Top Social Media Insights You'll Need in 2017
By Denae DiVincenzo
Your favorite platforms are becoming more like your other favorite platforms.
Remember when Facebook first launched the newsfeed and it suddenly felt more like Twitter? And then LinkedIn debuted its own feed and it felt more Facebook? Well that trend has continued and was expanded in 2016 with platforms borrowing and building upon some of the more successful features of their rivals. Last year we saw the rollout of Instagram Stories, which was shockingly similar to Snapchat. Using Stories, Instagram users can now upload temporary posts that automatically disappear after 24 hours, and they can even add text and emoji in much the same way. Snapchat didn’t seem to mind the similarities, but with the increased emphasis of video across all platforms it seems likely that replications of the infamous Snapchat filters is the logical next step on both Facebook and Instagram. And what will Snapchat do in retaliation? Perhaps remove the 10-second time limit on its videos and launch live video, or something entirely new?
Another shift, although of a different kind, happened somewhat quietly on Facebook at the end of 2016. They rolled out Workplace, a separate but connected version of Facebook (which is even ad free) for companies to use for communication and collaboration. While not quite like LinkedIn—instead serving a purpose more closely related to Slack—this signals that Facebook has every intention of continuing its shift towards an increasingly more comprehensive role in daily life than just viral puppy videos or birthday wishes from grandma.
Customer service on social platforms is only becoming more important.
If your company has a social presence but no policy or plan for handling customer service on social platforms then here are a couple of talking points for your next staff meeting:
- Customers will expect that they can reach you on social media, including—and most importantly—with their problems and complaints regardless of whether or not you have a policy in place for responding.
- Not responding, or not responding in a sufficient or timely manner, can seriously damage your public image in addition to hurting your customer relationship.
- Interacting with customers on social media is an extension of your brand’s presence online—demonstrate to their followers as well as your own that you’re a great company.
- You’ll be reaching customers where they want to be reached. There’s probably a reason they are using social media for their customer service issues (spoiler alert: it’s because they want an immediate response), so why try to push them to a separate platform for communication at that point? If they wanted to call your support line they would have done that in the first place.
Some brands have risen to the challenge of customer service on social platforms, but a few are taking it to a whole other level with the help of the platforms themselves, such as these companies that have rolled out bots to manage customer service issues, or to simply provide positive customer engagement, via Facebook Messenger. Expect more customer service-friendly tools to emerge as platforms move to improve their relationships with the brands who give them ad spend. Twitter is already planning to help customers develop their customer service on the platform.
It’s time to stop putting off your social media ad spend.
Among the many major changes to social media in 2016, one that had some users and most brands up in arms was the change to the Instagram algorithm. Instead of ordering posts chronologically in each user’s feed, the app was updated to show the posts that the algorithm deemed most important to the user. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Facebook made a similar switch years back (and Facebook happens to own Instagram). The concern, and a valid one at that, in both instances is that organic reach is made much more difficult and even your established followers could be missing your posts. This makes it harder for brands to engage with their audience and to be discovered by new followers, and (not coincidentally) makes sponsored posts and ads more important than ever if you want to reach a wider audience.
In fact, a study by Locowise that analyzed 5,000 Facebook Pages found that average organic reach was just 2.6%. That’s pretty dismal. Although you can, and should, work on increasing your organic reach by posting engaging content that will interest your followers (and keep reading to see how your own employees can help), you will need to invest in either social ads or in making your content phenomenal, and ideally both, in order to get good reach.
Additionally, people are already using social media for a large percentage of their brand research and product discovery—56% of consumers who follow brands on social media sites say they do so to view products, according to a survey by Aimia. Along with visiting your website, or even sometimes (depending on your market and target audience) in place of visiting your website, potential customers are looking for information about you, your products or services, or your competitors where they already are—on social media. Do you really want to miss those prospective customers because you haven’t mastered the advertising aspect of your social media strategy yet?
What would be the most dynamic approach to advertising on social media? Video. Trust us on this. Why? Because…
Video is everything.
Video has been king for a while now, and it’s not getting dethroned anytime soon. Cisco forecasts that by 2019, video content will be the driving factor behind 85% of search traffic in the United States. Even if Facebook has overestimated video views in the past, it’s undeniable that billions of users are watching and engaging with videos daily and consequently video ad spend is expected to be the fastest growing market. Of course, the more recent evolution of this is live video, which can either be fleeting as with Instagram Live (the live stream can only be accessed in the moment) or retained for posterity as with Facebook Live.
When it comes to incorporating video into your social media presence, you don't have to run out and buy expensive equipment or hire a professional videographer right off the bat. The easiest way to test video in your market is to just run with it—start with the capabilities you already have. Make simple GIFs or Boomerangs to get your feet wet, and then expand into Instagram Stories and Facebook Live. In all of these formats the expectations are low as far as the video image and sound quality—your audience knows and accepts that these types of videos are being recorded on phones. A professionally shot video can do wonders for a marketing campaign as well as for your website, but don't let that hold you back from doing the inexpensive, accessible, in-the-moment videos that audiences also want to see and which you can start doing today.
