Search and social algorithms go under such constant and unpredictable changes that long-term planning becomes a useless and wasteful process. 

Take Google as an example. When it decided to cache all email images on its servers, marketers running emails with dynamic content that “refreshes” found themselves out of luck. Along the same lines, look at Facebook's recent announcement that it will give posts from users’ friends and family priority over those from publishers. 

All of this has understandably left marketers nervous about being cut off from their own audiences at the whim of a search giant or social network. 

Pat Cassidy, director of digital at New Balance recently said, “The thing that keeps me up at night, honestly, is that clearly social is such a big deal, but it’s building houses on rented land. Any of these platforms that people have invested so heavily in can change in an instant. How do you own your message and not be tied to the commerce side of many of these platforms that could change at any second?"

But there is hope. Marketers navigating the choppy seas of algorithms can adopt agile marketing to keep up with — and even stay ahead of — the rapid pace of change in social networks and search engines.

3 Ways to Survive Constant Change

1. Adopt agile methodology 

Marketers need to take a page from software developers, who scrapped the traditional approach to application development which took months of planning and creating before springing the application on the market. 

Agile methodology asks for rapid continuous development in short bursts rather than scheduled phases. It creates an environment of constant and rapid implementation, review and adjustment to working strategies. 

By taking a page from the agile playbook, as developers did, marketers can respond quickly to customer demands and competitive threats. 

Consider Mobilegeddon, Google’s 2015 announcement that it would give priority in mobile searches to mobile-friendly websites. With just a few weeks of notice, some organizations managed to take advantage of the algorithm change, while others suffered from it. 

Twitter, for instance achieved 171 percent more visibility on mobile searches than on desktop following Mobilegeddon, but sites such as Kayak.com, KMart.com and Kohls.com ended up with between 30 and 40 percent less visibility on mobile compared with desktop search. 

Other signs suggest that agile methodology works. CMG Partners released a survey (pdf) in which 93 percent of respondents said agile helped them “switch gears” more quickly and effectively. 

2.  Seek smart partnerships 

In an ever-changing digital world, smart brands recognize the strength that smart partnerships with like-minded organizations impart. Smart marketers seek partnerships with companies that can help them cross audiences and tap into a new base of customers. 

As social platforms go searching for higher profits by leveraging their large user bases, they sometimes diminish a brand’s ability to reach its audience as a result. Publishers and brands should respond to this by delivering interesting, engaging content experiences on their own sites and within emerging social channels that aren’t as limiting as some of the major social networks ... yet. 

High-end fashion designer Alexander Wang and mid-range clothing retailer H&M enjoyed a successful collaboration when Wang, whose deigns usually run well beyond the typical H&M price range, created a series of looks for the retailer to sell at prices its customers could afford.

While not the first collaboration of its kind, it was nevertheless one of the most successful, with a long series of events and social-media promotions — Instagram being a clear favorite — leading to a massive launch event. 

3. Make the most of owned data

Brands need to make optimal use of the data they already have. With constant and unpredictable changes in both social media and search potentially putting distance between marketers and their customers without warning, it's more important than ever before for brands to make smart decisions based on owned data. 

A sound data strategy — which includes organizing new, old, structured and unstructured data, and bringing it together with ways to clean, standardize, append, store and analyze it — enables marketers to make smart, personalized decisions with data they already have, without depending on algorithmic fluctuations. 

With reliable data, brands can develop compelling content. And with the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from that data, they can serve that content to the right customers at the right time and in the right format. 

The right data strategy gives marketers first-mover advantage on a new trend by effectively leveraging and targeting traditional email, print and web experiences. 

Australian online clothing retailer The Iconic targeted its owned audience well with its “Shop the Show” promotion during a fashion festival in Melbourne. 

The Iconic streamed the show on its website and made items in the show immediately available for purchase. With three-hour delivery in Melbourne and Sydney, customers could receive their items the same day they purchased them. The idea was a success in connecting customers with The Iconic and its website: 500 products sold within two hours of the end of the show, and the featured brand was The Iconic’s best-selling brand that week. 

Roll with the Algorithmic Punches

Changes in social media and search have put an end to the days of long campaigns and months of planning. 

Change happens now on a constant basis, and with agile marketing, solid partnerships and a smart data strategy, marketers can not only remain successful in the face of fluctuation, but learn to take advantage of these changes and create new opportunities. 

Title image by Edu Lauten