Skip to content

The Future of Social Marketing

As marketing budgets continue to recover from the pandemic, social media spend is on its way up. Marketers are feeling more confident not just in the return on investment (ROI) of social media, but also in their ability to prove it to even the most skeptical of executives. In 2023, we’ll see this confidence inspire marketers to get more strategic on platforms that can seem determined to make that as difficult as possible.

Image of Owly and woman sitting and thinking
Image of person looking through binoculars next to flames

Here’s what you can expect from the year ahead...

Small businesses cozy up to creators

Big brands stop competing for creators, leaving the door wide open for small businesses

Budgets on the line as bosses demand social receipts

Growing investment in social exposes it to new levels of scrutiny

Social innovators escape the tyranny of tactics

Marketers stop chasing new features and start getting more strategic instead.

  1. Small businesses cozy up to creators

    Big brands stop competing for creators, leaving the door wide open for small businesses

  2. Budgets on the line as bosses demand social receipts

    Growing investment in social exposes it to new levels of scrutiny

  3. Social innovators escape the tyranny of tactics

    Marketers stop chasing new features and start getting more strategic instead.

Marketing Trend 1

Small businesses cozy up to creators

Larger brands tighten up their creator budgets, leaving the door wide open for small businesses

Man holding tools and wearing safety goggles next to the number one

Big brands are competing less for creators

Share video nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Big brands are competing less for creators

Share video nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

For months, concerns over a seemingly inevitable recession have fueled restructures, layoffs, and operating budget cuts. Businesses are rethinking their spending—and often, marketing budgets are first on the chopping block. 

While we haven’t seen massive cuts in marketing spend just yet, we are seeing larger businesses reduce their discretionary spending. Budget for creator partnerships has been one of the first things to take a hit, with small and midsize content creators saying they’re seeing declining sponsorship offers and more brands backing out of paid deals this year. 

While this pullback in spending is a blow to an already precarious creator economy, it leaves the door wide open for smaller businesses to compete for top creators at lower price points.

Creators can help small businesses with their most acute marketing challenges

Small businesses say they’re feeling pinched by a possible recession, too. Twenty-eight percent of small business owners expect revenues to decrease over the next year, according to the CNBC Small Business Confidence Index. And 18% of small business owners expect their headcounts to decrease over the same period. 

For small businesses, 2023 promises to be a year of dwindling resources, shrinking headcounts, and leaner budgets that will make their toughest marketing challenges, well, even tougher. To ease the pressure, small business owners will begin leaning on the very creators being abandoned by larger businesses.

With the recession, with COVID, and just being more financially pinched… marketing dollars always get cut. When we’re strapped for resources, creators become a very appealing tool for marketers.
Leah Gritton
Director of Integration Strategy
Energy BBDO

The majority of small businesses don’t work with creators—yet

Our social trends survey found that smaller organizations are the least likely to work with creators; 72% of small businesses (those with less than 100 employees) don’t work with creators in any capacity, while nearly 42% of businesses with over 1,000 employees do work with creators.

What’s the biggest barrier to entry for small businesses? Cost. 

"Our main challenge is the volatility of pricing, especially on TikTok,” says Ruby Soave, Head of Influencer Marketing at Student Beans. “There’s such a lack of standardisation over how much work should cost that negotiating good prices gets complicated—we treat influencers as a media buy within a media plan, and we price accordingly,” says Soave. “Student Beans also has proprietary pricing benchmarks, based on the media value of a creator: which helps us - and our clients - overcome the inconsistency of creator/agency fees across TikTok.”

From expensive creator agencies to massive variations in the way creators price themselves, many smaller businesses feel in the dark about how much they should pay to work with creators.

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Creators aren’t as out of reach as you think

Most organizations don’t go through agencies to find creators. Less than a third (28%) of brands that work with creators do so through agencies or third-party platforms, according to our survey. For small business owners, this means less overhead and much more control over who you choose to hire and negotiate with.

