Social media in 2015: The tech and trends to watch

12th Jan 2015

The world of social media moves with alarming speed – new social networks spring up while existing social platforms regularly introduce new functionality. All of this means that businesses need to keep their eye on the ball. If a new network or service emerges, or a social platform launches a new advertising tool, it could provide a valuable opportunity to improve engagement or provide new insight into customers and their opinions.

Last year was no exception, and there were several big stories from the world of social media that would have been of interest to businesses.

For instance, 2014 was the year when social video – video content created by users with their smartphones – really hit the mainstream.

“This has been a major development, as it has changed user behaviour so dramatically (especially within millennials) with users consuming video content easily through their mobile devices while watching TV or ‘second-screening’,” notes Brian Taylor, MD digital marketing, at Jaywing. “YouTube claims that over six billion hours of video are watched each month on the channel, with mobile making up almost 40% of YouTube's global watch time. Now users have the additional ability to engage with the content, join a conversation and maybe most importantly share it amongst their peers through social media.

“Brands have realised the importance and the power social video can have, and are now embracing the medium. It has forced brands to look at messaging and simplify it to make it more impactful so that it works within the confinements of social video. Brands from all industry categories have continued to utilise social video throughout the year, creating engaging videos that are built for sharing.”

Graeme Delap, social media consultant at Amaze, adds: “It’s significant because it’s brought an extra dimension to how people and brands convey messages, information and share content. It really brings social networks to life and harnesses a key feature of smartphones. Added to that, Facebook's Video Ads capability has refreshed the type of content from brands that appears in people’s news feeds. Social video becoming mainstream has meant brands have really had to broaden the type of content they produce.”

Pay to play in 2014

Elsewhere, the impact of #NoMakeUpSelfie for Breast Cancer Awareness and the #ALSIceBucketChallenge raised the bar for social campaigns in terms of how people got involved and interacted with brands on social media.

“Being for charity certainly helped, but they were also easy to build and execute,” says Delap. “Above all, they prove it’s possible to bring together friends and networks to collaboratively create something of value and to show support for a cause given the right content and context. The tricky bit is you can’t always plan the full effect or guarantee success (or in this case donations).

“These campaigns are significant because they put people front and centre. They urge brands to re-evaluate their social activity. They show that people and their networks or connections are as important as the content or message. They confirm it’s never been very effective to just ‘push’ content or messages to audiences – no matter how targeted they are. Similarly, it’s never been effective to broadcast or promote poor content.

“In light of these campaigns, brands should take a pause for thought around social media and appreciate it isn’t simply about amplifying their bigger brand marketing campaigns or acquiring customers. It is about aligning their brand mission to what both they and their customers want to achieve.”

Meanwhile, 2014 also bore witness to the increasing influence of paid advertising on social platforms, with all the main networks offering a growing number of paid advertising options.

“It has been critical to utilise these paid-for options as organic reach declines and users’ feeds become more and more cluttered, making it harder for brands to be heard,” suggests Taylor.

“Facebook’s recent announcement that it plans to penalise promoted posts that are irrelevant, shows how the channel is maturing and following the Google model of rewarding brands who work hard to make the promoted posts contextually relevant and ensuring their content will be seen over others. This is a significant step, as social media has sometimes been perceived as a ‘free’ medium but it’s fast becoming a space where you need to ‘pay to play’.

“Paid social advertising has forced brands to re-evaluate how they distribute content through these channels to be more efficient and adjust their media plan in order to ensure their content is reaching the consumer consistently and effectively.”

So that was last year - but what will be capturing our imagination in 2015?

Real-time social media marketing will mature

Depending on your point of view, Facebook’s decision to downgrade the visibility of organic brand content is either designed to encourage paid-for brand content, or to try and reduce the ‘content fatigue’ that some believe is damaging some social platforms. In the wake of Facebook’s changes, certainly brands have to be more sophisticated with their social media marketing if they are to get visibility and make an impression. And this will influence how businesses approach social media in 2015.

