Social media management platform Hootsuite shared five trends that it sees for the sector in 2019.
Hootsuite chief marketing officer Penny Wilson discussed the social media industry’s experiences in 2018 and what she and her company see in the cards for 2019.
“In many ways, 2018 was a tumultuous year for brands, marketers and customer experience leaders,” Wilson said. “Concerns around fake news and data privacy led individuals to question their trust in politicians, media outlets, social networks and businesses alike. Those same concerns extended to how brands forge relationships with customers and the data they use to do so.”
She continued, “The slowdown in organic reach on social required that marketers dive deeper into paid strategies to get their messages across. And the constant need to prove the return on investment of marketing spend remained, demanding that chief marketing officers and their teams balance brand and performance marketing to optimize the impact of their efforts against broader business objectives like brand health, revenue growth, customer retention and profitability.”
As for next year, Wilson said, “While 2018 had its challenges, they translate into tremendous new opportunities for brands to establish deeper, more authentic and longer-lasting relationships with customers in 2019 and beyond—connections that will help achieve those broader business objectives.”
Trust in social networks is on the decline. Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer found that 60 percent of respondents no longer trust social media companies, and independent research firm Ponemon Institute said Facebook was hardest-hit, as trust in the largest social network is down 66 percent.
The latter is no surprise, as Facebook’s 2018 was marred by numerous issues, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal over its handling of user data, appearances before Congress, failure to appear before foreign governments, the use of its platform to sway the 2016 presidential election in the U.S., issues with the analytics it reported for video ads, security breaches that compromised user data, its ongoing fake news problems and questionable tactics by Definers, a public-relations firm it hired.
Facebook was not alone, as Twitter dealt with fallout from the use of bots and fake accounts on its platform.
The mistrust is not exclusive to platforms, however, as Hootsuite said trust in celebrity influencers and the media is on the downswing, with people relying more on family and friends.
Hootsuite added that Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer found that 71 percent of people agree that social platforms should do more to support high-quality journalism.
The company said brands are focusing less on maximizing reach and more on “transparent, quality engagement,” adding that the focus has shifted from “hollow clicks” to long-term return on investment, and posting the same content across multiple platforms has given way to context-specific and audience-specific messaging.
Hootsuite cited The New York Times and Adidas as brands taking steps to engage in meaningful dialog with smaller but more valuable groups of people, adding that more brands are turning to experts and employee advocates as an alternative to celebrity influencers.
The company concluded, “Users are increasingly conscious of whom they’re interacting with on social media and what data they’re sharing. Earning trust and providing real value are key for continued engagement. We’ve spent the last few years emphasizing ‘content,’ but there’s an increasing emphasis on the critical role of context in delivering that content.”
And Wilson said, “The key to turning all of these trends into a competitive advantage is to do so in a manner that regains customer confidence. That starts with respecting their privacy, being open and transparent about when and why data is collected and then leveraging the data that customers are willing to share to create personalized one-to-one experiences that deliver unique value.”
The ‘storification’ of social
The stories format has exploded on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp—it is even being tested by LinkedIn—and consulting firm Block Party found that sharing via that method is growing 15 times faster than feed-based sharing.
Hootsuite wrote, “Stories are overwhelmingly visual and meant to be created and consumed on the fly—with nothing more than a smartphone and a creative eye. Because they’re ephemeral, often disappearing after a day, there’s more room for fun and experimentation. Stories feel real, immediate and intensely personal.”
The adjustment for brands has been recognizing that posts with high production values are still important, but less polished, more intimate content performs better in the stories format, and Hootsuite highlighted The Guardian and Tictail as brands that have successfully embraced this strategy.
Hootsuite also recognized the challenges for brands, noting that “this kind of intimacy and spontaneity obviously won’t work for all” of them and pointing to the lack of an application-programming interface for Instagram Stories.
All that being said, Hootsuite still believes “the news feed may be slowly becoming a thing of the past.”
Wilson said, “As individuals become accustomed to these often raw but authentic, in-the-moment views into the lives of others, expectations of the same will bleed over to their interactions with brands. This opens the door for brands to share more human stories of their own, inspiring audiences to try or buy (customers), integrate (partners), recommend (analysts), write about (media), open up their checkbooks (investors) and so on.”
The social ads paradox
Hootsuite said the pay-to-play era is clearly here and in full effect, pointing to larger social ads budgets (The CMO Survey found a 32 percent rise in 2018 alone) and more Facebook pages using paid media, according to We Are Social.