And working with influencers also isn’t as expensive as you might think. Most creators are paid less than $100 US per post.

Now, this isn’t license to pay creators nothing. Without fair pay, marketers jeopardize the future of the creator economy altogether. But for resource-strapped small businesses looking to grow reach and let experts create their content for them, cost-effective creators are well within reach.

Share this now share this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Image of Pantee's Instagram feed

Pantee teams up with creators who share their values, uniting on their mission to reduce fashion waste

UK-based sustainable underwear brand Pantee has masterfully blended its creator strategy with its mission to reduce fashion waste and make the world a more comfortable place. Currently, the fashion industry produces an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste each year, and with approximately 30% of clothes made never even sold, the excess (deadstock) is often destined for waste.

Pantee made it their mission to challenge the fashion industry by making comfy underwear with this deadstock, for women by women. To double down on their principles, they partner with creators who not only share their values but who truly love their products—particularly those advocating for sustainability, mental health, and body positivity.

“We’ve started working with creators who are passionate about the same things we are”, says Pantee co-founder Amanda McCourt. “We really look to collaborate with creators who have a clear connection with our mission and truly love our products. If a creator wouldn’t buy from us, we don’t feel comfortable working with them to promote our brand. We always strive for truth and transparency.”

Pantee has been working closely with TikTok and Instagram creators whose self-described mission is mindful shopping to better reach the communities that align with their brand's sustainability mission. Beyond that, Pantee uses partnerships with creators as an opportunity to showcase their products on a multitude of shapes and sizes to contribute to the normalization of all bodies.

Share this now share this linkCopied to Clipboard!


Hootsuite search streams can help you discover influencers by monitoring conversations relevant to your industry across all your social networks. Once you have an initial set of creators in mind, add them to a stream to track what they share and who they engage with. This will help you understand their relevance to your audience and identify other potential influencers to work with.

Don’t shy away from creators with fewer followers. Large follower sizes don’t necessarily lead to higher conversions. What’s more important is finding a creator who can collaborate with you to make inspiring content relevant to your product or service.

While there are many ways to measure the success of your creator campaigns, UTM codes are the best way to get a clear picture of the results. Assign each creator their own unique links with UTM codes and you’ll be able to track the visitors they send to your website, allowing you to calculate their impact on your bottom line.

Owly next to influencer flowchart

Put it into action

Start your creator collaborations off the right way—with this free creator brief (and statement of work) template.

Marketing Trend 2

Budgets on the line as bosses demand social receipts

Growing investment in social exposes it to new levels of scrutiny

Woman standing next to money mouth face emoji and the number two

Confidence in the ROI of social media marketing is at an all-time high

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Confidence in the ROI of social media marketing is at an all-time high

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Social media has spent over a decade fighting to prove its place in the marketing mix—and it’s decisively found it. Marketers’ confidence in the value of social media marketing is at an all-time high. 

Last year, 83% of marketers in our survey reported having some level of confidence in the return on investment (ROI) of social media, up from 68% the year before. This year, we got more specific and asked how confident marketers were that social media was useful for marketing to or engaging with their audience. A whopping 96% of marketers reported some level of confidence.

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

It should come as no surprise that almost every social media marketing practitioner we surveyed says social media marketing has value. (If you’re one of the 4% who said otherwise, we’re here to help.) 

But what’s telling is that this confidence is clearly reflected in the proportion of the marketing budget allocated to social. While marketing budgets have climbed to nearly 10% of total company revenue in 2022 (up from 6% in 2021), they still lag pre-pandemic levels. Spend on social media relative to pre-pandemic levels is going up too—and it’s predicted to increase steadily over the next five years.

More visibility means more scrutiny

Social media’s newfound visibility has the potential to open it to higher levels of scrutiny—especially as leadership whips out the magnifying glass over the coming year. 

During market downturns, many execs will look to shore up costs and manage expenses as much as possible. And in the marketing department, the pressure will fall on individual contributors and middle managers to clearly demonstrate the value they bring to the table. 

