Predicting the future can be hard. In 2001, Stanley Kubrick imagined a future with space stations and a moon base, where video calls still needed to be made in a phone booth. Predicting the future of social media is a little easier, especially when you’re only looking a little bit ahead, based on trends that have been proving themselves in 2017. So, here are seven trends that are important to keep an eye on in 2018.
This isn’t really a trend - mobile has been growing fast over the last decade, but it will reach the tipping point in 2018. The Global Web Index has found that, in some countries,16 to 24 years olds are already spending more time online via mobile than on any other device. That’s not just in fast growth regions like Argentina. Generation Z users in Italy, Japan and Ireland are already past the tipping point.
According to eMarketer, in the US 93.4% of the population with Internet access will use a mobile device to go online. They also predict that by 2021, 19.3% of the population will access the Internet only through a mobile device. Searching on mobile is no longer an important consideration, it is quickly becoming the norm. The most common form of search is now multi-platform. Having a message that appears native on each platform—mobile and desktop—is paramount.
For some marketers, it means a change of approach. Rather than adapting content that works on desktop to mobile — content that works well on mobile should be adapted to desktop. Getting into the mindset of creating content that grabs attention and makes a point well and quickly is something that helps all types of marketing — and social marketing should now be mobile-first.
Siri used to be a novelty — now there is a competent digital assistant housed within every smartphone. Those have been augmented by digital home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Even phone manufacturer Samsung have created their own Bixby digital assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa is now available through their Amazon music app.
Google says that 20% of its mobile search is done through voice, and other analysts claim that 10% of all searches done are voice based, although they only account for 2% of revenue. By 2020, some predict that 50% of all searches will be done by voice, in part because of the growth of technology such as augmented reality and wearable technology.
This means that there should be a shift in SEO from keywords to long tail key phrases, embedded in blogs and on-site content that better matches conversational search queries versus the typed variety. Google is set to introduce mobile-first indexing in 2018 (affectionately known as Mobilegeddon) which will create different search norms based on how people search on mobile. As stated above, one fifth of all Google mobile searches are voice based and that number is only set to rise.
Influencer marketing has been one of the growing trends in 2017, with 94% of marketers finding it to be effective. One of the reasons for its effectiveness is how well it works with other forms of social media marketing. The aim of social is for a business to have a genuine interaction with its customer base. Piggybacking off content creators who already have a genuine relationship with their audience is very effective.
Influencer marketing also helps to reach the 32% of internet users that use an ad blocker. One of the biggest trends has been the use of ‘micro-influencers’ — influencers with between 1,000 and 10,000 followers. Not only does this mean that it has opened up influencer marketing to smaller businesses, micro-influencers provide a better ROI, with engagement rates of 8% compared to 1.6% for influencers with over 100,000 followers or more.
The most important thing to consider when using influencers is to work with the right ones. You can find influencers using third party vendors which will search for the correct matches, but you still need to look at their content to make sure that their branding matches the branding of your business, rather than just treating it as a numbers game.
Facebook and Instagram Domination
Facebook is dominating the social media scene. It has over two billion active users. Its nearest rival is YouTube, with 1.5 billion users and is more a video streaming platform than a social media service. WhatsApp stands at 1.2 billion users, but has now been matched by Facebook Messenger. After WeChat and QQ, Instagram, owned by Facebook, has 700 million monthly users.
That means Facebook has a combined social media reach of nearly 4 billion active users, although there is obviously some crossover. In having separate social posting, messaging and visual sharing services it is taking on and beating its competition. Twitter now has 328 million users, Snapchat has 255 million and LinkedIn has 106 million. Facebook has firmly set its sights on YouTube with several attempts to create a rival video service.
Given the quality of content and innovation that Facebook is committed to, it’s very hard for new competition to succeed when stacked up against its marketing budget and industry standing. Instagram is adding features to directly compete with (and maybe kill) Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger has stickers to compete with iMessage. For other social platforms, it’s bad news. For marketers, it means that sticking with Facebook is a safe bet for the immediate future.
