As a brand marketer, you’re probably well into thinking about the year ahead. What’s the biggest trend you should be watching? The biggest opportunity? The biggest challenge?

Here’s your answer to all three questions: mobile social marketing.

Now you’re probably immediately thinking “I’ve heard that this is the ‘year of mobile’ before!” However, predictions about this being the “year of mobile” for marketers have, in the past, primarily focused on two aspects of mobile marketing: untapped mobile banner advertising inventory and location-based mobile marketing.

In 2013, the fusion of mobile and social together will create an exceptionally powerful marketing channel. Together, they are represent the two fastest growing marketing channels. Social really came into its own as a critical marketing channel in 2011 and 2012. And, in 2013, the same will happen for mobile social.

Social is redefining how we should look at mobile marketing. Why? First, we have reached a point where smartphone and tablet usage, and accompanying Internet speed and application performance, are, in some cases, superior alternatives to their desktop or laptop computer. Smartphones are mobile personal computers. Indeed, by Q2 of 2013, Morgan Stanley Research estimates that the global installed base of smartphones and tablets will exceed the PC installed base. Global mobile Internet traffic has also reflected this, doubling since last year, when compared to desktop Internet traffic.

When you combine this critical audience size with the predilection for mobile users to be heavy social users, you’re opening up an enormous untapped market for brands to engage social mobile fans. When a brand shares a mobile-savvy engagement experience, that brand is reaching not only their own fans, but also friends of those fans through social channels.  Think about this: you post a link to a campaign on your social News Feed, and elsewhere, to drive traffic.  Your fans click on that link on their smartphone — where they are gathering in rapidly increasing numbers. Does that link work? Does it work well? If it does, can that fan participate easily on their phone, and then share to their friends, who also want to participate on their phone? If so, the word gets shared…virally.  On smartphones.

So how do brands seize this mobile social opportunity in 2013?

If marketers want to embrace the opportunity of mobile social in 2013, they’re going to have to think creatively about what success on mobile looks like.  That means going beyond mobile as an afterthought (i.e. “Did someone test this microsite on mobile phones?”), to embracing the context and behavior patterns of mobile smartphone users in all aspects of their marketing campaigns, and putting the mobile experience first.

Respect the Requirements of the Mobile Context
Just pushing out web-based experiences to mobile won’t do — brands that want to succeed in mobile social in 2013 will learn to properly “grok” the mobile experience. Mobile requires engagement experiences that are rich, naturally usable in the mobile form factor, and above all fast — millisecond engagement marketing if you will.  Text needs to be short, and easily readable. Buttons clear and easy to click.  Everything should take little to no time to participate in, and have minimal requirements for typing. Let’s hope 2013 finally closes the book on mobile peering, pinching, and zooming.

Embrace Mobile-Friendly, Shareable Social Content
The unprecedented success of mobile-friendly social platforms Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr offer brands a great opportunity to build interesting, content-centered and entertaining engagement experiences. These mobile vehicles are perfect for encouraging fan-created “snack-sized” content that’s easily viewable and sharable on mobile. How? Brands should tap the Facebook social News Feed as a content sharing amplifier for soliciting, and promoting, Instagram photos, fan-powered Pinterest pins and boards, and funny Tumblr-isms. That content is highly conducive to “Likes” and Shares on Facebook, perfect for mobile consumption, and, using Sponsored Stories (see below) can be shown to as many fans in your fanbase as you want.

Try Out New Mobile Advertising Opportunities
By addressing this huge social mobile opportunity by filling our mobile airwaves with poor-performing, uninspiring mobile banner ad inventory would be a mistake. That would be applying old school, outdated, desktop thinking to the new mobile social world. Facebook pioneered the idea of shared social content being, effectively a new type of advertising format — and it’s perfectly suited for the mobile context. In 2012, reports showed that Facebook’s mobile Sponsored Stories get 13x the click through rates compared to all of their desktop ads.

Mobile Marketing at the Epicenter in 2013

In 2012, marketers finally figured out that social is where they need to be; in 2013 they’ll fuse that thought with mobile and really get to grips with real-time, responsive marketing. For smart marketers, social mobile marketing will no longer be an afterthought; it will be integrated from the get-go, with the best results being born from a “mobile social first” attitude that welcomes and nurtures the fan on the go.