The Gist:

  • Authenticity becomes a major competitive advantage. Brands need to showcase their authentic values to demonstrate they understand their customers better. Influencers will act as “experts-in-residence,” fueling the movement to form better communication in smaller digital town squares.
  • Be prepared to adjust digital ad spend. Diversification will loom larger over advertising budgets, with retail media such as Walmart and Instacart challenging social media platforms to prove the value of digital ad spend alongside a tweet or TikTok video.
  • Show and prove privacy. Social media platforms will promote the benefits of their protection features, which will give both consumers and brands greater control over how content is recommended and displayed. 

Do you love those special two-part episodes of your favorite show? In 2022, social media started a dramatic two-parter for marketers. The acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, the spread of audio chat, and continued adoption of video clashed with changing ad options and shifts in where consumers spend their time online, if at all. Some are turning their backs on the algorithm, putting themselves on a digital diet.

In 2023, the changes expected for social media are being influenced by a federation of internet platforms, including technological advances, changes in user behavior, needs and interests, and shifts in the broader social, cultural and political landscape.

What does this mean for social media platforms, both new and established? There are a few trends to note moving forward.

Evolving Video Usage Into Engaging Content

Video content, including live streaming and short videos, rose in prominence during 2022. Living and working from home during the pandemic years drove people to fully leverage their high-quality smartphone cameras for productivity, communication and entertainment. As a result, marketers will manage more formats. 

To make life easier, platforms will simplify features meant to engage customers, not overwhelm them, such as ephemeral content usage. Ephemeral content, such as stories and disappearing messages, allow users to share moments and updates in a more spontaneous and temporary way without being a nuisance to potential customers by encouraging constant review of their feeds.

  • What marketers should look for: Plan for more exploration of how to repurpose content, as no single format or platform will serve every moment or need. Marketers should also plan campaign labels to compare channel lift and ROI. Doing so will deepen understanding what intent data streams are created from the video campaigns and events.

Related Article: Mastering Brand Reputation Management in the Social Media Age

More Direct Talk in Smaller Digital Town Squares

Gen Z consumers are leading the adoption of the next generation social media platforms, the emergence of specialized networks. According to eMarketer, Gen Z consumers prefer welcoming spaces over platforms that are indifferent to trolls and direct message spamming.

Thus, they are turning to newer platforms that emphasize more intimate conversations and fewer unwanted intrusions. For instance, teens are choosing up-and-coming platform BeReal to socialize casually on their phones while avoiding ads and reducing time spent endlessly scrolling a feed. Meanwhile, Discord, Mastodon and Substack offer a variety of community experiences that speak to various interests.

Traditional platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube will not fade out anytime soon. They still attract the lion’s share of followers and remain the best grounds for message visibility and content recommendation.

  • What marketers should look for: Plan content that speaks to more intimate groups, encouraging feedback, identifying shared interests and demonstrating how their brand is distinctive from competitors. Lisa Barone, vice president of brand at marketing agency Overit, said it best in her weekly marketing email: Brand messaging should market “how we are different, not where we are the same.”

Continuing to Land Our Planes With Social Audio

People fell in love with the phrase “I Land My Plane” in Clubhouse. (It means “I am ending my turn to speak”). Social audio is set to take flight even higher. Over the past two years, social media mavens flocked to Clubhouse, as well as social audio features in Twitter, LinkedIn and Spotify to stay connected while reducing travel cost to events or stay top-of-mind with customers between in-person meetings. With three primary social media platforms using hosting communities of all sorts, it will be interesting to see how these three platforms will fight each other for supremacy in the social audio space.

  • What marketers should look for: Marketers should host social audio events alongside real-world conferences and events to speak with customers and partner with influencers. Doing so will speak to the blended real world/digital experiences emerging from the pandemic. Pay attention to format and feature updates such as Clubhouse Houses, which can enhance intimacy and improve the quality of customer experience. 

Authenticity Becomes a Major Competitive Advantage 

People are seeking emotional connections with the brands they are interested in, particularly as they expect brands to uphold their values. This leads to them reading, watching and listening to people they trust. As a result, there will be a stronger emphasis on brands showcasing their authentic values to demonstrate that they understand their customers better. However, any signs of platform turmoil, such as the Elon Musk Twitter acquisition, may challenge that message.

  • What marketers should look for: Start authentic conversations on topics that are relevant to your product, service or industry. Leverage newer features that promote real-time conversations, like social audio, to build the right environment. Be hospitable to the people you want to engage with.

Related Article: Deciding on the Best Social Media Platforms for Customer Connection

Influencer Choices for Authenticity Will Be Complex and Varied 

Influencer marketing will enter a new phase of growth into more nuanced microsegments as influencers experiment with niches to better reach their audiences. Influencers will act as “experts-in-residence,” fueling the movement to form better communication in smaller digital town squares. These microsegments will have smaller yet more engaged audiences, encouraging brands to make more thoughtful choices as to who should represent them. As a result, microinfluencers will play a crucial role in establishing authentic connections with audiences, ultimately leading to increased sales.

