It’s a new year and that means new goals, new opportunities, and new trends you must know about to stay ahead of the curve.
We’re living through the greatest historical shift in communication since the printing press. Major social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are where an increasing number of your audience is spending more of their time.
To be successful on social media requires one to be a practitioner who actually uses these digital communications platforms every day, keeping abreast of the constant changes they are making. Social media is an ever-changing landscape, so very little content regarding social media best practices and tactics is evergreen.
Social platforms are always rolling out new features, making algorithm tweaks that affects what kind of content gets seen, and making changes to their user interfaces. User behavior often dictates what changes these platforms make, but the changes made by the platforms also greatly affects user behavior and how people interact with the content you share.
Social media looks very different today from the way it looked in 2008, 2014, or even 2017. What follows is a list of what I believe to be the most important trends and tactics you need to know about to crush it on social media in 2018.
Snapchat was the first platform to introduce the concept of ephemeral social content or videos and images that automatically disappear 24 hours after posting. A piece of ephemeral content or a series of these posts is known as a story. In the summer of 2016, Instagram introduced its stories feature, which is very similar to Snapchat, and last year, Facebook adopted a stories feature as well.
While many brands may not understand it, users are loving stories. Whereas much of social media content is criticized for being heavily filtered, curated, and airbrushed, stories have a very authentic, current, in-the-moment, “right-now” kind of feel. Posts on Facebook or the Instagram grid tend to be high-quality, enhanced by filters and effects. It’s where most people showcase their best selves and agonize to make sure the lighting is just right. However, a story is often where people show a much simpler, less perfected, and more human side of themselves. Stories do not require nearly as much preparation and are usually used to document a typical day, cover an event, or periodically check in with the audience.
Don’t go all in on the Instagram grid at the expense of stories.
On Instagram, the most popular network with stories, many people and brands are still putting all of their energy into posting on the grid, devoting insufficient time and attention to their daily stories. This is a mistake. Creating an Instagram story, which is a photo or a video under 15 seconds long, is quick to create and upload with one’s smartphone. Stories appear at the top of the Instagram feed. When you have a story published, your page shows up in the stories section at the top, and if you recently published a story that a user has not yet seen, your profile shows up at the top of their feed circled in red. See below:
Regularly publishing stories keeps you at the top of the feed and at the top of your audience’s mind. When users watch your story on a mobile device, your photo or video takes up their entire mobile screen, leaving them completely immersed in your brand. And, the more often they watch your stories, the more front-and-center your brand will be in their Instagram feed. So, make sure you don’t only post on the grid and neglect stories.
Stories foster a deeper level of engagement.
This is because a story can only be commented on or engaged with through a direct message (DM). A DM is a one-to-one private chat, which is a much more intimate and personal form of communication than a like or a reply to a public comment. Be sure to post interactive content such as questions or polls to stimulate DM responses and deeper engagement with your target audience.
Don’t give up on Snapchat.
When Instagram introduced stories, many brands were quick to dump Snapchat or post there a lot less frequently. However, data shows younger users under 30 are still spending a lot of time on the platform. If your brand targets customers in that demographic, then you need to continue using Snapchat and establishing a robust presence there. And, even if your business does not cater to that age-group, it’s still not a good idea to completely ignore it. Keep posting content on Snapchat, because that demo will get older and might soon become your customers. Also, remember that Snapchat could roll out a new feature tomorrow that wins back a lot of users and gets brands to come crawling back. If you’re unprepared, you will be caught behind the eight-ball.
In 2014 and 2015 influencer marketing was a promising tactic that more brands were interested in trying out. No longer new, influencer marketing has grown and matured. Now, there is ample proof that it is a worthy investment of time and money.
The good news is that influencer marketing is still in its early years. Brands are seeing fantastic returns with relatively little spend, making it one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing in existence today.
Essentially, influencer marketing is a modern reinvention of PR or the celebrity endorsement. Brands court a social influencer — a person on social media with a large number of engaged followers, and the influencer will mention the brand in exchange for money, free product, or usually a combination of both.
Every social media platform has its own set of influencers. In the current climate, attention has never been so divided and hard to win. By partnering or collaborating with an influencer, you will be able to piggyback on the attention they already have and direct it back to your brand.
Micro-influencers are key.
A micro-influencer is a person on social media with a relatively small, but hyper-engaged following. While the number varies by study and platform, some classify a micro-influencer as someone with as little as 1,200 followers and as many as 40,000 (some go as high as 100,000). Studies show that these smaller influencers tend to have an audience that is disproportionately engaged and interested in the influencer’s posts compared to larger influencers whose audiences tend to be larger, more varied, and less proportionately engaged. Micro-influencers are also much cheaper to work with.
