For the past forty years, social media has enabled its users to create online communities in order to communicate and share information and ideas.
From the early days of the rudimentary Usenet, heralded as the first recorded network enabling users to communicate via virtual newsletters, to Friends Reunited kicking off social media prominence in the UK in 2000, followed by the heights of Facebook’s launch in 2004, social media has constantly evolved with the times.
In 2018 there are an estimated 3.196 billion social media users; this is up 13 percent from last year and shows no signs of slowing down. In recent times we’ve seen a shift in social media platform updates, with changing algorithms and, what has seemed like, endless new launches from the big players in the game. With this in mind, how can brands stay ahead of the curve and create a voice to stand out from the crowd?
How has social media evolved in recent years?
With social media platforms monetising themselves through the development of their advertising capabilities, most of the prevalent changes across the networks have ultimately been driven by this. In the future, I believe we will continue to see growth in this area as networks look to further monetise features within their apps.
It could be argued that much of Facebook’s activity currently appears to be focused around tackling everything ‘fake’, especially following the Cambridge Analytica scandal which hit the headlines and became the catalyst for some of the biggest social media changes in recent times. The news led to Facebook embarking on a face-saving exercise, producing adverts such as ‘Here Together’ as they tried to rebuild trust in their service.
With this in mind, Facebook’s recent moves offer an insight into what we might see from them next. With further advertising offerings such as Facebook Stories ads being introduced, I think we can expect to see more limitations on data, as they remain careful in their approach. Aside from the headlines, Facebook’s algorithm change in January 2018 was one of the biggest in recent times as it announced the algorithm would prioritise content from friends and family, making it harder than ever for brands to get noticed organically.
From rolling out shoppable experiences which allowed brands to tag products in their posts, to the launch of IGTV, it’s been a busy few years for Instagram. Acquired by Facebook in 2012, the photo-sharing platform has seen multiple additions to the app which have been catered towards both paid and organic mediums. It created the opportunity to post video, introduced Instagram Stories and provided the ability to ‘go live’ – to name but a few. Their recent updates have signalled the app’s desire to position Instagram as a competitor in video, so I’d expect the end of 2018 to include further improvements to the medium and more developments to bolster users’ shoppable experiences.
In recent years Twitter has looked to cement itself as the place to go for live news; however, this doesn’t mean that it has shied away from trying to captivate its share of the market. The introduction of Twitter Promote Mode in 2017 saw the creation of its first subscription ads product. Later came sponsored Moments which looked to connect publishers with brands, allowing them to connect with audiences in real-time and show the most important stories unfolding around them. As Twitter tries to hook a modern audience with news as it happens, I believe we’ll see more efforts pushed towards live video coverage and opportunities for sponsored material to hit users instantly.
How to stay ahead
With the social media landscape always changing, and updates to the platforms being made all the time, it’s easy to see why the prospect of finding a brand voice on social media can be daunting. However, with some considered thought you can still create a strong brand presence, whatever the platforms throw at you.
Integrate your channels
With algorithm updates a constant background possibility, it’s important to integrate your channels instead of working in silos. Facebook’s overhaul of its news feed in favour of ‘meaningful’ interactions is a prime example of how brands need to adapt their social media strategies, with the Facebook platform warning that brands would see a drop in reach of up to 20 percent after the update. By measuring the results of the best content shared and building a strategy in which organic and paid channels work side by side, brands can look to reach a wider audience and in turn, gain higher engagement and overall growth.
Be ready to adapt
As social media is always evolving, it’s important to be willing to look into your data and adapt your strategy before making the next move. Whether this means trying different styles of imagery, changing the lengths of your posts, or rethinking your tone of voice, it’s important to discover what resonates most with your audience and adapt your plans accordingly. Casper, the mattress company, are constantly trying new layouts within tweets, injecting humour as they gauge what resonates best with their followers.
Understand your audience
As well as the ability to take stock of your strategy, it’s important to get to know your target audience. As social media platform demographics are constantly changing, it’s important to understand which platform suits your audience’s needs. What was once the go-to social media app for your target audience may now be considerably different, and therefore, your plan needs to adapt too.
Be an early adopter
Think carefully, but move fast; With every new update comes a great opportunity to be an early adopter and the chance to define yourself as the brand who got there first. By trying new features early and staying on top of new releases, brands can begin to gain traction as ‘one to watch’ when platform changes come around. In July 2018 when Facebook introduced augmented reality within Facebook ads, Michael Kors became the first brand to road test the immersive experience, allowing them to engage with their audience in a new and exciting way.
Use new features to your advantage
Organic social media can sometimes feel as though you are shouting into a void and so it’s more important than ever to do something different to stand out. Try utilising features such as Instagram stories polls like Airbnb did during its Travel Tuesday campaign, allowing its audience to test their knowledge and communicate with the company in a brand-new way.
Whatever the approach to social media, the most important thing that a brand can weave into their planning is to keep up with new social media trends, stay ahead of upcoming launches and continue to look for ways to use every evolution to their advantage.
As we look ahead to 2019, brands would be wise to keep their ears close to the ground as AI develops. As opportunities to harness dark social and chatbots grow, so will chances to interact with audiences in real-time, ultimately leading to a change in the social media landscape as we know it.