Learning Opportunities

  • What marketers should look for: With the fragmented social media landscape in mind, identify influencers who will best match your brand and customer experience offerings to the right audience. Hajj Flemings, digital marketing expert and founder of Rebrand Cities, commented: "In the future, social media influencers will be expected to have more than just a large following, but also to create impact, foster community, and be authentic, transparent, and responsible. They will also need to navigate cancel culture and understand that brands may make decisions about working with them based on their digital footprint." The right influencer can help brands establish that difference among an audience, particularly when launching a new product or service.

Be Prepared to Adjust Digital Ad Spend — in a LOT of Campaigns

Diversification will loom larger over advertising budgets. While Meta and Google remain the go-to ad platforms, marketers now have other options. Amazon's ad revenue is expected to surpass Meta and Google combined, driving platform choices for campaigns and customer experience. But marketers are facing real budget cuts this year, forcing faster decisions on the next campaign spend. Retail media such as Walmart and Instacart will challenge social media platforms to prove the value of digital ad spend alongside a tweet or TikTok video is well spent.

  • What marketers should look for: Look for dashboard adjustments that show how the ads are leading current followers into becoming potential customers and registrants. Attribution will be a large factor in valuing shoppable content and how well campaigns carry people into a customer experience that plays to the bottom line.

Show and Prove Social Media Privacy 

As concerns about data misuse and online harassment persist, consumers are increasingly aware of their user privacy and security. To address these concerns, social media platforms have taken steps to improve privacy and security, including adopting end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication and more robust data protection measures.

No one legislative act looms over social media. Yet, issues such as the US Supreme Court interpretation on Section 230 and data privacy regulations will influence how social media platforms provide further initiatives to protect user data and provide greater control over features meant to prevent harm.

  • What marketers should look for: Platforms will promote the benefits of their protection features, which will give both consumers and brands greater control over how content is recommended and displayed.

Related Article: Finding Your Target Audience Through Social Media

Can You Measure More Than Followers? 

In the post-pandemic era, social media success is no longer solely based on follower count. Instead, it's measured by the value provided to the community. That sentiment is repeated among marketers in tweets and Clubhouse rooms alike. Yet measuring attribution will still be a challenge. Attribution is important but marketers are having a tough time trying to understand how attribution fits within the construct of social media. The days of just reporting on how many new followers are gained are waning, if not already gone.

  • What marketers should look for: Expect an increase in analytic platform options that can calculate statistical metrics correlating social media activity to the brand's target audience. New options will range from low-code extensions on current dashboards to sharable no-code reporting features. This means picking platforms with an eye for how they fit into measurement workflows for all stakeholders. Additionally, expect an emphasis on video metrics, as brands and influencers alike worry about time spent with livestreamed or recorded events.

Virtual Reality Is Still Coming — on a Different Train, Speed and Track

Virtual reality aspirations took a hit when Meta’s grand VR platform Horizon Worlds revealed high cost to the company while user adoption stalled. This dark cloud does have a silver lining though. Virtual reality is still expected to remain a gateway to metaverse experiences for early adopters, with social media platforms serving as a discovery path for the average person. This will result in more sophisticated personal experiences than the standard emoji and positioning for more advanced customer experiences.

  • What marketers should look for: Smaller bets on virtual reality and metaverse campaigns that are retaining customer interest with intriguing ideas. According to Forbes, the metaverse is expected to add $5 trillion to the world economy, but not until 2030, leaving ample time for experimentation on key features that customers expect, such as moderation features.

Show and Prove That Customers Are Coming to the Cash Register

Social media platforms have long been a way for brands to reach and engage with their customers. As platforms refine their ecommerce functionality to let customers make purchases directly, they will go into overdrive to prove their vitality as a touchpoint to enhance customer experience. More businesses recognize the reach of social media, so platforms must demonstrate metrics that show consistent customer engagement and influence on key performance indicators (KPIs).

  • What marketers should look for: Pay close attention to how social media platforms approach social commerce that keeps followers in-app. The most effective efforts will appeal to both retailers and influencers, as social media platforms seek to demonstrate their ability to drive customers to retail sites and as platforms compete to retain influencers and their audiences (since influencers also sell products and services).

Who Protects Our Mental Health Best?

Some people are turned off by the mainstream social media platforms, feeling that they wield far too much influence over society, culture and politics, frequently bringing people closer to harm. Platforms have responded in some ways to address this, such as YouTube’s decision to remove dislike counts to discourage bullying.

  • What marketers should look for: Expect to see more action from social media platforms in helping users make sensible decisions about their mental health, such as Instagram's timer that indicates how long users have been looking at their profiles. It's important for marketers to monitor how consistently platforms offer these features, as they reflect on the customer experience that brands are seeking to cultivate. While there have been debates about Twitter users reconsidering their profiles after the Elon Musk acquisition, marketers should not expect to see a mass exodus from the big social platforms. However, they should prepare for a different social media landscape as users adopt new platforms and experiences that best serve their needs and build their communities.

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