a small business owner, to make sure their content cuts through the noise and gets in front of the right audience at the right time.

A challenge with all social advertising will be how to strike the right balance in terms of advertising and other content.

While social offers huge opportunities to reach high volumes of people in the right place at the right time, an overload of commercial messages could lead to people switching off and seeking other, ad-free experiences.

2. Visual content will become critical

Last year saw a seismic shift in the way people interact with social media, with many moving from PC and laptop to mobile. This means that visual content (images and video) will become more critical to a successful content strategy as they work better than written content in a mobile format.

Now, the best performing content in the major social networks (eg Facebook, Twitter and, obviously, YouTube) is heavily skewed towards images. And video and image-based sites such as Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr will continue to ride this wave and build out their video offering, which will, in turn, provide brands with more opportunities to get their content out there.

So any small business planning to deliver content will need to shift their production in line with these demands in order to stay relevant and ensure their content rises to the top of the various social streams. All of the social platforms are now competing for attention regardless of their individual features.

3. Social is mobile

As I’ve already mentioned, in 2014 the lines between social and mobile will blur even further. Facebook changed to become mobile centric, Twitter was born to live on mobile, as were the new kids on the block; Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Small business owners may turn to embracing every opportunity to reach their customers via their smartphones if they want to grab their attention.

Regardless of the accuracy of the above predictions, we can be certain that the use of social media, and the proliferation of channels available, will continue to grow. Opportunities for engaging with the right audience will grow too, but with this growth, small business owners will face challenges in resourcing, planning and executing social media plans that will help to drive the bottom line.