The age-old axiom remains true: The more things change, the more they stay the same. While technology has rapidly progressed since social media was first introduced, the big picture hasn't changed. "People still yearn for human connections and experiences, and they want to share those connections across various platforms and devices," says Abani Heller, CEO of Classmates.
Sure, posting trip photos, tweeting links, and networking with old co-workers is fun. But online citizens want to tap into the pulse of the world around them, belong to a community, and be recognized. "Social media has evolved into a personal online identity. Before, it was used to connect with friends and update your status," says Jesse Till, social media coordinator for Chatter Buzz Media. "Now, it defines a persona. It's a chance for a person to express and broadcast themselves to the world."
Lauren Washington, co-founder and CEO of KeepUp, agrees. "Every person is now a brand; every post now has the potential to make news, and access to your idols is now just a click away," she says. "And the key social sites have evolved to accommodate users' varied needs. Facebook is for personal updates, Instagram for artistic expression, Twitter for rapid news, and Snapchat for surprise and delight."
Consider that 65% of American adults use social networking sites-up dramatically from the 7% tallied in 2005-based on Pew Research Center's "Social Media Usage: 2005-2015" findings. Among adults online, Pew Research Center's "Mobile Messaging and Social Media 2015" report (published last August) reveals that 72% use Facebook; 31% use Pinterest; 28% use Instagram; 25% use LinkedIn; and 23% use Twitter.
Despite these impressive numbers, new and expanded challenges exist for those who use social as a well-positioned media channel and brand communication tool. One challenge is how to present useful content to users suffering from information overload. According to a LikeHack infographic, the average social media user is bombarded with around 54,000 words (285 content pieces) and 443 minutes of video daily. Other hurdles include social fraud, deception, and negative practices: creating phony online profiles, purchasing views or Likes, and trolling have soured the social media experience for many.
The Year in Review
The stories and developments that shaped social media in 2015 were plentiful. Among the biggest players, Facebook hit a new milestone: 1 billion users in a single day, per an August 27 blog post on the site; extended its carousel format to mobile app ads; allowed self-serve advertising on its Instagram platform; began offering a Call Now button within ads; implemented several key algorithm changes; redesigned and expanded its newsfeed preferences; and overhauled its Power Editor and Ads Manager. Twitter introduced an ads editor of its own, purchased Periscope, severed access to Meerkat's social graph, and named co-founder Jack Dorsey as its CEO. And ?LinkedIn changed its InMail policy and increased the visibility of its users' extended network in search.
Other major headlines in 2015 included the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) vowing to crack down on sneaky sponsored social content by issuing new truth-in-advertising endorsement guidelines and mobile ad blocking emerging as a significant threat to digital publishers.
As far as developing trends observed over the past year, "snackable content" (bite-size content designed for quick and easy consumption) grew in popularity, and more social platforms launched trending-topics-type sections, "where users can go and see what's popular and interact with other users," Till adds.
Lauren Friedman (head of global social business enablement at Adobe) notes that, prior to 2015, social media marketers took a channel approach that mirrored a public relations (PR)/earned media strategy. "Brands posted content daily to social channels and, in many ways, hoped their target audiences saw and engaged with the content," says Friedman. "But 2015 marked a new era of enhanced paid strategy and direct targeting where marketers could tap into consumer data to select the right demographics, search history, and past engagement to reach their intended audience."
In the past 12 months, social media became more of a staple implementation in business plans for marketers, PR professionals, and human-resources directors. "Businesses are using socials to target and learn about specific and new employees. This is forcing professionals to consider what they are posting," says Hayley Smith, founder and head of PR for Boxed Out PR.
A Look Ahead
When asked what will be trending in 2016 and beyond, experts offer an array of forecasts. "The concept of ‘mobile' will continue to evaporate as a meaningful distinction from a device perspective, as mobile will increasingly be either the primary or at least part of a simultaneous mode of engagement." says Lior Tamir, CEO and founder of Accomplice. "Also, chat is going to be one of the emergent social channels for marketers, as community managers and engineers work together to not only respond on-brand in minutes, but begin to automate these one-to-one interactions in the form of branded chatbots."
Washington believes content needs to and will evolve. "The next step in social media is creating more relevant, curated and aggregated content," she says. "Social media is now where email was a few years ago-it's permeated all aspects of our lives to the point where it's overwhelming, and we now need a better way to manage it. This is already happening on the business side with companies like Hootsuite and RebelMouse, but users need better options to manage their digital lives."
Going forward, Till predicts greater social interconnectivity with ecommerce, especially thanks to more platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp Messenger, WeChat, and Facebook allowing for online money transfers. "I also foresee a more integrated use of social media with wearables like the Apple Watch, and social platforms that will be exclusively on wearable technology," says Till.
Lastly, Gary J. Nix, chief strategy officer for bdot., expects brands to do a better job in 2016 of realizing who has the power when it comes to the bottom line-the consumer. "Brands and companies can no longer simply push out social media messages with little to no response," Nix says. "They must show their personality, ask for permission to engage with consumers, and fulfill all other promises in order for people to begin and continue to buy their products or services."