Worldwide, nearly 4.5 billion people are active on social media. That accounts for over half of the world’s population. Only a decade ago, what we now see as social media was barely used, only of interest to teenagers and technology journalists. Now, we find it hard to imagine our lives without it.
Social media is no more just a platform to connect with friends and family. Today, it’s a source of news, entertainment, and essentially all of our content needs. And, with so many eyeballs in one place, social media offers the perfect opportunity to market your products and services. In fact, it’s through social media that a large share of users learns about a new product or service.
The fact of the matter is, in 2021, businesses can no longer afford to perceive social media marketing as a passive, secondary aspect of their strategy. As things stand, social media marketing should instead be central to it, arguably right at the top of their agenda.
Here’s the problem: social media as a system is hyper-dynamic. It moves fast, being constantly disrupted by innovations.
Only recently had businesses been able to leverage the way customers discover new products, influence their purchase journeys, and make the most of interactions. Then the pandemic happened, throwing a wrench in the way brands communicate and conduct business.
But the ones who have played the game long enough know that disruption is part of it. To stay — and thrive — in it, marketers need to be agile, always on their toes, adapting swiftly.
So, what disruption is in store for 2022? Actually, there are five. There’s a lot of catching up to do. Here are the five social media trends to look out for next year.
1. AI-assisted content creation
The integration of AI with social media marketing tools will perhaps be the chief cause of all disruptions. Combining the unlimited data generated by social media with the computational prowess of AI would unleash a tremendous array of possibilities.
One breakthrough would be the ability to hone in, with remarkable precision, on the kind of content that would be most likely to engage your followers. And it all comes down to data.
As social media tools become more advanced, so does their capacity for processing and analyzing complex data sets. AI-based tools can monitor and collect data from different sources, such as engagement data from marketing channels and how users interact with your website. Its analysis yields insights that hint at what form and medium of content will generate the most engagement among your followers.
Actually, it’s already happening. Reuters and USA Today do it. So do Spotify, Netflix, and LinkedIn. But that’s not the complete story. And that’s where the next social media trend comes in.
The keyword is followers.
AI-based tools can give us clues regarding what content may work best. But not without context. The question it asks, the question the precise answer to which marketers have been seeking since the inception of marketing, is: who are we targeting? In other words, for whom is the content to be created?
In 2022, we will be closer to the answer than ever.
Giants such as Spotify, Netflix, and LinkedIn leverage AI’s assistance in two ways: first, by streamlining corporate operations and, second, more importantly, by personalizing the user experience. Spotify and Netflix, for example, deliver to their users, exactly what they need. Every week, Spotify’s users are presented with a unique playlist curated to their eclectic tastes. The playlist is called Discover Weekly. Netflix, too, suggests content based on historical preferences. And LinkedIn sifts through an astonishing number of keywords to match the right opportunities with the right candidates.
What’s common in all three, and, in fact, any platform that relies on some form of AI, is the ability to segment users in highly numerous and defined categories. Today, we segment. AI, however, will enable businesses to hyper-segment. Consequently, marketers will be able to hyper-target individual campaigns, going beyond traditional categories of age and occupation. Already, Netflix, for instance, is reportedly using over 100 factors to define its users. And it’s that precision that enables Netflix to deliver the best content for you. It is relevance narrowed down to near-perfection.
That’s why hyper-targeting or hyper-segmentation is referred to as the holy grail of marketing. It almost guarantees conversions.
3. Virtual and augmented experience
We know that it’s through social media that a large share of users learns about a new product or service. Wyzowl, however, goes a step forward and adds that not only do we learn about them on social media, but we prefer to do so through video.
Visual content is more impactful. Unlike written text, it’s much easier to understand and retain. Over 300 times, according to an estimate. Not only that. Visual content is also efficient. It can be packed with so much more information than can be in a sentence.
About packed information, the competition has never been more aggressive. It’s not for us to judge, but the attention economy has seen videos become shorter and shorter while expecting value, say, entertainment, to keep pace. Should we be surprised that TikTok has now overtaken YouTube for average watch time in the US and UK?
Storytelling is foundational to marketing. The problem is, stories today cannot be longer than a few seconds. Is there an alternative to keep your followers hooked?
Yes, there is. Today, social media users watch videos. Soon, they will live them. Or at least see them in three dimensions.
