Every year, social media specialists around the world collect data and reflect upon possible trends that will happen in the coming year. As it turns out, this year in 2020, there have been quite a lot of surprises and past predictions may not be so accurate.
For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a drastic increase in internet usage as people around the world were advised to stay home. Consequently, people consumed even more social media content than before, and yet businesses were not able to fully reap the benefits from content marketing because of the temporary shut down.
Do the social media trend predictions made in 2019 still stand today? What kinds of social media strategies did people use in these abnormal conditions? What can we learn to prepare for future crises?
How is the pandemic affecting social media marketing?
Unfortunately at the time of writing, the pandemic is still affecting businesses around the world. As of June through July, businesses that satisfy primary and secondary needs, such as food and retail, are slowly warming up as post-quarantine economic activities pick up. Yet travel and hospitality have taken a bigger hit and will take longer to recover.
1. Decreased ad spend
In 2019, it was predicted that organic social media marketing would be an overwhelming competition as platforms offer a level playing field for all businesses in terms of marketing. Social media ads were set to boom, but were quickly defused by the pandemic.
Businesses that were most heavily impacted by the shut down pulled back on ad spend, despite the lowered cost for social ads. However, businesses that run digitally (e.g. mobile apps developers, remote digital services, paid online education) were quick to promote their content – many were brands that were previously unheard of.
2. More empathetic content
Unable to reap the benefits of hard selling, many businesses learn the valuable lesson of slowly building up social engagement. Those who insisted on marketing based on loud and repetitive ads, even in social media, quickly gained disapproval from audiences. Content has been adapted to empathize with people’s feelings and attitudes towards the pandemic.
A good example is Nike’s post on Instagram on 21st March, which is an encouraging message for people to self-quarantine. “Play inside, play for the world” is a powerful line that is still relevant to the brand as well as to the situation at that time. Stores may have closed and sporting events may have been cancelled, but audiences can still make an impact and become a “sports superstar” by staying at home.
3. Higher sensitivity to content related to COVID-19
Since March 2020, Youtube has demonetized videos that mention COVID-19, coronavirus or similar concepts in the effort to combat against misinformation and Hoax posts. Facebook removed posts related to coronavirus that have been debunked, and informed users who previously engaged with the post with a link to a page on WHO.int.
However, these and other social platforms do not currently penalize content that surrounds the theme of coronavirus – content about hygiene, social distancing, and words of encouragement.
The nature of the virus is also a topic that is easily misunderstood by non-medical professionals, and marketers don’t want to risk their brand spreading misinformation. In fact, for handling marketing in future crises, marketers can learn to become more empathetic without addressing too many things that are uncertain, unknown, or frightening.
4. Less emphasis on influencer marketing
It’s very important to first distinguish between thought leaders and ‘online celebrities’. Thought leaders tend to be people who are knowledgeable in their fields and offer educational value, although the latter can have these qualities as well.
Both play a role in influencer marketing, depending on the brand. However, at this time, businesses are not looking to affiliate influencers, much less so with online celebrities. This does not imply that influencer marketing is dead, but there seems to be a correlation between influencer marketing and a thriving market.
If influencers from all backgrounds were to survive, they should increase their personal brand equity by posting content that offers value, such as motivation, encouragement, and education, not just entertainment with little value. In fact, the same rules apply to businesses.
5. More experiments with live streaming
As video conferences become normalized, businesses have a chance to offer greater content marketing experience by inviting industry experts (a kind of influencer) to discuss and share information that will prove to be very useful for their audience.
The difference between this and affiliate marketing is that this knowledge sharing is likely voluntary, since the expert in question can also benefit from more exposure to new followers.
Although tourism is very slow in the current global condition, live streaming offers a glimmer of hope to increase engagement, to excite viewers, and encourage guests to visit destinations in the future.
A good example is Bali Safari Park’s livestream on Facebook and Instagram. For Bali Safari Park, live streaming successfully attracts, educates and creates engagement among fans. This will inspire them to go and visit the park again in the future.
The benefits of live-streaming have been enjoyed by many businesses in the other sectors, and it will still become relevant in the post-pandemic era.
What are the trends that will not change in the coming years?
As we approach the middle of the year when some countries have already claimed to be coronavirus-free, business activities can resume in many sectors, except for international travel and hospitality. This is what becomes of marketing in the near future:
1. Better influencer marketing
We’ve mentioned before the pandemic is not the end of influencer marketing, and that it will continue to be a trending option once the economy recovers.
