If there’s anything constant on social media, it’s change. Every year brings fresh, nuanced rules to navigate. But in the last year our industry took a lot of unexpected hits. Between ample API changes, algorithm trouble, privacy scandals and the arrival of GDPR, 2018 kept marketers on their toes.
So what does all this change mean for 2019? Trust. People want trust and humanity from brands. Companies must learn how to connect with audiences in a way that restores trust in an environment where the norm is constant change and well, distrust.
I had the chance to chat with Ryan Bonnici, CMO of G2 Crowd, and Dave Gerhardt, VP of Marketing at Drift, to talk through some of the biggest trends we can expect to see in 2019. Some have already arrived, like our obsession with video. And some are only just breaking the surface, like the untapped potential of messaging apps. But all these social trends have one thing in common: they demand brands get a lot more human.
Brands are people, too
Customers want authentic, two-way communication, and many current strategies miss the mark. In our industry, we talk a lot about brand persona, but how can a company feel like a person? Don’t just rely on customer care interactions or social media snark to create a personality. Go deeper.
Think of Netflix: on Instagram, the streaming giant has created a persona that’s cohesive, not a conglomerate. It’s young, it has show preferences and it has its own sense of humor that makes all its content come alive. Sure, Netflix gets to benefit from a host of show and movie characters that its audience already relates to. But as Ryan pointed out in our chat, there’s a universal lesson here we’ll see more of in the coming year: every brand has a personality it can tap into. Doing so comes down to learning to interact with consumers the way they interact with each other on social and building one-to-one relationships.
“We can all think more about our own businesses and say, ‘who are the really interesting personalities in our office and how can we get them in more content?’ Even if that’s not their core job,” Ryan said.
Customers want it, platforms have evolved to cultivate it. We have no reason to hide the fact that humans are behind our social accounts and brand—in fact it benefits us to bring them into the spotlight.
Document, don’t create
Showing the human side of the C-suite in particular has pervaded conversation over the last year. 2018 saw high demand for executives representing not just their brands, but themselves, on social.
To do this right, take a page from the consumer world. Watch the way influencers and consumers use their platforms to define themselves.
“If I’m going on a work trip I’ll be Instagramming the whole way there,” Dave said “That’s what people want to see. Not me posting ‘The best three tips for….’”
Teach your CEO to just be themself, rather than thrust them onto a platform they don’t know how to use or put their account in the hands of a PR team. For example, if they’re a writer, enable them to start writing an article once a week on Linkedin. Your efforts will go a lot further.
“Not everyone grew up with social,” Dave said. “You don’t want to force a CEO on social when it’s so foreign to them.”
This is a communication channel, but we get so much value out of connection over messaging.
Less high-end video, more making it real
“Video is the one channel you can’t cheat,” Dave said.
While it’s no new trend, video content continues to prove its value in new ways. In 2018 we saw it drive engagement (stopping users from scrolling right by), but moving forward we’ll see it evolve to become a beacon of authenticity. (And still be a major scroll-stopper.)
“Video is less about high-end production and more about making it real,” Ryan said, stressing that marketers need to enable their teammates to share their own content. For example, create a studio in-office where employees can record themselves sharing a message with customers, pitch a prospect or celebrate a major launch with a toast.
G2 Crowd recently rolled out a video review feature in its platform. You might think users wouldn’t want to put that much effort into reviewing, but G2 has so far seen thousands of video reviews published on the site. In the same way that people would rather watch than read, they would rather talk than write. The uptick in user-generated video content also feeds users’ craving for more authentic content.
The potential of direct messaging
“One area that’s still open to leverage is different direct message platforms,” Ryan said.
Today, we see brands using messaging apps and DMs mostly for customer service purposes. But there’s untapped potential to create personalized, automated communication that’s even more responsive than email. Intelligent automation will set brands that care apart from brands that do the minimum.
Marketers can’t deny the demand. Nine out of 10 consumers want to use messaging to communicate with brands. Maybe that’s because the idea seems manual and overwhelming, but it shouldn’t. AI-powered messaging bots represent one option to bridge the gap.
Social is rooted in connection
Social originated as a place to connect in meaningful ways. Dramatic growth changed intimate spaces into digital jungles, filled with suspect characters and sometimes aggressive sales pitches. But users have had enough. They’re insisting on more value and connection in exchange for their time and information. They want to be treated like individuals, not end goals. The pendulum is swinging back to social’s roots: real, personal and authentic.
As a marketing leader, I can’t wait for these trends to come into full effect and change our work for the better. This year will present new challenges to adapt to, constant shifts and dramas. But the new directions we take will only see us fortifying the consumer experience across social, providing new ways to connect (and convert) in real time.