From Artificial Intelligence (AI) to chatbots and everything in between. Here, we look at the top social media trends that could shape how you use social media for your content marketing in the coming year.

1. Using image to blend worlds

Increasingly the digital and ‘lived-in’ worlds are being interwoven, creating new opportunities for marketers to establish a brand presence that travels across both. Last year we saw Pinterest launch ‘Lens’, an AI feature that enables users to upload photos of real world objects to search for information relating to that object.

Retail content marketers, take note.

In the year ahead, we can expect to see the platform building on these features to get better at visual and keyword search to create better ad targeting. The company has promised that, with time and machine learning, the Lens feature will be able to identify the type of clothing worn in a photograph, as well as the label behind it, and give shopping suggestions to match. Even at this stage, the changes create an incentive to include information-rich and high-quality images in content to increase the likelihood of appearing in visual search results.

As for other image-based platforms, Instagram will be number one for brands. Examples from publishers also show that content doesn’t have to be sacrificed to appeal to Instagram’s younger demographic. The Economist has gained over one million followers using informative captions along with curated images and graphics on Instagram.

2. Talking with robots

It is often said there is an app for everything. While that might be so, most of us regularly use one type – the messenger app. Chatbots, a program designed to simulate conversation with users, take advantage of this demand for messaging to create ‘one-on-one’ customer exchanges. Bots are able to build ongoing relationships, respond to inquiries quickly and escalate to a human service agent if necessary, and they are available 24/7. The bots can help meet the customer expectations of always connected consumers. Salesforce research found that 71% of consumers said that 24/7 customer service influences loyalty. Publishers like the ABC and The Guardian have already led the way, creating their own chatbots that run on Facebook messenger to suggest interesting articles. Choice and Financial Literacy Australia have also created Cado, a messenger bot that helps consumers make choices about their super. This will provide advice, even outside of office hours. It will be interesting to watch who uses messenger bots in new and creative ways.

3. The influencers

Public relations firm Edelman kicked off last year declaring an “implosion of trust”. It recorded a large drop in trust in countries including Australia across government, business, media and NGOs. In an environment like this, marketers are latching onto trusted voices with influencer marketing. In 2018, this looks set to continue and more investment in influencer marketing on Instagram and LinkedIn is likely. Just avoid the legal risks and make show advertising or marketing done through influencers is clearly distinguishable as a sponsored post to the audience.

4. No longer the ‘good guys’

Recent developments have raised questions about how content marketers can effectively use certain social media platforms. For example, Twitter is still overrun by bots. The platform recently found 36,000 bots and 2752 accounts controlled by individuals linked to the Russian government. On the other end, Facebook struggled with ‘fake news’ and tested a paid-only newsfeed. It also is showing a declining organic reach and de-prioritising brand content. These shifts have soured some content marketers views of Twitter and Facebook and even led to Fairfax deciding to “rip it up and start again,” without Facebook.

It’s likely that most companies won’t want or need to do anything as drastic as Fairfax. We also won’t see users fleeing these platforms. Marketers should take the changes to Facebook and Twitter as a lesson to ensure they aren’t dependent on a single social media platform to drive traffic and engagement.

5. Pay up or else

On Facebook a number of algorithm adjustments have driven organic reach towards zero and made the platform increasingly a pay-to-play landscape. BuzzSumo analysed 880 million Facebook posts published by brands or publishers since January 2017 and found a 20% decrease in the average numbers of engagements. And even beforehand, organic reach was falling.

To kick this year off, Facebook announced that it would prioritise posts from friends and family and effectively de-priotitise posts from publishers and business. The company warned that as a result, “pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease”.

If somebody likes or follows your page, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will see your content. Friends’ posts are prioritised and competitors can simply pay to have their content appear ahead of yours. This is the case unless you are one of the few publishers that manage to produce viral content that people share with their friends (and viral content that is actually relevant to both your audience and your brand at the same time).

In addition, ad costs on channels like Facebook and Instagram are rising, and it’s unlikely marketers will soon see a reverse to this trend. All this means that social media will likely take up a larger chunk of the marketing budget.

These issues could cause a major shift, driving social media marketers to platforms with better reach. LinkedIn, for example, has shown an increase in organic reach.

6. Video, video and more video

It seems every year video is tipped as a key social trend and this year videos reign continues. Biometric analysis from Facebook shows that people spend five times longer on video compared to static content. Adding video, whether live or produced, to your content mix may get you the attention you want.

Facebook itself has been pushing brand publishers towards video over a number of years.The company launched Watch – its video content tab – and it really wants it to work. Its algorithm now massively prioritises moving image. In July last year Facebook announced that more than half the revenue from ads will be shared with video creators, the same as YouTube. These efforts have meant that in just a year, daily video views on Facebook increased fourfold to eight billion. What will this mean for the future? Expect higher video production value, increased demand for videos from publishers and increased competition.

But before you ramp up your own video production, or start shooting, there are some things to consider. First and foremost, what does your audience want. Is it really video?

If you do video, be careful (and strategic) with your measurement. Some video metrics should be taken with a grain of salt. With each platform counting their views differently you may be looking at some superficial stats. For example, Snapchat counts views after one second, Facebook and Instagram after three seconds, and YouTube after 30 seconds. Therefore instead of chasing views it may be more beneficial to focus on other data, such as the time spent on a video or whether a viewer moves closer to your conversion goal.

Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.

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