As virtual reality sets scale in production, their prices will fall, and the devices will become more accessible. As for augmented reality, modern smartphones are well capable of generating 3D representations of objects as well as people. Here is the next phase of social media: virtual and augmented experiences. What Mark Zuckerberg has called the Metaverse.
Here’s an example. Virtual meetings are exhausting. But hybrid work might very well be here to stay. The solution? Meetings, indeed, all online communication, in virtual reality, allowing people to connect in all of a connection’s nuances — the body language, the mannerisms, expressions — despite being on the opposite sides of the globe.
What’s in it for marketers? More immersive advertising. Virtual tours. Virtual concerts. Hands-on experiences with electronics, apparel, accessories, furniture. Cars? Houses?
Now, that’s unleashing possibilities.
4. Integrated shopping
Let’s go back to hyper-targeting for a minute.
Instead of winging it or taking a guess, hyper-precision marketing involves making decisions based on insights. Assuming data quality is top-notch, the insights are highly accurate, based on evidence, making the decisions based on the insights also highly accurate.
The result is not just higher click-throughs. It’s higher click-throughs with less ad spend. When we know what works and what does not, we can optimize ad spend by spending more on the former while spending less on the latter. That’s how we get more bang for our buck.
Hyper-targeting makes your sales funnel steeper, making it easier to fall through. But not steep enough. There still exists a point of friction. Users may learn about a new product or service on a platform, but can they purchase it then and there?
In 2022, social media platforms will aim to make conversions even more effortless. Platforms will aim to make the transition between generating leads and making sales even smoother. How? By incorporating marketplaces, or a similar arrangement, to make customer journeys seamless.
Imagine the journey in the Metaverse. First, a hyper-personalized content feed means that you only see what you want to see. The content feed is without ‘interruptions’ since every ad that pops up is highly relevant. Then, let’s say you stumble upon something of interest. Before making a purchase, you want to be sure. You use the product — virtually. It’s good. You make the purchase — digitally, then and there.
5. Intelligent customer support
Customers today don’t expect to email or phone customer support to solve their queries. They also expect social media handles to respond on personal chat. And brands that genuinely value their customers, brands that strive to listen to each of their problems, make the arrangements to respond promptly — no matter the time zone.
Here’s a paradox.
If customers deserve the best, they deserve the best of communication — authenticity, genuine interest, connection, maximum value. As customers grow and businesses scale, so does customer support. But since time and energy is finite, not every customer and query can be addressed personally and with complete authenticity.
In order to solve the problem, businesses deploy chatbots — programs that simulate customer support. In other words, chatbots enact as virtual customer support.
A chatbot, a product of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), delivers consistent results, which means it is scalable. Let’s not forget that one also never takes a break and can function 24×7. That’s why chatbots have taken the world by storm: they are incredibly cost-effective. And that’s the paradox. A chatbot is scalable, but it’s also, well, robotic. Communication with one is not authentic and human, even if it is valuable for solving our query.
But that will change. Advancements in AI will improve Natural Language Processing (NLP), empowering chatbots to understand more complex queries as well as produce more natural, human responses. Indeed, intelligent social media customer support will leave ample time for customer reps to solve the most complex queries — queries that demand patience and trust.
Full-blown AI-based customer support is still very far. But even small steps in the field will make for big changes — for disruption.
AI will seriously disrupt social media. Primarily, it will enable brands to predict social media trends well in advance. And that’s a massive competitive advantage.
Because no, social media is not just for cat videos and sketch comedy. It’s also for serious political debate and activism. According to Gartner, besides privacy and legal non-compliance, changing political attitudes is today’s most serious threat to a brand’s reputation.
Social media users are passionately concerned about whether a brand is genuinely making the world a better place or only pandering to its customers. Facebook, for example, recently acquired Bloomsbury AI after the social media kingpin was seriously condemned for being unable to curb the spread of disinformation. Gillette re-defined what it means to be the best a man can be in its bold campaign against toxic masculinity.
There are countless such examples of brands aligning their values to the values of their customers. And AI’s prediction capabilities and near-real-time insights will make the exercise much more straightforward.
Here’s the next disruption: the ability to predict disruptions.
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SGA Knowledge TeamMarch 15, 2021