Virtual reality is next.
You may be aware of virtual reality or have tried it out yourself, but may think of it as a recreational activity where your company has no place. That is not quite the case. At the end of 2016 there were glimpses of what Facebook is looking to do with virtual reality (VR) in the near future, but even outside of social avatars in a VR space there are more and more ways that the technology is being used to engage with and delight customers and to woo potential customers. From virtually test driving a car to offering a seat at a fashion runway, big brands have been testing the waters of VR as a marketing tool. Although budget and technology limitations may prevent you from launching a VR-driven campaign this year, it would be good practice to keep up-to-date on what's happening in the industry. Perhaps a collaboration could be in order for your company, or even leveraging an opportunity when one presents itself, such as the small businesses who saw a boom in business during the Pokemon Go phenomenon, some of whom further capitalized on users playing the augmented reality game on their mobile phones by dropping lures in or near their businesses.
In any case, you can anticipate seeing and hearing a lot more about VR and augmented reality in the next year as it continues to shift from early adopters to mainstream.
Expect expanded e-commerce.
Platforms like Pinterest, and more recently Instagram and Snapchat, have been exploring ways for brands to sell to customers through their platforms and all signs point to this progressing even further. The same survey from Aimia mentioned earlier also reported that nearly a third of online shoppers (31%) say they are using these channels to browse for new items to buy. An Epsilon study demonstrated that 28% of consumers cited a brand’s social media presence as the top factor for trying new services or products.
Even if you aren’t in the business of selling consumer products this could have an impact on your company and brand.
As of today, Instagram permits a call-to-action on paid ads, and the only clickable link is in an account profile. However, there are popular third-party tools, such as Like2Buy and Linkin.bio, that companies use to provide click-through links from the items or content featured in their image feed. It would not be at all surprising if Instagram were to integrate better linking—likely using an in-app browser as we already see with sponsored content—in the future. This could open up a realm of possibilities with calls-to-action on your social account.
Your employees are on social media (and that’s a good thing).
Employee advocacy is a growing segment of social media strategies, and for good reason. As we’ve discussed, organic reach is harder and harder to attain, and the caveat to the value of social advertising is that people still prefer content that is not sponsored or promoted. You may have noticed that the posts that perform the best are those that your own staff has shared on their personal social profiles, thereby reaching their network of friends or followers as well.
Hootsuite launched an employee advocacy app in 2015 called Amplify to boost employee sharing through its social scheduling platform, and LinkedIn has its own version named Elevate. Both are targeted towards large companies with many employees as a way to utilize that man power in the social sphere. Ideally, your employees are passionate about the work that your company does (not to mention your fantastic treatment of them) and are interested in the great content you’re posting about your industry or your brand and want to share it with the world of their own volition, but also having a workflow in place to make it easier for them to find and share that content is even more ideal. LinkedIn reports that about 36% of marketers say they have employee advocacy programs in place, with another 27% planning to add a program in 2017.
Smaller companies, or those without the budget for the paid employee advocacy platforms, can still motivate employees to share content by taking an important first step: acknowledging that your employees are on social media and that it’s a good thing they are. The more traditional business thinking about social media is that the professional and the personal should be completely separate—many companies put bans on social media websites when they first started booming in popularity and anyone would know when a friend or family member was job searching by their sudden name change on their social profile and a scrubbing of all their happy hour photos. Today, however, a job applicant might stand out positively on the basis of their social accounts by demonstrating a true passion for their industry in their posts or by bringing an established thought leadership presence to the table—a considerable asset to any company. The point here isn't that you should start "friending" all of your employees, and it's certainly acceptable and understandable for you and your employees alike to closely manage your individual privacy settings so that there is still a separation of the personal and the professional (which in many cases is whatever is public), but rather that the times have changed and instead of banning Facebook it might actually be to your benefit to encourage your employees to share what makes them excited about working for you and the great work that your company is doing. Discussing social media and its role in your company’s strategic plan is a great start to employee advocacy, as is educating your staff on social media best practices and laying out any guidelines you have—whether they be as simple as which hashtag is appropriate for a campaign or as complex as which client work is subject to a nondisclosure. (Read more about building brand evangelism, including employee advocacy, in our blog post with actionable tips.)
Be ready for change.
If you've made it this far I suspect you're in the know on this particular insight but it's still worth saying and reminding yourself every day (and I encourage you to say it aloud, right now): be ready for change.
Think back on the past five years and all of the changes that have happened in the social landscape. If there is any one insight to always keep in mind when it comes to social media, it’s to expect change. The digital world is moving at the speed of light (or nearly, at least) and if you want your company to continue moving forward with it then don’t get too attached to social strategies and tools of years past. Today Snapchat might be completely wrong for your business, but tomorrow? Be open to opportunities and keep doing your research—what you find about your audience and how their habits change might surprise you.
Don’t have a social media strategy? Well, we can help with that.