10 ways the social media landscape is changing – what does the future look like?

10 ways the social media landscape is changing – what does the future look like?

We’ve had a solid year of continuous bad news about social media – from data breaches, to election tampering, fake news, loss of engagement, and everything in between. We are on the cusp of a new era for social. With the cogs already in motion, we’ve identified our 10 reasons as to why social as we know it is changing, and what we think the future looks like for brands, communities, and influencers in the near future.

1.  A Trusted Network

Fake news. Clickbait. Algorithm tyranny. It’s hard to go a day without reading another article on the trust-demise of Facebook and the impact across social networks. Friends and family have all but disappeared from our feeds (despite the algorithm changes), and from a business perspective it is hard to place trust (and marketing budgets) in networks that consumers are losing interest in.

The new world of social is already heading back to its original heartland. A place where people can trust and engage with what they are viewing, but it’s unlikely this will be across the big, formidable networks. It’s a world of bespoke social networks (and dark social) where brands, communities, and influencers will be building their own private spaces - and this shift is already in motion.


2. Connected Content

Big social networks have become a content-hoarder’s paradise, but for the rest of us, it’s a wasteland. Gone are the days of receiving content from people you love, brands you like or communities you are a part of. Today, we have an endless field of clickbait, unrealistic influencers, and sponsored ads. And it’s disheartening.

There is a shining light, though, the OG of social media: having that personal connection. Being able to connect directly with your followers and share relevant content or brand stories with them is where social will evolve (or perhaps re-evolve?) back to. It will move from a network you share with thousands of brands, with bigger ad dollars, to your own network, surfacing only your content, and the content of your followers.


3. Data Ownership

In a world of GDPR, privacy and permission-based marketing, it seems redundant to rely on untrustworthy third parties to tap into your audience and connect with your followers. The desire to understand your fans in detail has not disappeared but relying on social networks to tell you this information has limited how much you can really know.

And this raises the question, ‘How can anyone truly interact with someone they don’t know?’ The new world of social will be about increased insights combined with careful ownership of data, compliant with every rulebook out there. Having the ability to not only understand your followers’ needs, wants, interests, but to react to behaviours and interactions on a direct and deeper level is powerful. You’ll be serving up what they want to see, and in response, you'll have a more engaged community.

4. The Search for Higher Engagement

A benchmark of 1-3% for average engagement as acceptable is something we’ve always struggled with. How is this a standard that’s OK? To make matters worse, that rate is in decline. With the algorithm changes from the big social networks negatively impacting organic reach from brands and communities (it’s estimated that around only 2% of your content is actually surfaced), there are reduced opportunities to engage.

The new world of social will foster high engagement rates, with direct connections to your followers through bespoke social networks. No longer will 6% be a high-end benchmark, but 30% and above will be the norm. Higher engagement leads to more activity and actions – whether that be sales, attending events, or liking a post. Engagement equals results, so finding a way to achieve this will continue to be the holy grail.


5. Finding Passions, Giving Permission

We are naturally engaged with things that we are passionate about. We will seek out information about people, brands, or groups we love. Not only that, but we actively give permission to those involved in our passions to tell us more.

The new world of social will be about finding those commonalities and creating a safe space for those passions to run free. Social will move from the big behemoth it is now to smaller, more connected communities based around people’s passion points, and moderated to exclude trolling. And what’s more, rather than receive content and ads that we didn’t ask for, we’ll be hearing and seeing the latest on things we are interested in. Because we gave our permission.

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6. Discovering Trusted Communities

Recommendations from friends, families and communities continue to be a key influence in purchase decisions. Being able to chat to others who have a common interest, or have experienced a product, service or destination you are interested in, is a leading tool for any consumer. But with fewer people sharing these recommendations through social media (outside of influencers), we are having to find other sources of inspiration.

Being able to enter a community with like-minded individuals, who can give you real insights, advice, and recommendations is where social is headed. While it may not be all of your family, friends, and long-lost colleagues, it will be a community who are passionate about the same things you are. The new world of social will be about discovering your trusted community.


7. Cease Ad Dollar Wastage

It’s likely we can all identify with the meandering scroll through our feeds, bypassing ads and content we didn’t really sign-up for. With so many ads being served every day, there is an abundance of research out there around ad blindness, and ad blocking (the brain version, not the privacy tick version, although that is still very relevant). However, the big social networks are getting more revenue than ever from ads, building an increasingly cluttered ad marketplace. Do your ads really get seen and reach the audience you paid for? We get the feeling we’ll never really know.

But what if you had access to your own network? The new social world will see brands, communities, and influencers invest in taking control of their own insights, content, and reporting. Having your own social network will mean being able to test products or ad concepts with your followers, take polls on community projects, or invite fans to a special event. You’d be the only lead voice, with followers contributing their own content, thoughts, and ideas.


8. Increased Knowledge Sharing

We’ve spoken about meandering through our feeds. It’s a very passive scroll, and with reduced content relevancy and subsequently lower engagement, the big social networks don’t really cultivate an environment for heavy active sharing.

A few branded communities have been around for a little while now and they see increased support for all users. There’s distributed customer service, where users can help solve problems (and also reduce overheads, estimated between 10-25% annually), to shared product experiences like Nike + Run Club, to product innovation ideas, where brands like Lego excel. The new world of social will see a shift from a mix of social and branded communities to a convergence of the two, integrated within the existing infrastructure for each business, community, or influencer.

9. Fostering Retention and Loyalty

Across the big social networks, there is little retention and loyalty. These are hard to foster when organic content and information about a brand or community is rarely surfaced into a feed. But these two power-players still have a significant role to play.

There is a proven connection between branded communities and customer retention and loyalty.  But don’t just believe us, academic studies across the web show evidence that trust within the community leads to higher commitment and affinity, which then drives more loyal behaviour. What’s more, a recent study by Dialogue showed that 37% of people are more likely to stick with a brand when part of a community. The best part though (if you’re a business), is that this all links to social spending.

10. Social Selling Growth

Although many users are exploring the ‘shop’ feature across the big social platforms, it is definitely more of a pay-to-play space. We recognise that this is still a growth area for many brands, and many are seeing some good success. However, combined with our other 9 reasons above, could you be achieving more?

Our answer is yes. The journal of Marketing Science also supports this, where they found that people who were part of a community spent on average 20% more than those who were not. Additionally, brands like Glossier are shifting gears to create social commerce spaces as part of their online community networks, and are reaping the rewards of high returns. The new world of social, particularly for brands, will be about optimising the social sales funnel and continuing to build community involvement across social selling.