The Continued Fall of Twitter
Twitter has continued to grow, but not at the rate of its competitors. While WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger all added around half a billion users between 2014 and 2016, Twitter just managed to add 31 million. In marketing terms, it still has its uses and different advantages as a platform, but with a sixth of the users of Facebook alone (and a twelfth of the ‘Facebook Family’ users) it is becoming less and less of a competitor.
Even though LinkedIn has an even smaller active user base, its B2B focus presents a real advantage to marketers seeking other businesses. Twitter has tried to keep up, acquiring Periscope, artificial intelligence startup Magic Pony, and ad networks TellApart and Niche. It even bumped up the 140 character limit to 280, as it’s no longer bound by the 160 characters of an SMS message, but hasn’t really addressed the real issues:
Twitter users: Stop racists, stop hate crime, stop bots, we want a chronological timeline and an edit function…— nick bae-ker (@bicknaker) September 26, 2017
Twitter: 280 characters!
It isn’t that Twitter isn’t growing, it’s that it is growing and adapting too slowly in relation to its competitors. Even when it doers innovate, it tends to do so badly. Twitter abandoned Vine in 2016, because it couldn’t offer its influencers the incentives of Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube. The challenges of monetizing Twitter and opening it up to marketers means that it has fallen far behind Facebook in terms of the tools it offers.
Unless Twitter can pull something out of the bag that makes it more appealing to users and businesses, then it will continue to die the slow death of comparatively lacklustre growth.
Rise of the Bots and AI
Facebook is investing heavily in AI. Recently, its researchers have taught the AI to mimic human expressions by watching hundreds of Skype conversations. Part of the reason behind this is to make marketing more effective on platforms like Facebook Messenger.
Forget the iPhone X’s animoji that copy your facial expressions, Facebook are building bots that can speak to you with human expressions when they try to sell you things. It’s also investing heavily in AI voice recognition, meaning a virtual shopping assistant isn’t that far away (it will probably be called M, by the way).
The use of AI goes much deeper. It could be used in marketing to curate information and make recommendations. If you are an eCommerce store selling books, the bot can sweep through your social media profile and find mentions of books, then present the best matches from its own catalogue that you might be interested in, and talk to you using the type of language you’ve used in your own digital posts.
Predictive customer service, ad targeting, customer segmentation and even product pricing can be used to find and appeal to an audience, providing people with much more relevant information and offers. AI can use the data of the deep web to sell things effectively. A lot of AI is still behind the scenes, but the usefulness of bots will improve over time, just as the efficiency of digital assistants has improved since Siri was first released as an app in February 2010.
VR and AR Isn’t Ready Yet
VR is more prevalent than it has ever been. Facebook acquired VR headset firm Oculus, Sony has PSVR, Google has its Daydream VR platform for mobile, and Microsoft is still working on its AR/VR system Hololens. Decent 360 degree 4K cameras like the VUZE are now available for $799. However, VR is still in early adopter territory.
Worldwide, there are only around 19 million people who have VR headsets. 10 million of those are the ‘throwaway’ Google Cardboard headsets, and 5 million of those are the Samsung Gear VR headsets, given away free with their new flagship phones. Around a million people have dedicated VR headsets like the PSVR (915,000), Oculus Rift (140,000) and the HTC Vive (130,000).
There will be a market for VR and AR, but at the moment the technology is too expensive and bulky to have been picked up by a mass audience. There isn’t yet a killer game or app that creates a real incentive to adopt the technology.
That’s not to say that it won’t become relevant in the future, but the small numbers of people who have the technology (let alone use it consistently) means that it isn’t a technology that needs to be adopted widespread by marketers yet. We still need to market in the now and wait for the future a little longer.
How You Can Get Ready
The most important thing to focus on to stay relevant in 2018 is your audience. If you know what they like and what they react to, then your content will continue to appeal to them. From the trends that have grown in 2017 and are set to continue in 2018, using Facebook and influencers seem to be safe bets, but only if that’s where the attention of your audience already is. Influencers who write blogs may be better if you have an SEO objective, just as LinkedIn may be preferable if you have a B2B focus.
If you meet your audience where their attention already is, on the right platform, with the right content, and at the right point on their customer journey, then you’ll be fine. Understanding your brand and understanding your audience is always going to be important — that’s a trend that will definitely still be as relevant in 2028 as it will be in 2018.