This is where social media practitioners run into problems. Our survey found that, when it comes to social media, seniority has a major impact on how individuals perceive and demonstrate the value of social.

Our survey told us that...

  • Practitioners were 17% more likely than the C-suite to say their organization uses impressions/views to demonstrate ROI.

  • VPs were 7% more likely than practitioners to say they used time spent on their brand’s website/app to demonstrate ROI.

  • C-level executives were 13% more likely than practitioners to say they used sales/revenue to demonstrate ROI.

In 2023, marketing practitioners and leadership have to have a deeper conversation about goals to make sure everyone’s on the same page. If that conversation doesn’t happen and social remains so visible within the marketing budget over the next year, there’s a risk that leadership may pull investment if they don’t truly understand the value of the channel.

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!


Chris Thomas

Global Social Intelligence and Optimization Lead, Sage

Q: How will the market downturn impact marketing budgets in 2023? A: The move towards a bear market is inevitably going to focus budgets on things which deliver core business objectives. And core business objectives are always going to be, to some extent, demand-led. But brand marketing has been an underserved and under-resourced part of the mix over the last few years. I’d point to Ehrenberg Bass and Binet and Field—all of that good stuff that's been bubbling up in Adland over the last few years, it's evidence to the point that we can’t preoccupy ourselves with demand-led strategies at the expense of long-term brand building.Q: Do you think senior leadership at most organizations understands the importance of that balance? A: I'm seeing a greater level of education in our stakeholders and also a greater level of skepticism. I think people are becoming a lot more savvy at [the] leadership level about understanding the dynamics of social and questioning what their domain specialists are telling them.There absolutely used to be a period, probably three or four years ago, where fake Facebook fortune tellers would say ‘we can attribute 60% of our sales to social.’ That was taken pretty much at face value as an article of faith and nobody would dig too deeply. I like to think that’s changing. Q: What advice would you give a social media manager who’s asked to do this kind of surgical attribution when it isn’t actually possible? A: Personally, I’ll never put my neck on the block for numbers that I don't believe in. And in a climate where there is that increased forensic scrutiny at a senior level, I actually think that's a really important principle.As a social media professional, you need to get yourself to a place where you've educated yourself around attribution and that you look at the numbers really, really critically to build up a case that you feel confident in—one that you can stand up for 30 minutes in front of the CEO and justify it to them. If you can't do that, I'd say you've got a problem.

Share this now share this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Chris Thomas and Sage logo
Owly graphic with business objectives flowchart


All social media metrics can tell you something about whether you’re achieving objectives and meeting your goals. But tracking the right metrics is the key to understanding your social ROI. Start with a focus on the few metrics that help you tell the right story and build your business case. Then check them regularly by setting up automated reports that go to your inbox, so you don’t have to remember to pull them yourself.

Creating a social media report is an important part of social media management. After all, tracking and analyzing your performance is the only way to really understand what you’re accomplishing through your social efforts. It’s also the only way to demonstrate the value of your social marketing efforts to your team and your boss. Here’s a template to help you get started.

Don’t chase short-term ROI to the point that you lose sight of what makes your brand valuable and unique. Jumping on a trend just to get likes and comments doesn’t provide value if it annoys your audience or muddies your brand voice. It can even damage your brand in the long term. 

Don’t forget that the big picture of social media ROI includes returns beyond the marketing department. You can use social media to improve customer service and strengthen employee relationships—both worthwhile and valuable achievements that you should include when you consider ROI.

Put it into action

Impress your boss with a concise report highlighting just how well things are going on social, using this free report template.

Marketing Trend 3

Social innovators crack the cross-posting code

Marketers stop chasing new features and start getting more strategic instead

Two men holding smartphone with light bulb emoji next to the number three

The Frankensteining of the social networks continues

Share video nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

The Frankensteining of the social networks continues

Share video nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

From Stories to Reels to Twitter’s ill-fated Fleets (remember those?), social media companies have spent much of the past decade tripping over themselves to copy their competitors’ most successful features.  

