Major changes coming to a social media network near you in 2014

Tasha Cunningham
Tasha Cunningham
John VanBeekum / Miami Herald

Special to The Miami Herald

The New Year is less than a month away! For small business owners, now is the perfect time to take a look at improving online marketing and social media strategies for 2014 when major changes to popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest will affect customer acquisition, retention and engagement on the Web. Read on to find out what’s changing and how to take advantage of these new features.

Facebook: star ratings

Facebook is testing the waters and entering the review and rating business. Based on a five-star scale, ratings are slated to appear at the top of a company’s Facebook page next to the name of the business. Right now, business ratings are only available to a small group of users who log in to Facebook from their desktops. According to Facebook, star ratings are being extended from mobile to desktop so that users can more easily discover businesses. Star ratings were launched back in early 2012 on mobile with Facebook’s “Nearby” feature. But sometime in 2014, star ratings will be prominently displayed on a business page’s timeline and as a preview in the news feed. The implication for small businesses could be significant as their use of Facebook shifts from a promotional tool for products and services to a customer service portal where things like answering questions, handling dissatisfied patrons and resolving disputes will come to the forefront.

Twitter: @MagicRecs

This is an interesting Twitter experiment designed to help users decide who to follow. The account is operated by Twitter and sends its followers recommendations on whom to follow and spotlights tweets to check out. Now users can actually manage the recommendations they receive, which show up in their Twitter inboxes. Users can send messages to the account letting Twitter know if their recommendations are good or in some cases, bad. If you follow the page, send a message with the word “help” and you’ll receive a response with a list of the ways you can manage recommendations.

For small-business owners, following @MagicRecs is a great way to find out what Twitter recommends and gain exposure to new customers along the way.

Google +: Google + Shared Endorsements

Officially launched on Nov. 11, “Google + Shared Endorsements” is a new feature designed that allows people who endorse or review websites, businesses or products using Google + to share their ratings, profile pages and comments in organic search results and paid ads. It aims to personalize search and give businesses the opportunity to showcase consumer confidence. Keep in mind that “Shared Endorsements” is a controversial feature because many have protested having their images used in search results without compensation and its advantages to business owners remains to be seen.

Instagram: advertising

Instagram, the popular photo and video sharing social network, will soon debut targeted advertising. Last month, the site began giving users an idea of what the ads will look like during a one-week testing period. Photos and videos that contain advertisements will appear with a “Sponsored” label alerting users to the fact they are viewing an ad.

LinkedIn: ‘showcase pages’

Last month, LinkedIn introduced a new feature that allows brands to focus their content to specific audiences. “Showcase pages” are essentially extensions of “company pages” but designed to give businesses the ability to create specific pages for a new division, project, business unit or initiative within a company. “Showcase pages” don’t operate like LinkedIn “company pages” or “groups.” For example, “showcase pages” don’t have tabs for “products and services.” The intent is to focus on the specific initiative, business unit or division that are being showcased, not a company as a whole. In terms of “groups,” the major difference is that companies can control all content on a “showcase page,” while an administrator controls content for a LinkedIn “group.”

To check our more changes in social media coming your way in 2014, visit the Miami Herald’s Starting Gate blog.

Tasha Cunningham is a principal in the Cunningham Group, an award-winning communications firm with offices in Miami and Orlando. She writes about how small-business owners can leverage social media and other online tools to grow their companies.

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