In 2004, Facebook was launched as a simple site that allowed college students to share pictures, post statuses, and generally interact with their peers online.
In 2006, Twitter launched—much to the confusion of many people still trying to wrap their heads around the utility of character limits and hashtags. Having a social media marketing strategy still wasn’t mainstream, and people were largely unaware of the role that these technologies would come to play in their daily lives.
Barely a decade later, Facebook has grown into a multibillion-dollar market valuation tool, Twitter has risen and fallen under the weight of its own users, and a crowd of various other social platforms have blinked into and out of existence—all while millions of people post, Like, and share their way through their everyday lives. In the same way these platforms have rapidly developed into something much larger than their original ideas, we’ve also seen people’s interactions with social media rapidly change. In the early years, the idea of statuses and constant contact seemed radically new, only to later turn into a fascination for easily accessible visual content, and then next into the mobile renaissance that we’ve seen over the past five years.
The tech, trends, and behaviors surrounding social media are constantly evolving, leaving marketers to play catch-up. Thankfully, there are loads of researchers helping us keep a finger on the pulse of social media marketing strategy (though the amount of data can, at times, be overwhelming). So if 2016 could be distilled down to 10 central findings, what would the numbers have to say?
1. Facebook Reigns Supreme, But Instagram Outperforms
It’s no surprise to anyone that Facebook is still, by virtue of numerous metrics, on top of the social media food chain. More users, faster growth, more revenue—its position remains one of the few things that doesn’t seem to change in the social media world. However, TrackMaven found that when it comes to brands interacting with their audiences, Instagram wildly outperforms the competition in engagement per thousand followers.
2. Social Is Becoming Expensive
But it’s also fruitful. While advertising platforms continue to find ways to drive down costs and improve tracking for brands, a “pay to play” mentality has increasingly set in, meaning that brands hoping to get by on exclusively organic interactions are likely in trouble. Between this pressure to advertise and the affordable(ish) nature of advertising on social, it’s no surprise that, as The CMO Survey pointed out, “current levels of [social media] spending have witnessed a 234 percent increase [over the past even years], rising from 3.5 percent of marketing budgets in 2009 to 11.7 percent in 2016.”
3. Engagement Metrics Hold Weight
Given the importance and increasingly expensive nature of social media, proving its ROI is of huge importance for marketers—and a major struggle. According to Simply Measured’s 2016 State of Social Marketing report, “61.1 percent of marketers identified ‘Measuring ROI’ as their top challenge.”
To solve this problem, the majority of brands have started putting more weight on behavior-oriented metrics, such as engagement, to measure the impact of their social efforts.
Instead of viewing engagement as a vanity metric, brands should turn to software to help them track and integrate their consumers’ social journeys as they go from total strangers to leads. As Simply Measured wrote, “by connecting social media to the buyer’s journey, and understanding the full impact of earned, owned, and dark social activity, social marketers will continue to prove and improve their impact on marketing programs throughout 2016 and beyond.”
4. Videos Are the New Statuses
Of the many features we’ve seen develop over the past year, a number of these include features that bring video close to the profile and status elements of user profiles. Beginning with Snapchat Stories, which were added shortly after the app’s launch, we’ve seen Facebook adopt animated profile pictures and Instagram adopt a Stories feature of its own. Video continues to be the most engaging form of content on social platforms, and marketers shouldn’t be surprised if they continue to see new developments that push video ever closer to the most basic functions of social platforms.
5. Complexity Demands Experience and Time
Despite the wide variety of tools, automation, and reports available to social marketers today, the complexities and speed of the social environment continue to require high demands on social managers’ time. Social Media Examiner found that nearly 20 percent of marketers spend more than 20 hours a week on social media (though, the majority spend less than six hours a week on social). What is most telling, however, is that when comparing time spent on social against years of experience in the social marketing space, the Examiner found a nearly direct correlation between years of experience and time spent on the platforms.
6. Virtual Reality Is Coming Faster Than Expected
It seems only a few months ago that the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive came into the public eye, making virtual reality a topic of household conversation. But while it may seem to many that the technology is still in its infancy, VR is already slated to have its first billion dollar year in 2016, and some agencies are already using 360-degree video and VR experiences in their efforts. Couple all of this with Facebook’s ownership in Oculus, and the only thing preventing VR from being a commonplace part of social experience is the price point. Marketers should begin thinking now about this technology and how it might affect their presence in the near future.
7. Social Media Is Now a Majority Mobile Experience
While marketers have been watching the rise of mobile usage both on the web and social for some time now, 2016 has been the year that Facebook’s traffic officially started coming, primarily, from mobile-only users (54 percent to be exact). For a variety of reasons, from convenience to accessibility to culture norms, it seems likely that most social experiences are going to be dominated by mobile moving into the future. Brands looking to stay ahead of the game will need to consider what this means for their content, presence, and posting behavior.
8. Social Video Begins to Beat Out YouTube
When Facebook first introduced native video to its platform, many users continued to opt for sharing video links. For regular users, there was a convenience factor involved in not using the new system, while marketers were all too happy to keep their views and traffic centralized to their own established video channels. But following the introduction of an easier interface and some preferential treatment by the site’s algorithm, Facebook video has now grown to an average of 8 billion video views per day, doubling where YouTube was in 2012 (YouTube’s sudden interest in shrouding viewing statistics may also be an interesting indicator in this competition). Facebook certainly hasn’t unseated YouTube, but marketers would do well to consider careful how and where they host their videos for best effect.
9. Social Is Service
Where social media used to just offer a nice supplement to a fully fleshed-out customer service system, audiences have demanded increasing service interaction on social to the point where users who don’t receive a response or solution within four hours of posting to a brand’s social page are very likely to leave that brand. Getting your customer service team on board with social may not only be useful—now, it actually seems necessary.
10. You Might Not Be a Statistic
Most importantly, despite massive changes in the social landscape, your brand remains unique. Doing everything right can still fail if it doesn’t fit your brand experience. Listen to the trends, but also keep your team open to finding its own place within them.