Some of the most popular social media apps have blatantly ripped off features from some of the other most popular social media apps in what Gizmodo has called a tech version of Capture the Flag “where the only losers are the users who are forced to persist through this cat-and-mouse game.” 

But this game has not only come at the expense of user experience but also at the expense of the sanity of social media marketers, whose work lives now revolve around constantly adapting their plans to new formats, repurposing content, and wondering when the next network change will upend their carefully organized campaign.

People go to different networks for different reasons

What the networks have failed to consider is that user attention is not a zero sum game. People on one social platform are often on several others as well. And most social media users spend time on multiple platforms. 

More than 84% of TikTok users are also on Facebook and almost 88% of Twitter users are also on Instagram. People don’t only get different types of value from different networks, they explicitly use different social networks for different purposes.

On Facebook, they might catch up with a friend overseas. On Twitter, they might skim over the day’s breaking news. And on TikTok, they might look for a laugh while searching for the latest viral trends. 

Adding competitor capabilities to one network doesn’t change the perception people have spent years forming of what a specific network is meant for. That’s why Instagram Reels, for example, is struggling to compete with TikTok—even though it’s basically the same thing. 

In fact, stealing a competitor’s features may actually have a negative impact on the perception of a social network—take this petition with over 300,000 signatures asking that Instagram stop trying to copy TikTok.

Share this now share this linkCopied to Clipboard!

Successful marketers know that strategy is more important than tactics

With so many demands on their time and resources—and with networks looking more and more similar by the day—it’s no surprise that 52% of respondents to our survey said they cross-post content to multiple social platforms with as few changes as possible. Just 18% of marketers create different posts from scratch for each platform.

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

But while cross-posting saves time, it comes with a heavy cost: results. Our survey found that marketers who create different posts from scratch for each network are significantly more confident in the value of that content.

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!

As the Frankensteining of social networks continues, the most confident marketers will spend less time worrying about which copycat feature to start using next and more time exploring platforms that best reflect their business goals. They’ll focus on creating content that’s well suited to those platforms, rather than trying to keep up with every feature-level change the networks throw their way.


How The Washington Post brings the news to a new generation on TikTok

The Washington Post may be 140 years old, but with the help of their social media manager Dave Jorgenson—lovingly known as the WaPo TikTok guy—they’ve found a way to introduce a new generation to serious journalism in frequently unserious ways. 

Jorgenson has helped the company amass over 1.4 million followers by sharing his tongue-in-cheek videos about life at the office and memes about current events.

When you compare The Washington Post’s lighthearted approach to TikTok with their Facebook or Twitter presence, it’s clear they’re being strategic about who they’re making their content for on each network. On a platform like TikTok, where people go to be entertained rather than informed, Jorgenson’s absurdist approach to the news has turned the Washington Post into a Gen Z darling. 

Share this nowshare this linkCopied to Clipboard!


If you’re already using social media, take stock of your efforts so far. Ask yourself the following questions: What’s working, and what’s not? Which networks does your target audience use? How does your social media presence compare to the competition? Once you collect that information, you’re ready to brainstorm ways to improve. We’ve created an easy-to-follow social media audit guide to walk you through each step of this process.

By making your content fit for each platform, you can provide experiences that are in line with your audience’s reasons for being there—and that’s a much stronger insight to base your strategy on than demographics alone.  

All of the social networks feature success stories that highlight how brands use their tools effectively. You can usually find these on the business section of the social network’s website. (For example, take a look at the Facebook business success stories.) These case studies offer valuable insights you can apply to your own goals for each social network.

Owly next to social media audit flowchart

Put it into action

Run the easiest social media audit—with this handy free template.

See what's in store for 2023

  • Social commerce trends

    Social overtakes search engines and marketers work to build trust in social shopping. Here’s what’s ahead for social commerce.

  • Social customer service trends

    Chatbots help keep customers happy and marketers lean into customer service. Peek into the wild future of customer experience.