While big brands will still pay big money for the large influencers, such as celebrities or mega-social media influencers with significant returns, a lot of brands are achieving ROI by partnering with micro-influencers. A micro-influencer is often a person who posts about a specific, niche area of interest or hobby, such as nutrition and exercise, camping, video equipment, travel, or clothing. Their following extends beyond family and friends, but is still small enough that most of the followers are following influencer because they are truly interested in the influencer’s content and not because the influencer is popular.
Brands are becoming more savvy about who they work with, now understanding that a large follower-count doesn’t always translate to authentic engagement or return on investment. The cost of doing business with micro-influencers ranges from free product alone to a combination of free product and a relatively small amount of money, making it an extremely cost-effective option compared to spending on advertising or macro-influencers. All of the evidence shows that people increasingly trust the recommendations of friends and influencers over advertisements, making micro-influencers a great way to earn quality reach, impressions, awareness, engagement, and sales. Influencer marketing will continue to grow and become more expensive in coming years so the time to get in on this trend is now.
Tips for working with influencers:
1) Don’t be a control freak.
Another great thing about influencers is that they create the content for you. Avoid trying to wrestle creative control. Your influencer got to where they are because they are good at creating content and engaging with their audience. They have a good understanding of what their audience likes. Leave the content creation up to them and be empathetic to the fact that they cannot appear as a human advertisement. Therefore, the mention of your brand in their content will likely be subtle and smooth rather than overt, direct, and “advertise-y”.
2) Vet your influencers properly.
You don’t want to pick influencers with mostly inorganic or bot followers nor do you want influencers who don’t make sense for your brand. Even if an influencer is popular, they are a bad choice if they do not align with your brand’s values or have nothing to do with your space. The wrong influencer can do harm to your brand. Make sure the collaboration makes sense for your brand and your goals. Carefully evaluate their content, their engagement, and the image they give off. Tools like BuzzSumo and FollowerWonk can help you do it quickly and easily so you can scale your influencer outreach. If they are asking for a substantial amount of your marketing budget, do a little research to see if the influencer has achieved ROI-positive results for others.
3) Find brand ambassadors.
Brands are increasingly establishing long-term partnerships with influencers rather than one-off, spontaneous collaborations on just one post or campaign. Fomenting a long-term relationship with a credible influencer who aligns with your brand and acts as a brand ambassador can produce beneficial results for both parties.
Engagement & Direct Messaging
Brands are increasingly making use of direct messages, such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram DM, and LinkedIn DM as a way to communicate more directly with their audiences. DMs foster an intimate and personal form of communication and they are receiving positive responses from users. With so much content competing for people’s attention in feeds, a private message is a great way to grab a user’s attention. Private messages are even preferred rather than seen as an intrusion by some users who are tired of having all their social media activity publicly scrutinized.
Unlike email, this is one form of direct communication marketers have not yet killed and it’s expected to grow in 2018. As time goes on and users begin to receive more DMs from brands, the effectiveness of this tactic will probably diminish and receive less attention, so capitalize on it while you still can.
Video has never been easier and cheaper to produce at scale. All of the major social media platforms now make it easy to create and upload videos and their algorithms heavily favor video content. They particularly favor video created or posted natively, with LinkedIn introducing native video just this past year. The rise of video began a few years ago, but we witnessed an explosion of video content in 2016 and 2017. This trend shows no sign of slowing down and it is expected to rise significantly. Video is predicted to account for over 80 percent of total online consumer Internet traffic by 2020.
People process video much more quickly than they do written text or even static images and more and more people are consuming content in video format. So, if most of your content is still blog posts and articles, it’s time to start churning out videos — long and short-form. If you don’t have a fancy video camera or equipment, no problem. Grab your phone and get to work. Video is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but a must-have for any business who wants to compete in 2018 and beyond.
Last year saw a tremendous increase in audio content. Although not strictly a part of social media, it’s a digital trend worth noting. Podcasts have become a popular way to consume media and information on the go. In fact, monthly podcast listeners increased 24% in 2017. Unlike video, a podcast can be played in the background so a user can benefit from the content while multitasking. Listeners can be driving, doing work, or cleaning the house as they catch up on their favorite podcast content. As the audio space begins to grow in importance, an increasing number of brands are launching their own podcasts and creating Alexa Skills and channels for Google home. Marketers are using social media to get the word out about their podcasts the same way they used to spread the word about their blogs and vlogs.
The democratization of content and media brought about by modern technology has put the power to create, publish, and spread messages directly into the hands of the people. While this makes it increasingly harder to get noticed in a noisy world, it also presents enormous opportunities for brands to connect with their audiences more cheaply and directly than ever before. The companies that are going to win in 2018 and beyond are the ones who take advantage of these new mediums of communication and use them to their advantage.