By Brian Sutter
Like change? Then social media is the place for you. Every day there’s some small evolution in at least one of the social platforms.
Some days, there’s a big new product announcement—a new tool that could change the way you do business. This keeps things interesting, but it can make it hard to keep up, if you’re only looking at the details of how social media works.
When you look at the larger trends, it all starts to make more sense. It gets easier to see the changes not as isolated events, but as trends.
So while it’s hard to predict what might happen next on social media, it is possible to make an educated guess about some of the trends we’ll see in the coming year. This ends up being quite the pastime in marketing, actually—making predictions about social media trends.
While researching this article, I came across more than 20 articles about social media trends for 2018. It seems everybody has an opinion, so I thought it might be fun to tally up the votes for each trend:
Social messaging: 15Live streaming: 13Video: 9Influencer marketing: 8Augmented reality: 7Generation Z: 5Content personalization: 5Facebook goes mobile: 3Better social analytics: 3Ephemeral content: 3Better governance/combat abuse: 3Changes at/rethinking Twitter: 3Facebook Spaces: 2Employee advocacy: 2AI: 2Brands reduce the number of platforms: 2Social listening: 2Mobile usage, generally: 2Digital hangouts: 1Diversified ad spend: 1More ad spend: 1Purchasing via social: 1Emotional content: 1
Oddly enough, the results from my informal little tally are strikingly similar to a survey of marketing executives conducted last fall by The Creative Group:
This survey also picked social messaging as the biggest trend in social media for 2018. Their second pick, video, also closely mirrors what I found, though I broke out live streaming and video as two separate trends (even though they’re awfully, awfully close). We also agree on influencer marketing and augmented reality.
We broke ways on paid content; only one trends article I found mentioned increased ad spend on social. But hey, it’s an informal tally, and everybody has a right to their opinion.
While the trends themselves are interesting, I’d like to frame this in a way that’s more useful for small businesses: companies with 100 employees or less. With that number of employees, a company maybe has a marketing staff of three to four, max. And given that only 48% of small business owners say they’re doing any social media marketing, we need to keep the resource demands for this low.
One way for a small business with limited resources to manage a social media marketing program is to apply the 70/20/10 budget rule. See here how Coca-Cola applies the rule for content development and investment:
And now, here is a look at the top 5 social media marketing trends for 2018:
1. Social messaging
Namely, chatbots. Ten of the articles I got these tallies from specifically mentioned chatbots; the others used the term “social messaging.” These are close enough to merge them.
Chatbots, as you probably know, are the automated text messages that have a simple conversation with customers. They are used in apps, on websites, and in social messaging apps like Facebook Messenger. Here, we’re focused on chatbots via social media.
There’s good news for small businesses: You don’t need tens of thousands of dollars to build a chatbot. There are actually over a dozen tools that will let developers and non-developers build one quite easily; many of them are surprisingly affordable, or even free.
In other words, small businesses, rejoice: You too can have a chatbot. Just set aside about four hours a day for two weeks for your website developer, a customer service person, and perhaps a copywriter to work on this.
The return? You may free up some time for your customer service staff. And you’ll probably drastically reduce the time it takes to respond to people, at least initially.
So I recommend trying this. It’s a manageable enough project to fit into either the 20% or 10% category, depending on how you view your business needs. The image below shows it’s far easier to build a chatbot than you might think. This image is part of a tutorial for Amazon’s Lex chatbot:
2. Live streaming
Isn’t this video? Yes, a type of video. But it was mentioned specifically enough that I gave it its own category.
Unless you’re really enthusiastic about this tactic, you might want to limit this to events and announcements—perhaps a brief hello from your holiday party, or from the CEO’s desk at a product launch.
I’d put this particular tactic in with the 10% category in our content model. It’s possible some small businesses could do well with this, but unless you’ve got a particularly avid social media following, your live streams might end up a little lonely. (Note: You can save them, though, but temporarily.)
Video takes on a lot of different forms on social media—most notably, videos are short. Ten-second videos are perfectly okay. They’re also good for advertising, which has become the other hot topic around video advertising.
Of course, video isn’t a new trend. It’s just a growing trend. So if you haven’t tried any video yet, 2018 is the time. It often works best if you can find someone on staff who is just a natural video shutterbug. They’re usually millennial, but not always.
Give your shutterbug some creative leeway to go record a bunch of stuff and then come back and show you the top 5%. Hire a video editor via Fiverr or another freelancer platform, and start posting test videos. Track your results. Rinse and repeat.
Ideally, every one of us should have at least 10% of what we post on social be video. We should be working to move video into the 70% content category—a reliable, money-producing content format that we’re comfortable with. In 2018, aim to fully integrate video into your social media marketing.
4. Influencer marketing
Never underestimate the power of trust—especially online. Trust is why influencers wield so much power.
But trust is also the biggest problem with influencer marketing. Consumers know these social media stars get paid to promote stuff. Clumsy promotions can take an internet celebrity down, and so smart influencers (the best influencers) are choosy about which brands they work with, and how they work with them.
This isn’t a bad thing for small businesses. While smaller budgets usually mean you’ll have to work with “micro-influencers,” that might end up being a good thing. It will mean you’ll have to dig a little deeper to find your ideal influencer, but if there’s a true match with your company and them (and their audience), you might have found yourself a high-value, long-term partnership.
5. Augmented reality
This one I’m a little skeptical about for small businesses. But…if you want an idea of how this might work, download IKEA’s “Place” app and fiddle around with it. The app lets you place any piece of IKEA furniture into your home (or into the middle of the street if you want).
While I am cautious about how many small businesses could create an app like this, consider how well some small businesses did with the Pokemon Go craze. You don’t necessarily have to build your own app to make augmented reality work.
One thing stands out to me after studying all these trends: Social media isn’t going to slow down. But if you stick to what works 70% of the time, run careful tests 20% of the time, and take genuine risks for the remaining 10%, I think there’s a good way to stay current without damaging your results.
For my two cents, I’d add one more trend to this list: user-generated content. I think the more we can get our audiences and customers to participate, the better. It is “social” media after all. It’s ultimately about people.