Being active in social media and content generation is a must for all businesses in 2015, especially small businesses. In order to effectively utilize those tools, it helps to be on the front side of the trend curve whenever possible. One of the biggest trends in social media in 2015 is the move toward less disclosure. While this may seem counter-intuitive, understanding the reasons for the move helps put things into context.
To illustrate, let’s look at the struggles of the biggest social media platform in the world, Facebook. Facebook grew to prominence on its enormous appeal to Millenials and youth because it allowed them easy access to the comings and goings of their friends. Last year was a watershed moment for Facebook because they actually lost users for the first time in almost a decade. It would be overly simplistic to attribute this loss to any one cause, but there can be no doubt that a big part of the reason is that Facebook use is now skewing toward older adults rather than Millenials and youth. Facebook’s struggle is the fact that Millenials don’t want to be “friends” with their parents and grandparents, and don’t want to have their online activities patrolled just like their real world activities. This is precisely the reason for the move toward less disclosure on social media.
Those Millenials and youth who cause rapid growth on social media platforms are fleeing toward other options that allow them to still connect with their friends without the older generations being privy to those interactions. Believe it or not, one of the hot new trends this year is the comeback of chat rooms. Users can enter the chat room, have their interactions, and leave, all without anyone unknown hopping in alongside them. In most cases, when the chat is done there is no enduring record of the discussion.
Another reason driving the desire for less disclosure is that social media has been widely adopted by citizens of countries all around the world where censorship is used to quell unrest or prevent freedom of speech or expression. The need for instant communication with mass numbers of people is beautifully filled by social media, and in a very real sense, people’s lives may depend on disclosing less information about the identity of those users.
Another trend that has continue to grow is that of visual social media, especially on mobile devices. Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat have experience massive growth and show no signs of stopping, confirming the truth in the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words. Video platforms are coming up quickly, too. In addition to YouTube, newer services like Cinchcast and Screenr seek to make it easier than ever for anyone to create and publish their own videos about any topic of choice. As mobile devices continue to get more powerful, and as readily available broadband public networks continue to spread, the hurdles of mass video distribution have become very low.
Another big trend that appears to be emerging is that of new and creative strategies about how to use social media. For example, rather than simple brand marketing through social media, many companies are moving toward influencer marketing to make more genuine connections with potential customers. If a popular or well-known figure endorses something they use in social media, it is likely that many of their followers will do the same. Similarly, as consumers get more social media savvy, they expect more personal messaging than a typical Twitter hashtag or Facebook pay-to-play ad. A growing number of large companies use social media to interact directly and personally with customers — and have done so with great results — and small businesses will be expected to follow suit quickly. One example is airlines quickly re-routing stranded travelers via Twitter after mechanical or weather problems. Some companies, like Lego, have created entire user communities where enthusiasts can meet and interact without any direct involvement from Lego itself. However, by paying close attention to these communities and tapping into their leaders for special projects, Lego has essentially created a system of free idea generation and innovation guidance while simultaneously building loyalty through active user engagement. The bottom line is that an emphasis should be placed on creatively making meaningful connections with customers and providing real value to them rather than simply pushing information at them. Companies who are able to do that will develop a loyal and engaged following that improves their bottom line, especially as more and more social media platforms build payment services directly into their service.
There are a few honorable mentions I wanted to toss out there, too. Wearables are just starting to hit their stride, and it’s too early to estimate the magnitude of effect they will have on the social media space. Some think that social media outlets will become reservoirs of information in themselves, and it will just take the right interface to tap into those reservoirs to create a vast searchable hub of real time information. Aggregation is on the rise, as well, whether in the form of big data analytics for corporations, tools to help small businesses better understand which social media is working for them (and which is not), or being able to blast out content to multiple social media platforms in a single click.
All of these are merely guesses at this point; time will tell which of these become fixed in our society and which will not. Regardless, it is wise to do everything possible to stay on the forefront of the industry. Using social media is no longer just a fun little side gig. Instead, it should be viewed as a core part of the business’ strategy to reach, attract, and retain loyal customers over the long term.