“People are being bombarded with more and more content and messages of varying value, type and relevance,” says Delap. “Whilst some brands will continue to try and grab attention with below par content, I think we’ll see brands and businesses setting out to show that they truly understand their existing and potential customers: their motivations, emotional and rational feelings, their reason for using social networks and the true role a brand can play in that journey.”

One discipline that will have greater influence this year, therefore, is real-time social media marketing.

Delap continues: “The rush for ‘real-time' social media marketing isn’t going away anytime soon and will likely form the backdrop to the content fatigue. I also think there’s a growing belief that real-time social media marketing doesn’t always mean 'in the moment', but picking and choosing the right moment and planning how to sustain the reaction and maintaining interaction.”

Predictive social media marketing will further emerge

Another discipline that will prove valuable as brands become more sophisticated with their social media is predictive marketing.

“In the past couple of years, real-time marketing has become a high priority for brands wanting to improve their reach by responding to live events and trends. Moving forward I think we will see more predictive marketing; using data to anticipate content needs and responding to this in advance,” suggests Mark Ralphs, managing director of Bloom Worldwide.

“The demand is there, and when you look at developments like probabilistic programming, the technology is there too.  The benefits are obvious. More polished, relevant content for consumers and better results for brands. However, the industry must find a balance between marketing automation and real-time conversation. There is a place for both.”

Ecommerce and financial transactions become more significant on social media

“Twitter and Facebook have tested integrating buy buttons to the platforms and this will develop over the coming year. These innovations, in addition to Snapchat’s recent announcements on Snapcash, leads me to think that making financial transactions through social media will soon be close to common practice,” predicts Taylor.

And this could have major significance for businesses.

He continues: “Brands will be able to overcome the challenge of attributing return on investment on social media by attributing purchases to individual posts. This will give brands a very accessible audience that are only a click or tap or two away from purchase, when platforms already have this consumer data stored to their profile. Social payments also open up a new wave of real-time / time sensitive promotions and a new kind of impulse buying. Lastly, the data gathered here will be hugely valuable as it will finally connect purchase behaviour and social behaviour.”

Social media will become cross-departmental

2015 could also be the year that social media finally moves out of the silo, according to Tamara Littleton, CEO of Emoderation and Polpeo.

“Brands will realise that all departments have a vested interest in social and need to understand its value,” she predicts. “We’ve seen this when training brands in how to deal with a social media crisis. A cross-departmental approach is needed in a crisis situation, but if the legal team doesn’t understand social media, or its effect on the business, they won’t understand the importance of the rapid, personalised responses needed on social media during a crisis.

“Cross-functional teams are becoming crucial, and we're also seeing the rise of 'social operations' teams to support the divisions impacted and influenced by social media. For example, marketing and PR departments have similar, but different, business goals – they will use social media in a different way from each other, and from departments such as customer support. All of these departments need to be aware of each other’s goals when it comes to social media. It's all about a deliberate blurring of lines.”

Rapid change

Unsurprisingly, as brands will be another year older and wiser, all of these predictions point to a more mature approach to social media, and more sophisticated techniques to drive engagement.

Delap adds: “Whilst some brands and businesses will continue to use social media platforms as broadcast and acquisition channels, I’d like to think the really good brands will use social customer data to drive true brand affinity, embed loyalty and retain customers well beyond a product purchase. The scramble for attention in social media channels is only going to get tougher – and more expensive – so I think there’s going to be a natural counter-reaction. That might mean we’ll see brands using social media in a smarter way; designing broader and deeper customer-centric products, services and campaigns throughout the customer journey.

He concludes: “The challenge for brands and businesses is still to take a broader view of social media. It’s not enough to simply re-engineer or reformat traditional marketing or brand messages and promote them through social channels, for example. The rapid change in social media reflects a bigger shift in the interest, behaviours and attitudes of consumers. Organisations need to adapt to manage that change. They must re-assess their purpose, role and activity across social media and restructure accordingly, with their customers, collaboration and communication at its heart.”

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