2018 was certainly a record-breaking year in many regards, but most notably in social media. Consumers are spending more time scrolling through social media platforms than ever before. In fact, a report from the Manifest found that 72% of consumers check social sites multiple times a day, and the average social media usage went up by 59% in this past year alone!
Digital ad spending also hit a record peak this year with businesses allocating more of their marketing budgets on social media than ever. Facebook ad spending jumped by 50% from last year, and without a doubt this upward trend will continue on into the next.
Many marketing teams are starting to wonder what lies ahead for social media. There were tons of new trends and features that debuted in 2018, which changed things dramatically for online marketing. While there are certainly no guarantees, experts have made some predictions based on data and past trends that online marketers should keep in mind as they start to develop their strategies for the upcoming year.
1. Instagram Becomes the True Powerhouse
Worldwide, Facebook still maintains its reign as the most popular social media site. However, Instagram’s growth soared significantly in 2018. Manifest’s study reported that 61% of social media users reported that they went on Instagram more often in this past year, whereas only 52% said the same about Facebook. Instagram has been steadily increasing in popularity and engagement, and is just tailing Facebook in terms of marketing effectiveness as well.
In the upcoming year, brands should focus heavily on how to build an Instagram following through more engaging content and interactions. Obviously, connecting with the right influencers is a great way to build brand recognition and start connecting with smaller niches through sponsored content.
The key to Instagram is engagement and involvement; this is why responding to comments and sharing followers’ photos on your own feed is so important. Instagram is heavily driven by UGC (user-generated content), so encourage your followers to share photos and videos through things like giveaway campaigns or with branded hashtags.
Take Southwest’s #12DaysofLove contest for example. They give followers a set of guidelines for content submissions to be entered in a final giveaway contest. So far, they’ve already accumulated a few thousand posts with the hashtag.
Marketers should also experiment with some of the newer features that were added in the past year or so, such as IGTV, live streaming, and polls and Q&As through Instagram stories.
2. Chatbots Will Become More Normal
Social media chatbots have been around for a few years at this point, but the fact that their new-ness is wearing off is actually great news. Consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of having a conversation with an AI-assisted bot—and actually using them as a shopping tool on social media.
AI chatbots have gotten a lot smarter and brands are actually able to portray personalities through these tools. However, it is important that you understand how and why customers use them before going overboard with the technology simply because it exists.
According to Drift’s benchmark report, the most common reason why customers will reach out to a chatbot is to get a quick answer, resolve an issue, or get further details on a product. In fact, 27% of users will utilize them to buy a basic item, and 22% find chatbots helpful for receiving product suggestions or inspiration. Marketers should keep this in mind as they design social media chatbots to ensure the experience is more optimized to what the user wants rather than bogging them down with extra features they don’t really care about.
3. Gen Z’s Social Consumer Power Will Grow
2018 was all about Millennials, but Gen Z is starting to get older and is flexing its consumer power. Since this generation has grown up with social media, they are quite comfortable using it as a primary resource for shopping and purchasing. Brands need to make it as easy as possible to check out items on social media channels alone, especially mobile versions, which is this younger group’s preferred method.
Online businesses should invest in shoppable posts that allow customers to either make a purchase through a social media platform or be taken directly to a checkout page for a fast purchase. Currently, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest offer these options. Generation Z is notoriously known for its short attention span – so online businesses will need to make the conversion process simple, short, and sweet if they are going to effectively reach this audience segment.
4. Brands’ Social Honesty Will Matter Even More
One of the greatest advantages that social media offers is the opportunity for brands to take control of the message they put out to their customers. Businesses can engage in one-on-one conversations or use these platforms as a personal PR outlet and create content that aligns with the brand’s personality and overall aesthetic.
However, in a time when consumer trust is continuing to decline (especially in the media and traditional marketing), online brands should use these channels to promote honesty and authenticity to create more meaningful connections with their audiences. Consumers want transparency from brands, and this is best done when businesses create content that increases consumer confidence through honesty.
Rather than focusing on product promotion that is blatantly advertising a product, online businesses should also focus on story-telling and creating content that is interesting to watch, like Tasty’s popular recipe video campaigns which subtly advertise their products or other brand partnerships while still sticking to an engaging format.
Marketers may also want to try using social proof by incorporating user-generated reviews and testimonials into their content to show followers how real customers feel about the business.
Having a strong social presence is going to be even more important in the future, as social media becomes even more influential on consumers. Marketers should stay aware of the latest trends, updates, and practices that are working best to connect with customers and prepare to ramp up their strategies even more in the year ahead.