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How APAC Social Media Leaders Stay Ahead of Emerging Industry Trends

Social media stands for nothing if not speed.

It’s where we turn to share real-time personal and professional updates, and to consume breaking news. It’s where we @-mention brands to quickly find out where our shipment is. Increasingly, it’s where trends form, incubate and explode—sometimes in a matter of days.

Keeping up with trends is no longer limited to market analysts and forecasters. Our 2023 State of Social Media report revealed that 46% of business leaders say predicting future trends is a top priority in today’s economic climate.

The use of social data to understand market trends will only accelerate in the coming years, but staying on top of trending topics and fast-changing algorithms won’t become any easier for social media managers—in fact, the opposite is more likely to be true.

For starters, trending content emerges and fades faster than ever before. Changes in social media channel guidelines also add to the pressure of staying on top of social trends. Our Q2 2023 Pulse Survey revealed that nearly one in two marketers wrestle with changing algorithms.

With so many day-to-day responsibilities to juggle—from maintaining a content calendar to project management and ongoing reporting—it’s easy for social media leaders to drop the ball on identifying and responding to the latest trends. We spoke to four social media leaders across Asia Pacific (APAC) to find out how social teams can identify and respond to trends more effectively:

Invest in convenient, time-saving social media tools

With trends moving faster than ever before, social media leaders must stay on top of what’s going on online. “It’s important to stay across trends-–this is something we must constantly monitor,” says Brittany Ruppert, Social Marketing Manager at LinkedIn Australia.

Instead of manually scrolling through thousands of posts, teams can use an all-in-one social media platform to quickly understand online conversations, identify emerging trends and determine their relevance.

Social monitoring can help you grasp how your brand, products or social media campaigns are perceived online. It’s the process of collecting social conversations and messages in one place, which can then be parsed and turned into action items—for instance, responding to complaints and questions on a certain channel.

Meanwhile, social listening involves analyzing conversations and trends related to your brand. These include conversations relevant to your company, competitors and industry at large. This data can then be used to understand emerging trends and whether or not it’s one your brand should participate in.

Social listening offers plenty of returns—from yielding customer insights more immediately and cost-effectively to developing marketing messages that promise higher conversions, sales and increases in customer lifetime value.

However, few businesses take full advantage of the social data available to them, guessing trends rather than truly listening.

More than two-thirds (69%) of business leaders say social media data and insights are currently underutilized at their company, according to The State of Social Media 2023 report. Nearly half (42%) cite limited access to social media tools and a lack of integration with other technology solutions as something that prevents their company from more effectively using social media data and insights to inform business decisions.

Circle chart showing that 69% of surveyed business leaders agree social data is underutilized in their organizations.

While taking a shot in the dark sounds harmless, a poorly executed trend risks diluting your brand and alienating your audience.

Don’t set your content strategies in stone

Generating data and reports about social media trends isn’t enough. You need to be able to respond and adapt your strategies as new trends and preferences gain traction.

“Our team takes an agile approach to our content creation,” explains Benjamin Munro Smith, Head of Social Media at Macquarie University “We commit annually to our high-level deliverables and KPIs signed off by our executive group. Still, we review our strategy monthly to consider any channel updates, user behavior changes and new trends impacting the Australian market.”

When you regularly listen and track social data, it’s easier to detect big picture shifts in what your audience cares about. For example, Ruppert and her team recognized the shift in how “professionalism” was understood in Australia.

“The lines between personal and professional have blurred as hybrid working is now the norm. Australian workers bring more of their personal selves to work,” says Ruppert. To have a follow-worthy presence, “our social strategy now focuses on driving meaningful connections and real value around topics that Australian professionals care about.”

Uncovering insights like these starts with having tools that can aggregate and make sense of information quickly—39% of business leaders in our 2023 State of Social Media Report cite a lack of time for analysis as one of the reasons the data is underutilized.

These data analytics tools can close the loop by helping you predict what your audience wants so you can adjust your content accordingly. “It’s beneficial to pre-plan content suited for specific platforms rather than attempt to retrofit what you have,” Munro Smith explains. “When filming content or interviewing people, have an idea of where this content will go, and take the time to get everything you need.”

