It has come to that time of year when everyone is putting their finger in their air and trying to appear informed and knowledgeable as they predict where things are heading in the forthcoming year. (A few of these will also be quietly deleting their tatty top tips from last year, while hoping desperately that nobody notices.)
Forecasting trends is always a tricky business, even more so when it comes to social media. It is perhaps especially difficult next year: in 2018 we saw the likes of Facebook and Twitter facing more government and public pressure than ever before, and given that their reactions seemed only to inflame the various situations concerning them around the world, you could foresee them staggering from crisis to crisis in increasingly defensive positions.
That sense of continuing political upheaval on a global scale does inevitably leave its imprint on trends for 2019. As was noted by Founder & Executive Director Toby Daniels during his opening keynote for last month’s Social Media Week London, when you look back a decade you can see how much our relationship with social media has changed: at that point it was simpler and the outlook was more positive.
However, that is not to say that there are not lots of positive opportunities to be grasped. Social networks as a whole are still growing, with Facebook now at over two billion active users and LinkedIn in particular attracting a large number of new signups, and while social media platforms may be on the backfoot with the media, they are still optimising their offerings and providing features which are being lapped up by their audiences – you only have to look at the explosion in use of Instagram Stories to see that.
Without any further ado, here are the main trends that I think we will see picking up steam through 2019. Some will be more visible than others, but I think that in combination they show the use of social media maturing, which means that more than ever it needs to be considered and effectively utilised by corporate organisations as well as consumer-friendly companies. (And hey, if you need any assistance with that please hit me up.)
1. Communities – Facebook is promoting Groups as an effective means of creating much higher engagement, while LinkedIn recently relaunched its Groups functionality. The belief is their platforms will benefit from an increased focus on community, which brings higher engagement and loyalty, as has been seen through the continued popularity of old-school forums and Reddit has jumped from 250 to 330 million active users within six months during 2018. However, with trust decreasing due to user data, smaller alternative social platforms serving relatively niche audiences becomes more possible – such as for female entrepreneurs. The landscape may get more complicated, while conversely opening up more opportunity to reach target groups
2. Brand activism – The boldness of the Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad helped it become a huge success, and other organisations are quickly realising that audiences nowadays are more likely to support brands who take a stand. This can be uncomfortable new territory when the opposite used to be true, but grabbing the initiative can lead to positive headlines such as when Ben and Jerry’s recently put its weight behind the work of Refugee ction: https://twitter.com/benandjerrysUK/status/1055775839273463808
3. Stories – In just two years Instagram Stories has built up a base of over 400 million daily active users, and it continues to add interactive and fun features while the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn play catch up. It is currently more playful, fun, and instant, which makes it no wonder than audiences are flocking to them, while Facebook is looking at shifting more heavily to Stories and deemphasising their reliance on the News Feed.
4. Influencer legitimacy – The use of fake followers and other dodgy tactics has shaken confidence in the use of influencers, with Instagram taking actionto clean things up. However, 2019 will undoubtedly see more debate and controversy about the effective and legitimacy of having celebs and micro-influencers flogging brands.
5. Going live – Facebook is now starting to heavily promote ‘Watch Parties’ – its feature where users can set a date to watch something at the same time. A number of social platforms have already embraced live-streaming, but now we will see other means of creating events that you will want (and potentially need) to experience live.
6. Corporate use – LinkedIn now has 575 million users, adding 75 million within 16 months which is an amazing growth rate. More B2B organisations are realising they need to be on social media platforms as they realise that their audience is increasingly likely to be found on there, with highly specific targeting options means that the right audience can be found.
7. Reputation management – Choose any specific week and you will find numerous brands dealing with the fallout from a crisis on social media. Nowadays how they react in those initial moments can change the narrative and how big the scandal becomes. Just look at how KFC in the UK seized the initiative and won plaudits when they properly addressed a major supply issue, rather than sticking their heads in the sand. https://twitter.com/KFC_UKI/status/964838797841190912
8. Data worries – Concerns over privacy have had users deleting their accounts, and with governments expressing the public’s anger through increased scrutiny you can expect to see even more of a spotlight shone no how data is being used and misused.
9. Dark social – We can also see users switching over to private messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, their encryption and lack of accessible data making it much harder for organisations to know where its audience is coming from, and why. This will encourage more innovative methods of data discovery, but might also encourage others to go with their gut a bit more – for better and for worse, no doubt.
10. Storytelling – And finally, there will be a continued and increasing emphasis on the art of storytelling. The audience is expecting more engaging and emotive stories, and platforms are responding – Twitter through making threads of multiple Tweets easier, and most significantly through Facebook offering immersive and interactive ads through Instant Experience, which provides the chance to take audiences on unique and tailored journeys. And who doesn’t want to feel a bit more special in this cluttered climate?
- Any questions on using social media? Please feel free to send a message – as Director for Social Media Strategy at MerchantCantos there is all sorts of ways in which I may be able to assist…
- This originally appeared on the MerchantCantos blog, where there are lots of other great articles to check out.