Ten-cent text messages, AIM chat rooms with your best friends and glittery MySpace pages with bulletin boards are just a few nostalgic elements from the early days of social media. Soon enough, features like direct messages and @-mentions arrived, changing the trajectory of social media forever.

Today, social media marketers aren’t solely focused on strategizing content for posts and social feeds. They have become an integral part of the customer journey as the rise of social messaging forces brands to show up in 1:1 settings.

Social messaging plays a pivotal role in customer care and brand reputation. Messaging channels like Meta’s Messenger, WeChat and WhatsApp have been embraced globally, while customers flock to Instagram and Twitter direct messages for quick solutions to their questions.

So what’s next? We reached out to six social media professionals to give us a glimpse into the social messaging crystal ball. Here are their predictions for 2022 and beyond.

1. Social messaging will become the dominant channel for external communication

Direct mail, e-mail and toll-free calls are losing popularity among consumers as more and more gravitate to social messaging for customer service. Consumers don’t want to wait hours or several business days, they want instant gratification when resolving order issues or asking product questions.

Some 88% of business executives say social media will become the primary channel for customer service and support while nearly one in two consider social media their primary channel for external communications.

“[Social messaging] will continue to grow as the number one way for brands to communicate to customers. I truly believe it will surpass email, and physical mail,” says Raven Gill, Social Media Manager at Communicators Group. “People are much more likely to reach out through social media for customer service help than five years ago.”

Social is even poised to overtake other digital channels as the preferred place for service. Gartner predicts 80% of customer service organizations will abandon native mobile apps in favor of messaging for a better customer experience by 2025.

2. Social messaging will increase the need for humanization

We’ve all experienced calling a customer service line and instantly hearing an automated message, only to listen to jazzy elevator music until we are connected with a representative. A human, at last, to help us with the problem at hand.

Social messaging offers a much more efficient experience, but the human element remains. Although consumers want quick, convenient interactions to resolve their problems, they still want humanized customer service.

“We’ll see a return to more human-driven, less bot-like, messaging for brands,” says Alfie Green, the founder of Monty. “Post-pandemic customers want a real voice at the end of the phone, or via their chat feature.”

Alexa Heinrich, Social Media Manager at St. Petersburg College says, “The interactions between people and brands are way more informal now. They’re more like actual conversations and not as cold and robotic.”

According to Zendesk’s Customer Experience Trends 2022 report, more than 70% of customers expect conversational care experiences when they engage with companies. This trend isn’t dominated by Gen Z or Millennials either with more than two-thirds of customers over 40 seeking seamless engagement with brands.

“It just builds so much trust and casual familiarity. When you can interact with a brand via apps like Twitter, you feel like they are a real person and that you have a real relationship. You get a sense that you’re being taken care of—you don’t necessarily get that with chatbots or even customer service calls, “ says Krista Doyle, Global Content Marketing Manager, Twitter.

Gill recommends keeping your customers’ preferences top of mind while building a social messaging strategy.

“You have to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What do you want to see? What will make you click on something? Is it being told what a great mortgage rate your bank offers? Or is it seeing your mortgage lenders volunteer at the local dog shelter? Or a company recognizing an employee who has been with them for 30 years? As brands, we must remember to show the human sides of the company,” Gill says.

A case for accessibility and inclusion

The pandemic, stakeholder activism and social justice issues have permanently reshaped the communications arena. Beyond making social messaging feel more human, Heinrich predicts more brands and organizations will start prioritizing accessibility and ensuring their content is as inclusive as possible.

“Remember that you are not your audience. Your audience, no matter how specific you make your target demographic, is incredibly diverse. Try to think outside of your own lived experiences when you create your content,” Heinrich says.

3. Chatbots will get a much needed upgrade

The rise of the chatbot has been a game changer in the world of social messaging and customer care. Like other forms of social messaging, chatbots place control in the hands of consumers by facilitating the intake process, whether it’s resolving an issue immediately or gathering enough information for a human representative to respond with an effective solution.

“People have come to expect a response from a brand momentarily and are more savvy about if a bot is responding. They want real connection and they want it at the snap of a finger,” says Carrie Russell, Social Media Manager at Tag.

