Five things that will shape social media in 2020

As another year closes, Amaury Tréguer returns to give Marketing his top five predictions for the evolution of social media in 2020. Last year, he predicted the rise of vertical video and CGI influencers; for 2020, it’s less about the tech, and more our relationship with it.

Over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to predict what social and digital have in-store for the year to come for Marketing. So far, I believe I was pretty on-point, but I’ll let you be the judge. Check out the previous trends here: 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019

Before jumping into it, you might ask who am I to predict these trends. Well, I’m not a crystal ball medium nor a futurist, just your typical agency guy that has been working in the social and digital space in Australia for the past nine years. 

Nine years in that space can almost be measured in dog years – the equivalent of 63 in social media years – it’s such a fast-paced environment, with new features, algorithms and platforms popping up every day. Unless you keep your fingers on the pulse, you might be stuck with an outdated social strategy – which can create more harm than good. 

Now that the intros are done, let’s get into it. This year, as always, has been very exciting. We welcomed the removal of likes on Facebook and Instagram, along with the removal of thousands of bots and fake accounts on Instagram. TikTok arrived, there was the continuous growth of the Stories format over the ‘grid’, and don’t forget the most-liked photo on Instagram ever, the world record egg.

Here are my top five predictions for this year:

1. Conversational commerce: the new e-commerce

Imagine paying your electricity bill or RTA fines, topping up your Opal card, buying your favourite pair of shoes or even booking your next overseas trip without leaving your preferred social app and having to remember the dozen passwords that need to be reinitiated every single time you connect. Well, this is not utopia, this is what WeChat has been offering for years, but it’s only slowly getting rolled out on other popular channels like Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. I like to call it the ‘WeChattisation’ of the social platforms.

WeChat has been leading the way for years in merging all the features and functionalities of messaging, social media and mobile payment in just one app – it’s pretty much the Swiss Army knife of social platforms. The more efficient and frictionless the process is, the more revenue businesses can generate. It’s no wonder that WeChat is one of the most popular apps in the world with more than a billion active daily users in China. It is also the preferred professional tool for Chinese (88%), well ahead of emails that are only used by 23% of the population.

Messaging apps are more popular than phone calls or traditional texts. The number of users worldwide is increasing at a rapid rate and social channels are creating new advertising features to drive this trend further – from social feeds to private messages. WhatsApp counts more than 1.5 billion monthly active users from 180 different countries and is still growing. 

Messaging apps represent the perfect tool for intimate and personalised customer service with one-to-one and one-to-many communications between businesses and potential customers.  Facilitating payment within these apps is just the next necessary step to close the loop. According to a study by Curalate, 77% of consumers say social media influences their purchasing decisions while a recent HubSpot Research study claims that 47% of shoppers are open to making a purchase through a chatbot. 

Recently Facebook has introduced Facebook Pay in the US, a single payment system that sits across the whole Facebook ecosystem (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp) and will work with all the leading debit and credit card companies to facilitate transactions and peer-to-peer payments within these platforms.

We’ve known for years that the evolution of social is private, so it’s about time for brands to consider these platforms as the new El Dorado to generate sales and build closer bonds with their audience.

2. Social proof is proving to be effective

When was the last time you went to a restaurant, booked a trip, rented a house or even bought something online without checking other people’s photos or online reviews? Nobody relies on what they see on brand websites, polished social feeds or what paid social influencers tell them to do. People check rates and reviews sites such as TheFork, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot, Google reviews or track location and venue hashtags to get a clearer idea of what’s to be expected. According to Forrester, users, on average, engage with more than 11 pieces of content before making a purchase and 70% of consumers visit three or more channels when doing a product search.

Building a strong online rate and review strategy is crucial and if done properly, brands can reap the benefits. According a study by Invesp, 72% of people say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more and they are likely to spend 31% more with a business that has ‘excellent’ reviews. On the flip side, a single negative review can cost a business approximatively 30 customers. 

If you have watched Nosedive, an episode of the Netflix show Black Mirror, you would have witnessed the extremes of what living with an omnipresent rating system can result in – being cast away by people, losing all your friends or having no sense of belonging – just for having a bad rating.

Fortunately, this is fiction but it demonstrates that brands need to look after their rates and review strategy and continue to ensure the best quality of their products and services in the most ethical way, if they still want to be in business.

Today, we are constantly prompted to review products and services, and that is usually for the best. When you check in to a hotel and want to access the wifi, you are often prompted by the Local Measure platform to rate your first impressions. This information is then communicated to the staff as they aim to maintain or improve your experience before you check out and leave a more permanent review. Rates and reviews are the necessary evil for progress and you can proactively control them by being on the front foot. As the adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry! 