Another way to bolster your content strategy is by involving authentic content creators and training them in your brand’s ethos. Tapping the right content creators for your brand helps diversify your brand’s voice, perspective and audience. This approach can also keep your content strategy flexible, depending on the goals of your campaign.

“We immediately involved content creators that fit our core demographic for [TikTok] and trained them in our brand points,” Munro Smith says. “We work with them regularly to create content that is genuine and authentic, in a style that is natural to them but includes subtle brand messages. Using this strategy, we have achieved over one million likes in less than a year.”

Jack Breen of UNSW Sydney echoes this sentiment: “To assist with the new high-frequency vertical video requirements, we have enlisted the support of new (paid) student creators, who are incredibly in tune with the student experience and online trends at a deep level,” he explains. “We get to benefit from their insights, and in turn, they get to learn from the broad skills and expertise of our social media coordinators to help kickstart their careers.”

Develop platform-specific strategies

Consumers use an average of 6.7 social media channels per month. The most dominant channels in APAC include Facebook, WeChat and TikTok. Other APAC-based contenders—Qzone, QQ and Sina Weibo included—are also each carving out their niche in the social media landscape.

With so many social media platforms available—each with unique features, audiences and best practices—it can be challenging to maintain expertise across all and incorporate them effectively into one strategy. Ruppert of LinkedIn Australia reminds us that each social media platform attracts unique audiences and it’s important to treat them differently.

“Not every piece of content is suited for every platform,” Ruppert explains. “Instead of merely adapting the same topic across different platforms, intelligent social marketing begins with strategically examining the messages and topics that resonate best with each platform and its audience, then crafting tailored creative accordingly.”

A Q4 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey reveals that 42% of people expect to use more social networks in 2024. Rather than trying to invest in every platform alongside your competition, now is the time for brands to meet their audience in more intentional ways.

“Consider how your audience uses each channel, what types of content they want to see, and what mindset they have when scrolling,” Ruppert suggests. “Think about how best to make your content stand out within their feed, based on the design of each platform and how people consume it.”

Munro Smith of Macquarie University echoes this sentiment. “We communicate with a range of core audiences, both domestic and international,” he says. “Achieving full audience engagement with one piece of content isn’t feasible, so we craft a strategy for each core market, letting this inform each channel’s strategy, leveraging the strengths of each medium.

As social media evolves, structuring team members around specific networks will eventually introduce challenges. Teams need to remain agile and break down silos as new developments occur (for instance, platforms like Threads gaining steam).

Breen of UNSW Sydney says, “We’ve managed change by dividing our team’s focus into two streams: one for our news-based content, like link posts and still images, and another for vertical video content focused on-campus experiences, such as Reels, TikTok and Stories.

“Each individual within the team is empowered to focus on one stream or the other, ensuring concentrated energy and expertise. They may also engage intermittently with the alternate stream to maintain diverse skills and continuous learning.

Maintain brand consistency amid change

While it’s a good tactic to embrace new trends and adapt to various platforms, don’t lose sight of your brand’s core identity. Strike the right balance to keep your brand’s voice consistent yet adaptable to relevant cultural conversations and industry trends.

Ruppert of LinkedIn Australia believes you need to keep the language and tone flexible. “Our brand voice represents the kind of person you’d want to work with daily—someone reliable for guidance and a source of advice and encouragement,” he explains. “Using our brand voice as a foundation, we maintain flexibility in our language and tone to suit different mediums.”

For example, LinkedIn Australia’s approach to TikTok is more centered on culture and trends. However, the firm caters to audiences seeking more in-depth, community-centric and career-enriching content on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Macquarie University’s Munro Smith says that it’s also important to be self-aware. “Ask yourself, should your brand be part of this conversation and discuss internally to see if there are any possible brand risks involved.”

To harmonize content with clients’ brand image and target audience, Mediacorp’s Martins engages in open and honest conversations with them. “We collaborate with our clients and internal brands to ascertain their desired positioning on the spectrum of content—whether it’s ‘authentic, free and easy’ or ‘rawthentic.’ Some clients prefer not to present as ‘raw,’ prompting us to create more polished, authentic content with them,” he says.