Zendesk’s report notes that more than two-thirds of consumers say they’re willing to interact with a bot on simple issues—almost a quarter increase from last year. Chatbots can provide quick automated replies for frequently asked questions, respond at any hour and create tickets for an agent to address during working hours. When chatbots resolve simple problems or guide customers to help centers, human agents can spend more time addressing complex issues.

However, these virtual assistants still have a way to go. More than half of customers say their biggest frustration with chatbots is the number of questions they must answer before being transferred to a human agent. Customers want a smooth handoff, especially if a bot isn’t solving their problem quickly. Human agents add a touch of personalization that consumers crave (and they want this connection to happen sooner rather than later).

4. Social messaging will incorporate brand voice even more

Maintaining a distinct brand voice on social media is valuable for several reasons, but at a high level, it creates a loyal customer base that anticipates engaging with your brand. Direct messages your teams send on Instagram, Twitter and other platforms need to maintain brand voice to set the company apart from competitors.

“Brands are going viral from replies and messages on forums which were previously 1:1,” says Green. “Today, anyone can screenshot your response. With more platforms than ever, you need to consider your authentic, consistent approach. It’s the difference between talking like a brand, and talking like a brand customers want to love.”

Russell recommends social media managers invest in revising their community interaction guides and plans to ensure brand voice is being applied appropriately across scenarios.

“It’s time to revamp how your community manager handles interacting with your audiences.  Having a proactive and reactive plan in place that includes customer care and escalation policies in place is key to successfully navigating how audiences want to hear from a brand,” she says.

5. Social messaging will play a bigger role in strategy

Many brands have already integrated social messaging into their customer service strategies, but there is plenty of opportunity on the table. According to The 2022 Sprout Social Index™, nearly 40% of marketers say direct messaging plays a role in their customer care strategies, but only 23% use it to market their products or services.

Doyle believes this will change going forward.

“I think it will not only continue to become a bigger part of customer service but a bigger part of brands’ overall marketing strategy as well. As people become more comfortable with social messaging and the brand trust it builds, I think we’ll see content and community marketers get really innovative with this tactic,” Doyle says.

Doyle notes that understanding your audience is one of the top considerations when evolving and expanding a social messaging strategy.

“If you’re going to use social messaging, you need to understand how your audience views your brand and how they want to interact with it,” Doyle says.

Along with understanding their target audiences(s), top brands will use messaging as a communication tool and a means to gather voice of the customer feedback. The insights you gain from social messaging data can inform other marketing tactics, future campaigns and your product roadmap.

6. Commerce and messaging will go hand-in-hand

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in e-commerce on social media. Consumers can now purchase clothes on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. A whopping 98% of consumers plan to make at least one purchase through social shopping or influencer commerce in 2022.

In the future, expect to see more customers shopping through social messaging tools.

Jonathan Jacobs, former VP of Digital at Accelerate360 and co-founder of Digital Natives Group, says,  “I’m expecting to see exponential growth from messaging-based commerce. People buy from people, and whether with a real-time P2P experience or an experience replicated with an automated chat client, messaging is going to make for a more effective and personalized sales experience.”

Brands will continue to implement new methods for conversational commerce. This includes chatbots that recommend products based on the customer’s preferences or customer care representatives pulling up a customer’s order history after they send a direct message.

7. Embrace experimentation with social messaging

One common thread lies among the social media managers we spoke to: avoid over-engineering your approach to social messaging. It’s okay to get creative, experiment, learn and refine.

“Don’t over-structure conversation trees. Empower your frontline community managers and customer care specialists with your trust so that they have the psychological safety to tackle each customer exchange as they see appropriate,” says Jacobs. “Don’t force the customer to fit the conversation, let the conversation fit to the customer.”

Heinrich references the power of humanization again, especially when interacting with disgruntled customers.

“Don’t be afraid to break the ’fourth wall’ when you’re dealing with emotional or frustrated followers online. Sometimes it helps to remind people that there’s an actual human being behind the handle,” says Heinrich.

And brands don’t have to wait until a problem arises to get the creative juices flowing either.

“Don’t be afraid to have fun and get innovative with it,” says Doyle. “You don’t always need to wait until someone comes to you with a customer service issue—let social messaging be a way to build community in addition to a way to solve problems.”

These social experts have shared a vision of the future for social messaging, now it’s time to put this knowledge to use. To learn more about what lies ahead, check out our guide about the future of social messaging and customer experience.