3. Employees are the new influencers

Over the past few years, as we all know, social platforms have gradually decreased their organic reach. If you are lucky, 3-5% of your audience will organically see your posts in their feeds. Most social platforms have become pretty much pay-to-play, and unless you have a paid media budget to support your efforts, you can forget about growing reach. It has become harder and harder for brands to play in that organic space.

Social influencers were once the solution to this problem, but unfortunately they are becoming more and more expensive and subject to the same algorithms. Therefore, brands still need to put some paid media behind influencers’ posts to increase the reach of their message. It’s a never-ending vicious cycle, making it hard to cut-through. 

However, one of the long-overlooked solutions is for brands to use the power of their own employees to amplify their message. Employees represent their businesses, day in, day out, and are potentially the best brand advocates that companies could hope for. Having an employee advocacy program in place makes total sense for businesses, yet only a few have such programs. According to a study by Social Media Today, only 31% of businesses have an employee advocacy program, while 29% plan to implement one. 

The benefits are numerous. According to the same study, content shared by employees sees on average eight times more engagement than content shared through branded channels. Furthermore, 61% of people say they are more likely to research a product or service after seeing a friend’s post, compared with 36% if the same post came from an influencer or celebrity. A significant issue with employee advocacy remains however, with almost 40% of people saying they don’t feel adequately trained on how to find and share brand or business-related updates.

Related: Four benefits your brand can unlock with better employee advocacy »

crowd heart hands employee

Besides having a clear social strategy in place and sets of guidelines, tools like Sociabble and GaggleAMP are making it easier for employees to post brand messages. In just a couple of clicks, users can share controlled company messages on their own channels and be rewarded for it. Businesses need to start considering their staff as micro-influencers that can create value, in addition to the everyday job that they are being paid for.         

4. Interactive content is the new norm

Back in 2016 and 2017, I suggested that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) were going to be the next big things. I don’t think I was wrong, just a tiny bit too early. Social platforms such as Snap (Snapchat), Facebook and Instagram have democratised access to these and other technologies to make it easy for users to create engaging and interactive content. 

Marketers now have access at their fingertips to AR/VR, 360-degree videos, polls, quizzes, shoppable posts and many other features to catch their audiences’ attention and create long-lasting impressions. It is not sufficient anymore to simply post stunning imagery or well-produced videos. From tapping, double tapping, dragging, clicking, swiping and witnessing the offline world change with AR, people want to interact with the content.

Facebook recently released Spark AR Studio, its augmented reality platform that allows brands to easily create their own AR experiences on Facebook and Instagram without any necessary coding experience. Brands are now able to upload their own custom AR filters for Instagram Stories. Those AR filters can allow users to ‘digitally’ try out a new pair of sunnies, sneakers, make up or place a piece of furniture in-situ before making a purchase – reducing all the stress of buying online. According to a study by eMarketer from earlier this year, 42.9 million people were expected to use VR in 2019, and 68.7 million would have used AR at least once a month.

The results? Besides increasing shareability of the content and sales, using ‘immersive reality’ (AR/VR) boosts brand building with 71% of consumers considering the brand to be forward-thinking.

5. The rise of interest-based communities 

When social platforms first appeared, the premise was simple. It was to allow users to connect or reconnect with friends and relatives, to share messages, photos and status updates. Over the past ten years, this has changed somewhat. Platforms opened Pages and profiles for businesses and allowed marketers to advertise on these channels, it was a necessary evil considering that everyday users don’t have to pay for the maintenance of the hundreds of thousands of servers required to host the billions of photos and videos that are shared every day. 

The arrival of brands and ads on social channels has also caused the departure of millions of users not willing to be advertised to every single time they check their social feeds. Obviously, this is not a great outcome for social channels. In order to tackle this issue, platforms have focused their efforts in rebuilding the ethos of social channels and putting greater emphasis on social interactions.

Back in April at the last F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Groups will become more prominent, offering more features and greater privacy – including job postings in certain groups or being able to act anonymously on health-related groups to protect the privacy of users. 

Groups offer an alternative for marketers to rally their most engaged fans and loyalists around the brand or a specific subject matter – pretty much what forums or Reddit are popular for, and have been offering for years. You follow, rally and contribute to these groups based on common interests and people value your opinion more than on traditional social channels. According to a research study by community platform Tapatalk, 80% of people stated that they would trust responses on a specialised forum more than those on Facebook. 

Should marketers start considering an alternative to creating Business Pages and aim to build real thriving social communities comprising their die-hard fans and not be subject to algorithms?

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So there you have my top five predictions for 2020, in no specific order of importance. Keen to hear your thoughts!

Amaury Tréguer is executive director social, Red Havas

Social media predictions for years past – what did Amaury get right?

Image credit: Netflix – Black Mirror

Amaury Treguer
BY Amaury Treguer ON 10 December 2019
Amaury Treguer is executive director social at Red Havas