3 Social Media Trends for 2020

Social media is a living, breathing perpetual motion machine – constantly growing and evolving with new features, apps and developments every day. Below are just three of some of the more interesting and relevant trends for social media managers and marketers to keep an eye on heading into the new year.

  • Instagram’s Growth and Influencer Marketing
  • The Rise of Dark Social
  • TikTok and Underdog Apps

Instagram’s Growth and Influencer Marketing

After its launch in 2010, Instagram quickly became the third largest platform in terms of active monthly users, behind older Facebook (#1) and YouTube (#2), and second only to Facebook in terms of average time spent on the app. As the platform grew, it switched its feed from a reverse chronology of posts to an algorithm which prioritizes posts based on your behavior on the app. It also added the increasingly popular Stories feature (a close imitation of Snapchat’s 24-hour disappearing content) with more than half of its 1 billion monthly active users using the feature, daily.

With explosive growth and popularity comes the proliferation of ads. Where there were no ads in stories before, there is now an ad between every story. As Instagram grows, and more people, businesses and ads inundate the platform, brands will struggle to achieve organic reach – heading in a similar direction as Facebook, which some now consider to be a “pay-to-play” platform. One solution: hire an “influencer” with an established following and credibility to bring your brand directly to your audience with a sense of authenticity.

Influencers allow marketers to go from “pushing” brands and products on users via ads to “pulling” them in. These popular third-party personalities help promote brands by lending genuine credibility and welcomed access to audiences’ feeds. While this is a tactic usually reserved for larger campaigns, when done right, it’s worth it, with nearly 90% of marketers finding ROI from influencer marketing comparable to, or better than, other marketing channels. The growth in the use of influencer marketing is proof as influencer marketing has grown into a $500 million industry and predicted to grow to $5 to $10 billion in the next five years (Mediakix).

The Rise of Dark Social

In response to user frustration with overcrowded newfeeds and chaotic comment streams, social media companies are focusing on building out features that cultivate “closed group” environments and interactions. The precipitous growth of messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger, and the rise “dark social” website traffic, is evidence that users want and need a service that provides a more private and personal experience. “Dark social” traffic refers to website traffic derived from shared links in direct social media conversations (DMs) and messaging apps, which are difficult to track – making it challenging to measure the impact. However, studies have predicted that between 65% to 84% of online shares happen on dark social.

Recognizing the prevalence of content sharing in dark social environments, companies are increasingly introducing ads into these previously ad-less settings. Marketers have been quick to recognize this opportunity and platforms like Facebook Messenger, Telegram and WeChat are already places where ads compete for user’s attention. Facebook-owned WhatsApp recently announced it will also be adding Instagram story-like ads to the app. Expect to see continued growth in closed group social media environments and dark social advertising in 2020.

TikTok and Underdog Apps

If you’re tuned in to social media trends you’ve heard about the rapidly growing video sharing app, TikTok, which launched in 2017. Even if you haven’t heard of the app, you’ve likely seen a reposted TikTok video on your Instagram or Twitter feed. You might be surprised to learn that the two-year-old app has over 1.5 billion total downloads globally and, according to Fast Company, the average user on TikTok spends about 45 minutes on the app, which is more time than users spend on Facebook. It also signed a multi-year partnership with the NFL in September.

In reference to TikTok’s approach and growth, Mark Zuckerberg recognized it a “one of the more interesting new phenomena and products that are growing.” Facebook launched a look-alike video app, Lasso, in November 2018, and Instagram is currently rolling out a new feature called “Reels” in select markets, which looks and feels like TikTok’s content. However, Lasso’s growth has paled in comparison to TikTok’s, and Instagram’s Reels feature may not experience the same success as TikTok’s videos, given that the environments of the apps are fundamentally different.  

At its core, TikTok is about posting random, comedic, storyboarded content for the world to see, as opposed to the curated, real-time, real-life snippets for your personal Instagram followers and Facebook connections. Another key difference is TikTok’s “newsfeed” experience. When you open the app, instead of seeing an algorithmically preened list of posts from accounts you follow, TikTok greets you with a bottomless well of content from all users, based on your perceived interests, leading you down a rabbit hole of endless engagement.

Moral of the story: the current social media giants like Facebook and Instagram may not be able to buy or copy their way into every market. There is still room for other social media models to flourish. Savvy marketers should keep an eye out for social media underdogs like TikTok that may provide unique opportunities to reach vast, untapped audiences.

Kenneth Gayles is an account supervisor in Stratacomm’s D.C. office. He works on a variety of transportation and infrastructure clients, heavily focusing on digital ad strategies, social media management, analytics and reporting.

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