However, the price tag of playing in this game is increasing, as is the competition for eyeballs.
The most recent Internet Trends Report from Mary Meeker found that click-through rates on Facebook are up 61 percent and CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) have soared 112 percent, slashing ROI for advertisers.
Hootsuite reminded brands that reach quantifies potential but cannot be used as “a proxy for success,” adding that millennials and Generation Z, in particular, have learned how to avoid irrelevant ads, either by skipping past them or installing ad blockers.
The company wrote, “Progressive brands are recognizing the importance of pairing ad money with an equivalent investment of time, creativity and targeting savvy,” singling out efforts by Spotify and Netflix, and it added that Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign shows that word of mouth is still a key factor, as well.
Hootsuite said it is seeing brands “uplevel” their social teams, both in-house and via agencies, with “skilled cross-platform content creators versed in video, graphics, design and more,” but despite those efforts, one huge challenge remains: According to Adobe’s State of Digital, 70 percent of digital advertisers believe their ads are relevant, while only 8 percent of consumers share that sentiment.
And Wilson said, “As a result of increased competition in paid social, marketers must rethink how they ensure their brands and offers stand out. The right content in the right format at the right time to the right audience has never been more critical. Delivering personalized content that’s important, interesting and timely to your audiences—while staying authentic and genuine to the brand—will become table stakes. Brands who respect and engage with customers as individuals and use relevant content to add value will see the real return.”
Cracking the commerce code
The news is not all bleak, though: Meeker’s 2018 report showed that 55 percent of survey respondents have purchased products online after social media discovery, and the gap between social media and commerce is being bridged by technologies such as in-stream payment tools and video plugins.
The company also cited a study by video marketing company BrightCove, which found that 74 percent of respondents cited a connection between watching a social video and making a purchase.
Hootsuite’s advice for brands is, “Users aren’t buying from a faceless brand, but from fellow users—individuals and companies with profiles and followings of their own. Shoppable posts and videos should be less a hard sell than an extension of your social media personality and messaging. Likewise, successful brands are going the extra mile to truly show how products fit into the context of users’ lives, rather than just displaying packaging shots or making marketing claims. Beyond eye-catching imagery, video can be a huge asset here. Turn written product descriptions into videos, do livestream demonstrations of your products and services and encourage video testimonials from customers.”
Wilson added, “The buyer’s journey—no matter whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer—is playing out more than ever on social media. Social is how individuals consume media, connect with others, interact with brands, seek recommendations, and ask for support. As the trends suggest, it’s also how and where individuals are making buying decisions and increasingly where they are completing the actual purchase—whether that’s for goods, services, or a free trial. Finding ways to make shopping live, interactive, and seamless—especially on mobile devices—is key. In 2019 the most successful brands will go the extra mile to show customers how products and services can fit into the context of their lives.”
Messaging eats the world
According to Meeker’s report, the top five messaging applications—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Instagram and Twitter—total some 5 billion monthly users, and the Reuters Institute Digital News Report for 2018 found that more than one-half of teens are spending three hours or more per day on those apps.
Hootsuite also cited a survey from Twilio, which found that nine out of 10 respondents would like to use messaging apps to communicate with businesses, as well as a study by Facebook IQ finding that 61 percent of U.S. respondents had used a messaging app to contact a business in the past three months and 69 percent said directly messaging a company gives them more confidence in the brand.
The company pointed to examples including Starbucks creating stickers on Viber, H&M providing fashion advice via a chatbot on Kik and a Facebook Messenger bot from Domino’s Pizza that enables customers to discover coupons and place orders.
Hootsuite pointed out that the challenge of one-on-one communications like messaging is scale and that artificial intelligence must be used wisely, adding, “For marketing and sales, it’s equally important to remember that the shift to private spaces means a desire for more privacy, so you’ll need to tread carefully with your outreach and avoid unsolicited messages. Ensure that there’s a clear context for reaching out so that you can participate in one-to-one conversations with your customers without being intrusive.”
Wilson added, “The savviest brands will migrate to messaging apps to meet their customers when and where they want to be served.”
And she concluded, “Social media remains a significant yet mostly untapped opportunity. No longer is social media confined to building and managing a brand. All of the trends point to the inevitable role of social in driving broader business results and delivering a best-in-class customer experience across the organization. Social has become a critical part across every customer touch point, from awareness to advocacy, from social marketing to selling and support. That’s because customers expect brands to meet them where they are and in the manner in which they want to engage—not the other way around.”