This year, social media adoption hit a new high. Around the world, there are now more than 2 billion active social media users (growing at a steady pace of 25 percent a year). This means more people now regularly use social media than the entire populations of the United States and China, combined.
by Ryan Holmes
The runaway expansion of social media hasn’t, of course, escaped the notice of businesses. Social media, much more so than the web itself, has become the new ‘front door’ for business today. Nine out of 10 US companies are now active on social networks. 90 percent of businesses see increased exposure as a result and more than half report improved sales.
In 2016, the pace of social media change will accelerate even more. The good news for businesses is that major social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are figuring out ways to make it even more simple and productive for companies to engage with customers—and employees. Meanwhile, more and more tools are emerging that make it easier to track the impact of social media business use, whether for marketing, customer support or HR.
So what exactly is in store for 2016? Here are 5 key social media trends for 2016 that businesses should be looking at:
Social media at work is on the rise.
For years now, we’ve been promised that a new generation of internal social networks—for use inside company walls—will spell the end of email. No more hunting through your inbox for information. No more group email threads from Hell. And yet email has lumbered on in the workplace.
Well, until now. Slack has proven a game-changer. Its intuitive interface, built around themed chat rooms and searchable archives, has propelled it to more than a million daily active users in just two years time, from the team at NASA to the team at your local coffee shop. Meanwhile, Facebook’s new workplace networking platform Facebook at Work is officially being used in trial mode by 300 companies (including mine). With studies showing that using social media at work increases productivity and engagement, it’s only a matter of time before more businesses get on the bandwagon.
Companies turn to their own employees for bigger social media reach.
Nearly 80 percent of businesses now have a dedicated social media team. But many still struggle to reach an audience. 2016 will see companies turn increasingly to an underused resource in the effort to get the word out: their own employees. Employee social advocacy programs, which encourage staff to share updates about the business on their own social media accounts, have grown by 191 percent since 2013 and are due to take off in the year ahead.
When done right, the payoff can be impressive: companies not only expand their social media reach dramatically, they also get measurably better results. Content shared by employees, by one recent measure, gets eight times more engagementthan content shared by brand channels. A new generation of tools to facilitate employee sharing (including one that Hootsuite developed) should help this approach go mainstream in 2016.
Companies start paying attention to social messaging.
Here’s an eye-opener: Globally, there are nearly 4 billion active users of messaging apps, from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to WeChat and Kik. The top 5 apps in the world in terms of frequency of use, in fact, are all messaging apps: users are popping them open more often than even Facebook or Instagram.
What does this mean for companies? So far, not much. Messaging remains largely in the black box known as “dark social.” Right now, it’s kind of a mystery what content is being shared among users and how that affects web traffic and “conversions.” Intrepid brands—from Hellman’s to Absolut and HBO—are testing the waters, but by and large messaging’s huge potential remains untapped.
But 2016 may well be the year that analytics and insights become more readily available, enabling companies to develop full-fledged strategies around social messaging. All the major social platforms now have messaging components, and it’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to make that data available to businesses for marketing purposes.
In the meantime, messaging is already emerging as a key channel for one-on-one social customer service. Twitter lifted its character limits and follow requirements on direct messages earlier this year with customer support in mind, and Facebook Messenger has been busy piloting customer service features of its own.
Social media advertising (really) takes off.
Haven’t noticed the exponential increase in ads on your social media feeds? That probably means they’re working. In contrast to old-fashioned banner ads, the new generation of “native” social media ads like Facebook and Instagram sponsored posts and Twitter promoted Tweets look and act a lot like normal social media updates from friends and followers. They’re also targeted with an uncanny degree of precision: Advertisers are able to drill down not just by age and gender but by interests, location, company affiliation, role and more. So the ads you get are probably the ones you actually want to see.
For all those reasons, companies ramped up social media advertising in 2015, with spending increasing 33.5 percent to nearly $24 billion (especially impressive because a few years ago that number was $0). Expect to see those trends continue: By 2017, social media ads may account for a full 16 percent of all digital ad spend globally. Fueling the growth: a host of new tools that let small businesses design and pay for social media ads in a few clicks—simplifying a process that was once the exclusive domain of high-priced media buyers.
Social video takes over.
In case you missed it, social video is exploding. Last year, Facebook more than doubled its daily video views to 8 billion, reportedly overtaking YouTube. Twitter launched native video of its own in 2015, while Snapchat now reports 6 billion daily video views in its own right. In total, adult users now consume a total of 66 minutes of online video, each and every day.
Expect that total to climb to lofty new heights in 2016. Facebook is readying to roll out features like Suggested Videos and maybe even a dedicated video feed, and Snapchat Stories are growing ever more popular and feature rich. Little wonder that 70 percent of companies now say video is the most effective tool in their online marketing belts and two out of three businesses expect it to dominate their strategy going forward.
Despite the stats, many companies are still reluctant to get into the social video game for one reason: the cost of professionally shot video can be prohibitively expensive. But alternatives are multiplying. Shorter formats, from 8-second Vines to 15-second Instagram videos, not to mention streaming video like Periscope and Meerkat, offer a hassle-free entree into the arena. Meanwhile, crowdsourcing campaigns and tools are emerging as an ever more popular way for companies to gather and share video.
The biggest trend of all for 2016, however, hardly requires a crystal ball to see. Around the world, social media is quickly becoming business as usual for companies. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and other networks have fundamentally changed how companies reach and interact with customers, offer products and services, communicate with employees and — in a nutshell — do business. And that wave hasn’t even begun to crest.