While data breaches and privacy concerns have plagued social media platforms recently, these issues seem to be teaching a valuable lesson to every business involved in social media: building relationships and trust is paramount. Users have to believe that the businesses they engage with have their best interests in mind, and they have to trust that their data will not fall into the wrong hands. Likewise, businesses using social platforms have to trust that the goodwill they invest in building will pay dividends.
The nascent stage of social media is over. As social platforms and the businesses that use them evolve and learn from prior missteps, social media is maturing. Here are a few trends to watch in the near future:
One-to-one interactions: Brands that approach social media with the intent to form sincere relationships with prospects and customers will distinguish themselves from rivals that continue to broadcast to rather than engage their audiences.
The expectation of the typical social media platform user when engaging with a business is to experience a reciprocal relationship. For instance, people who engage with their favorite fashion designers expect to be consulted for their ideas on what is appealing and what is not. Insurance customers expect to be able to reach help with claims through Facebook just as easily as they do on the phone, though insurance companies are lagging on this expectation. Chatbots are emerging as a virtual solution to the need for instant dialogue, and the technologies behind them make the user experience mirror a real, helpful human conversation.
Branching out into more platforms: The fast-growing popularity of WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Medium are driving businesses to diversify their social media. It makes sense, since the purpose of social media is to connect with users wherever they are online.
WhatsApp started as a purely personal social platform, but it is evolving to enable businesses to provide customer support and updates on products and services. Instagram is ideal for businesses that want to visually showcase their products and services through photos, videos and stories (more on that in #3). The platform now offers rich performance analytics and the ability to schedule posts using third-party tools. LinkedIn, the business networking site, is now becoming a leading destination for thought leadership articles and a place where experts can share content and build both their business and personal brands. Pinterest enables users to share visuals of the products that inspire them; it therefore offers a great brand-building opportunity for photogenic products. For brands intent on educating their customers and prospects through blogs, Medium enables republishing of posts to extend brand reach.
Storytelling: The more technology-focused we become, the more that same technology may help to replace lost tribal behaviors. Storytelling is a healthy way to build relationships and share something of mutual interest. It can be done in a multitude of ways such as repurposing YouTube content into Facebook Live videos or podcasts into listicles and blogs (for Medium). Instagram makes storytelling easy for businesses with its Instagram Stories feature, which integrates hashtags and location features into the visuals, as well as links to content. The stories enable businesses to get more exposure than ordinary posts because the competition is not as intense, and the stories disappear after 24 hours. Facebook offers a similar feature.
Influence through influencers: Paying to build influence from the ground up is unnecessary. Brands of all sizes are tapping into the sphere of influence that bloggers, video stars and other content producers have built and, as a result, finding hard-to-beat ROI. Tools like Mavrck and Traackr help businesses locate the strongest influencers in their markets so they can target specific niches, and do so in a credible environment. For instance, a cell phone maker can form relationships with YouTube product reviewers, so that all of its phones are reviewed before launch. A strong review results in buzz for products that can be harder to generate through traditional advertising.
Building subcultures online: People engage on social media, both with one another and with brands, to fulfill deep-rooted needs for belonging and meaningful participation. There is an immense opportunity for businesses to create or grow brands to serve these needs and subsequently manage the development of online communities and subcultures, albeit with a profit motive.
For example, as print media dies off, auto enthusiasts who no longer read Road & Track and Motor Trend can be part of an online subculture, and they can consume traditional content, such as car reviews, while also engaging with one another. The DIY movement is also ripe for building online communities where people can share advice and experiences while TV networks like DIY Network or HGTV promote shows and other available content.
Though profit drives the evolution of social media, it is interesting that many of these developments prove to be beneficial for society in general. The above trends involve building social connections, and doing so can be as good for people as it is for business.