A Look back: The Most Important Social Media Trends of 2018

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Social media had another big year in 2018. GDPR compliance was big, influencer marketing continued to change and gain steam, the growth of Instagram was huge and of course Facebook dominated with a new algorithm along with the privacy scandal, writes, by Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers. 

2018 was a huge year for social media. There were so many changes to navigate including GDPR compliance, privacy scandals and a new algorithm at Facebook, the impact of influencer marketing, and the rise of Instagram (and the departure of its founders) to name a just a few. Social media marketers found themselves having to aim for targets that were not only moving, but morphing into new entities altogether. For brands that need to reach more consumers and raise brand awareness on social media, here are the biggest trends from 2018 you should consider as you develop your strategies for the coming year.

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The steady decline of organic content on Facebook

When you examine the metrics for engagement on the Facebook app, one development has remained consistently true throughout 2018. That undeniable trend is the steady decline of engagement and reach for Facebook organic content. Some believe this may be tied to the introduction of the new algorithm at the beginning of the year. But our numbers show that probably isn’t the case. As you can see in the graph below, the decline of engagement with organic Facebook content began months before the new algorithm was introduced. In just over a year, audiences have shifted away from engaging with this type of content.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean brands should abandon Facebook. If your audience is still mainly on Facebook, you should keep posting at high volume. But now more than ever, you must post content that is relevant to the audience. With the decline in engagement and the new algorithm that punishes spam, the ability to understand which organic content will resonate with your audience on Facebook is key. We have seen that when brands post highly relevant content, they do gain back engagement and get love from Facebook users. Even with the overall decline in this venue.

So, what is driving the decline in Facebook engagement? Are people simply tired of a text-based format? That brings us the next big trend of 2018.

The dramatic rise of Instagram and Stories

In the ever-changing universe of social media, perhaps the biggest story of 2018 is the rise of Stories. These are the multimedia posts that combine video, pictures and text and drive high levels of engagement. Compared to passive, text-based posts, they are much more compelling, interactive and attractive to social media users. And they have helped drive a growing transfer of social media marketing initiatives to one of the newly established home of Stories, Instagram.

In 2018, Instagram hit significant milestones, dethroning Snapchat as the most-used social media platform among teens, and the volume of brands posting Instagram Stories increased by 400%. Don’t forget that Instagram began with a feed similar to Facebook. The introduction of Stories to Instagram changed all that, increasing engagement with users and attracting the attention of brand advertisers. Stories also had a similar effect in venues like WhatsApp. Although Instagram posts still garner more impressions than Instagram Stories, the trend is clear. Stories are the new stars of social media, and you can expect to see a continuing uplift in impressions and engagement with them in the year ahead.

In many ways, the adoption of Stories is similar to adoption of mobile. In terms of scale and velocity, people are moving to them in droves and there is no sign of a slowdown. The question is why aren’t more brands adopting it as well?

Even with all the new attention on Stories and Instagram, brands are still moving slowly to catch up with this trend. We still see many brands investing most heavily in traditional Facebook ads. Instagram may have a smaller audience than Facebook, but their users are much more engaged. Because their audiences are already on Instagram, and Stories offer superior traction for engagement, we recommend that advertisers take advantage of this trend as soon as they can.

The golden age of influencer marketing

In 2018, it became clear that influencer marketing should not be considered an experimental or boutique advertising model. It is a big enabler of revenue, and big brands are getting on board. It’s estimated that influencer marketing ad spending will reach $10 billion by 2020.1 The reason is that consumers prefer to see authentic content from people who they trust and follow on social media, rather than content they are getting from a brand.

But in this golden age of influencer marketing, there is also a good deal of fraud. In 2018, social media marketers learned they need to do their due diligence before investing in an influencer.

There are three types of influencer marketing fraud to be aware of: Fake fans, fake engagement and fake interests.

Fake fans – A fraudulent influencer can easily purchase a fake profile with many followers, or purchase the followers directly themselves. On the black market, a mere $50 will buy you 1,000 followers.

Fake engagement – An influencer may have authentic followers, but uses software or automated tools that comment or like their posts to create fraudulent engagement metrics.

Fake interests – An influencer with genuine engagement in one topic may pass themselves off as an influencer in another topic, when in reality they have no engagement with users on that alternative topic.

It’s critical that brands gain the capability to sniff out influencer marketing fraud. For instance, brands could examine an influencer’s performance over a longer time period, like six months, and their engagement level per 1,000 fans. The first metric can uncover spikes that may indicate fake activity, while the second metric indicates whether genuine, on-topic engagement with the target audience is taking place. Without these data insights, brands may waste time and money on an influencer with no real reach or engagement.

The limited success of chatbots

When chatbots arrived on the social media scene a few years ago, they were supposed to be the next big thing for customer relations and brand outreach. Chatbots were deployed on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate one-on-one with consumers and prospects, solving problems and marketing goods and services. In 2018, the brands who experimented with chatbots began to realize they weren’t going to be the big success they thought they would be.

The truth is that chatbots can have difficulty understanding exactly what a person is asking of them. Many chatbot interactions end up with a menu-driven conversation. You must select an option, click, and then you are given another option. There isn’t much room for nuance or ambiguity. In 2018, using a computer to conduct a conversation can still be a barrier to an engaging experience.

However, in process-oriented industries, chatbots are generating a significant return on investment. If you need to book an airline flight or reserve a hotel room, a chatbot is handy way to walk you through that process. But if you want to complain that your hotel room is not what you expected, a chatbot probably can’t resolve the problem. It will take you through the first few steps of the process, then hand you off to a human who can address your issue. But taking those first few steps out of the dialogue is still a major benefit for these types of vertical industries.

Overall, in terms of raising brand awareness and reaching a broader audience of consumers, chatbots were still not ready for prime time in 2018.

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Data is still king

2018 was truly a remarkable year for social media. And these are just of a few of the many emerging trends that had a transformative impact on how brands use social channels to reach their target audiences. Of course, there is one aspect of social media that didn’t change in 2018. If you want to successfully leverage platforms like Facebook and Instagram and others, you need solid data to drive your decision making. In 2019, reliable data will still be a business imperative to help you know precisely where to invest your advertising budget in order to maximize reach, engagement and business impact.