5 Social Media Trends to Watch

I recently stumbled across an article from Sprout Social titled, “6 Social Media Trends That Will Take Over 2018.” Between it and the fact that we’re discussing future trends in my social media class right now, I was inspired to share some of my own thoughts on what social media may look like in the near future.

The Influence Bubble Will Burst

I’m a huge proponent of influencer marketing. If you don’t know what that is, I’ve got you covered with my Influencer Marketing 101 crash course. Suffice to say that influencer marketing is a top trend in social media, and marketing in general, and it’s not going away any time soon.

So, what’s this about “the influence bubble will burst”?

Influencer marketing itself, which has its roots in the paid endorsements that have been around for as long as the advertising field has existed, isn’t going away. Nor is the practice of using social media influencers, like bloggers and Instagrammers, to reach consumers in a more natural, everyday method. It’s natural and authentic and consumers respond really well to it.

But, much like real estate or technology, influencer marketing has been operating in a bubble. And that bubble is about to burst.

What will happen when it does? Consumers will weed out the fake influencers, like the ones who have gotten too big and are now more like walking billboards than your next-door neighbor, and they’ll lose their value to brands. We’re going to see the rise of more micro-influencers, which I’m defining as less than 50,000 followers for the purpose of this article, and the decline of macro-influencers, which I’d say would be anyone with more than 100,000 followers.

As for the influencers in the middle, it’s all going to depend on how they respond as brands.

Laws, Rules, and Regulations

Two words: Cambridge Analytica. The Facebook saga, which peaked last week with Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony, has shone a spotlight on the widespread, and mostly unregulated, practice of data collection.

As a marketer, I love data collection. The more data I have about my consumers and my target market, whether that’s from Facebook or Google or somewhere else, the more I can fine-tune my marketing campaign and the better my results will be.

However, I’m still a consumer myself and I recognize that there are ethical issues involved. How much data is too much? Should companies be able to track me even after I’ve logged out of their site? Who gets to see this data? How will my data be stored? Perhaps most importantly, how will this data be used? And who is going to protect me and make sure that what the companies are saying, is what they’re actually doing?

These aren’t questions that I can answer. Across the pond, though, the European Union has developed a landmark law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It’s going into effect on May 25th and is one of, if not the, first instances of legislative rules on how companies can collect data, what sort of data they can collect, how it can be used. who can view that data, how it’s stored, and a host of other related issues that the Facebook scandal has brought to light in the U.S.

It might take a couple years, especially given that Congress doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of how this technology works, but I expect that we’ll see similar regulations cropping up in the U.S.

Integrated Marketing Communications

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC for short) is the idea that communications, both internal and external, should form part of the promotion aspect of the marketing mix, which makes those communications then tie into the overall business objectives.

In other words, anything that the brand says, such as in a press release, memo from the CEO, or response to a Facebook complaint, should be in line with the company’s specific brand voice and what their strategic goals are.

Going viral, while (sometimes) a good thing, isn’t the end-all-be-all of social media. It should be used as a part of the overall marketing strategy in a deliberate and thoughtful way.

Some companies are already recognizing this, such as PR giant Burson-Marsteller (now Burson Cohn & Wolfe) and other similar firms that are incorporating traditional marketing functions into their in-house operations. What remains to be seen is when the business world at large follows suit.

AI and AR

Full disclosure: I am not a technology person. My tech prowess peaked when I set up my own desktop computer in middle school and it’s been on a downward trend since then.

But I am a digital native, which means that I’m used to accepting new, rapidly-changing technologies. And as a marketer, I know that two of those technologies that I need to accept are Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Reality.

AI is going to become more prominent as virtual assistants, chatbots, and software programs are used to automate a lot of what businesses already do, from customer service to managing social media campaigns. What this means for marketers is that we have to focus more on our soft skills, like strategic thinking, brand consistency across platforms, and engaging with our audience, to name a few. We’re still going to be in demand, just in different roles.

AR is already changing the marketing landscape, especially with the release of phone accessories and software that allow consumers to bring AR into their own homes. It’s the natural progression of the experiental marketing that has been a focus in recent years, and remains a major consumer behavior trend that marketers should know. AR can be used for everything from product launches to helping homeowners decide what paint and furniture to buy. Its possibilities are just getting started and businesses will need marketers who can take this new technology and tie it into existing strategies.

Values Matter

I cannot say this enough: today’s consumers are extremely value-conscious. They’re not concerned about price, but about what brands stand for.

Take the Parkland tragedy, for instance. Regardless of your feelings on the gun debate, it’s hard to ignore the impact that this shooting has had on our culture. Companies were forced to pick a side in the debate and stick with it, like CitiGroup and JP Morgan, both of which have announced changes to their policies when it comes to dealing with gun manufacturers. Then there’s the host of retailers who are no longer selling guns, or at least are restricting their purchases.

Aside from the gun debate, there are a host of ethical issues for businesses to consider, from immigration to climate change. Then there’s the body positivity movement, kick-started by Aerie in 2014, and concern over companies relocating jobs to other countries. These are things that normally would have been left for legislators to deal with or, at best, would have resulted in a small outcry that was easily weathered.

Businesses no longer have the luxury to wait for lawmakers to act or the storm to pass over. Consumers are growing more and more educated, not in terms of diplomas but in terms of awareness about what businesses are doing. They’re not just listening to marketers and paid spokespeople anymore, and the rise of social media has a lot to do with that. If brands are going to succeed today, they need to make sure that their values align with those of their consumers. I’m not saying to take a hardcore stance on every hot-button issue, but I am saying to define your values, articulate them to the consumer, and stay true to them. That’s what consumers are demanding today.

There are a lot of social media trends to be aware of these days. Which ones do you think are most important?

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