In late 2019, Instagram experimented with hiding the number of likes in each post. This has a number of benefits: 1) to reduce mental pressure on teens and young people who seek validation through likes, 2) to discourage fake influencers and 3) encourage better organic branding.
Instagram isn’t taking away influencer marketing, but rather improving it – taking the power away from ‘fake influencers’ – individuals with only high likes and high follower counts, but otherwise do not offer value to the community.
This strategic move will help give credit to authentic thought leaders who positively influence their followers in real ways. Since likes and followers can be bought, this is a dangerous trap for businesses who measure key performance indicators (KPIs) purely from these ‘vanity metrics’.
Better influencer marketing will encourage businesses to see KPIs from metrics that are highly linked to conversions, such as profile visits, website visits, contact, and e-commerce browsing.
2. Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR)
In 2017, Google takes one step further in their visual search capabilities. Both Snapchat and Instagram experimented with augmented reality (which they call “filters”), and devices are now more optimized for VR/AR.
In the near future, content will be more interactive given that free VR/AR features are available and built-in with the platform, and third-party software exists to allow users to create one easily.
At the moment, VR/AR elements in posted content are simply for creativity purposes, to entice viewers with novelty. This has been proven to be effective to increase engagement, but simply because this is a new technology.
3. Live Streaming will live on
As mentioned before, the pandemic effectively normalized live video broadcasts and created new habits for people in terms of social media content consumption. More people are learning to appreciate the sense of participation given through live-streams.
This is an excellent opportunity for marketers looking to create engagement and nurture interests, rather than to create brand awareness. It can be said that livestreaming is the next stage after ads and organic content have attracted new audiences in the first place.Marketers however should be aware that live streaming is not a means to advertise and push products further onto an already interested group. Content should be for knowledge-sharing and community trust-building and not for infomercials.
Social media platforms are pushing to help include people with visual or auditory impairments. Youtube is one of the largest players in the movement. Owned by Google, Youtube’s search engine algorithm follows a similar path to Google’s.
Youtube will appreciate videos with customized captions or subtitles, for example, in similar ways that Google will rank web pages that are optimized for screen readers. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have a feature where users can input alternative text for images and videos. Although this feature has existed for a long time, users tend to overlook them.As a matter of fact, alt text is highly encouraged to improve the platforms’ SEO. Apart from Youtube, most social media searches don’t focus on keywords, yet SEO-like algorithms still play a role in determining which content gets to be featured in the discovery panel.
5. Podcasts on Youtube?
While Youtube is a video-sharing platform, it’s not uncommon to find music and podcasts on Youtube. The platform itself provides additional visual navigation that allows viewers to skip to specific parts.
Youtube Premium users can enjoy streaming podcasts with their screens locked, played in the background, and without having to listen to ads. There are already 20 million subscribers of Youtube Premium, which means marketers who create content in the form of podcasts can earn a fair share of listeners on Youtube.
While the service has been around since 2018, the platform leverages on the fact that people’s content consumption increased during months in quarantine. Youtube attempts to compete with other streaming services, and in effect, Youtube Premium maintains an increase in users this year.
While the digital landscape is changing fast, and this change is accelerated by global crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, basic marketing principles remain the same.
Marketing is a highly psychological field, and the goal of every marketer is to answer questions and to garner trust in the long term. The question of how marketers do this depends on the available technology.
Magazines and newspapers were the media to advertise solutions to subscribers, and trust is built with great customer service and product superiority.
The invention of the Web allows marketers to be more specific with their target market, providing answers through blog articles and building trust by being reliable online.
The development of social media allows marketers to provide valuable and educational content, and to tailor content that resonates with their audience better – to build communities from the ground up, and to feed a positive loop of engagement, interaction and trust.
The line between brands and customers are thinning, and in the future, the movement for personalization will clash with issues regarding privacy. But that is an issue for another time.
Future-proof your marketing strategy today!
Island Media Management is a digital marketing agency in Bali and Jakarta. We create, optimize and maintain all forms of digital marketing – from website design and development, search engine optimization (SEO), and search engine ads, to organic and paid social media.
The digital world shifts every year. Talk to an expert to future-proof your marketing strategy.