For businesses trying to keep up with social media, a little whiplash is understandable. The latest stats, from Pew’s 2018 Social Media in Use report, paint a picture of an industry in flux. Facebook still rules the roost, but the fastest-growing network is now Instagram. Meanwhile, Snapchat is coming up quickly from behind: an impressive 78 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds are now users. And don’t count Twitter out yet — the network is still used daily by nearly half of respondents.
Confused? For companies hoping to keep up, it’s important to zoom out and look at a few larger macrotrends reshaping the social media landscape. Here’s a cheat sheet for staying ahead of the curve this year:
Goodbye free reach on social media (for real). For years, companies’ organic reach on Facebook (the percentage of their followers who see company updates that aren’t “boosted” with ad money) has been dwindling, dipping as low as two per cent. The dust has yet to settle on the results of Facebook’s big decision in January to revamp its news feed — prioritizing “meaningful interactions,” while limiting content from brands and publishers. But the writing is on the wall: for companies, “free” access to users is getting harder to come by.
Unless, of course, you pony up. These latest developments are a final, firm reminder that Facebook is now a paid platform for companies. Considering that 51 per cent of companies currently struggle with lack of a social media ads budget, this may prove a harsh wake-up call in 2018. One silver lining: Facebook has pioneered some of the most precision ad targeting tools ever. So, at the least, ad money promises to be well spent.
Video reigns supreme (but going viral doesn’t mean much). It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that video is the future, not just of social media but of the internet in general. In 2018, Cisco forecasts that 82per cent of all consumer internet traffic will be video. Live and recorded video and video ads increasingly dominate our feeds across Facebook and Snapchat, and are surging on Instagram, Twitter and even LinkedIn. Nearly half of businesses are already implementing social videos, with another 26 per cent planning to implement in 2018.
Just one problem. In the race to earn video views and clicks, too many companies are missing the bigger picture. Ultimately, who’s watching your videos — and what they do after they watch — is far more important than how many people are watching. Going “viral” doesn’t mean much, after all, if you’re not reaching actual customers who want to buy something.
Brands shift resources to Instagram. Instagram added 100 million users in just five months last year and now boasts 800 million monthly users. With an audience that skews young (a majority of users are reported to be younger than 30) and is also fiercely brand conscious, Instagram is quietly emerging as the new home for companies seeking an impact on social media.
Among other benefits, a recent study showed that brands are getting three times more engagement on Instagram, when compared apples-to-apples with Facebook. Instagram has aggressively embraced other networks’ features, seamlessly co-opting “Stories” from Snapchat, as well as live video, private messaging and even filters. And Instagram’s new Graph API means that business users can now schedule multiple posts and monitor engagement.
Here comes the era of “millisecond marketing” (ready or not). Lots of basic social media tasks — from scheduling the optimal time to post something to finding catchy content to share — have already been automated. But expect to see AI and related tools now play an ever more important behind-the-scenes role in sharing messages. Case in point: emerging technology that enables testing hundreds of social media ad variations, simultaneously. Rather than having to “guess” which images and text will get the most clicks, users can automate campaigns so that the best-performing posts are instantly boosted to the biggest audience.
The bigger picture: Inside the latest tools, ever more complex algorithms are calling the shots and removing the guesswork about which marketing materials will lead to which results — and they’re doing so nearly in real time. For better or worse, what once took creative teams days (or weeks), is now being accomplished in a matter of milliseconds.
Business software clouds boost their social media game (finally). Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn for $26 billion set off a quiet arms race among big software sellers to integrate and upgrade social media features. Not to be outdone, Adobe, Salesforce, IBM and Oracle have all embarked on a flurry of purchases and integrations to improve their marketing clouds with social media features.
Underlying these improvements is a dawning understanding that social media provides businesses with a rich, real-time source of customer information — exactly the kind of data needed to power AI engines, such as Salesforce’s Einstein, that lie at the heart of these clouds. Ultimately, business users stand to be the big beneficiary of this software arms race, as marketing platforms find better ways to weave social media data and social media tools into their offerings.
Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, is an angel investor and advisor, and mentors startups and entrepreneurs.