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The State of Social Media in 2017

Written by Callum McCahon - Dec 06 2017
At the end of each year, I like to write about what I see as the key shifts in our industry at this point in time. This year, there are five areas that are important for us to be conscious of. I’d love to hear what you think.

1. Stories are the new news feed

Back in August 2016, Instagram released Stories to solve a clear problem. Sharing on the platform was in sharp decline, because the barrier to entry was too high. Their reputation as the ‘beautiful’ platform made it intimidating to the everyday user, who would share that one perfect photo, whilst Snapchat were sweeping up the everyday moments.

Instagram solved this by releasing Stories - that much is evident from observing the way the platform has changed over this year. Stories are now right at the centre of the Instagram experience - for me, they’re the first thing I look at in the app. The feed is second priority. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

What’s the big picture here? I believe that Stories are the new news feed. They offer a truly native experience for mobile, whilst the news feed is showing signs of ageing. Remember that it was built over ten years ago by Facebook, and designed for the desktop experience. The world has changed, and mobile now clearly dominates.

Stories are built for the devices we use. They just make sense on mobile - swipes, gestures and taps are the name of the game. They’re already an key part of the Instagram experience, and they’re only going to continue to grow as a format.

So, how do we adapt?

Firstly, we need to get a grip on Stories, and quickly. As a brand on social media, it’s no longer sufficient to exclusively play within the realm of the news feed. You need to be using Stories in order to reach your audience where they are.

Secondly, we need to finesse the skill of short form. In Stories, the thumb is primed to swipe past - so you need to convince users in the first second why they should stick around.

Finally, you need to explore new measures of success - metrics such as user retention and swipe-up rates become much more insightful than old-fashioned “engagement”.

2. Influencer marketing has grown up

2017 was the year that influencer marketing finally grew up.

For a while, influencer marketing has had a troubled reputation. It’s been plagued by inauthentic partnerships and quite frankly, bad work. More seriously, in a lot of cases, it was actually deceptive.

At the start of this year, we found in The Social Survey that 77% of Instagram users didn’t know what #sp meant, and 48.4% didn’t know what #ad meant. This was a serious issue - it rendered the marketing industry irresponsible for using these indicators, because we were deceiving users.

Something had to change. In March, we called on the ASA and Instagram to take more serious action. That they did.

The ASA started speaking out more clearly on the matter, but the biggest change came from Instagram (as it needed to), with the release of their Branded Content feature.

With Branded Content, it’s now much more obvious when an influencer is being paid by a brand to post, rather than a hashtag hidden in the depths of a caption. Importantly, Instagram have now built influencer marketing into the platform itself - recognising the maturity of this form of marketing.

So influencer marketing has grown up. It’s more regulated and official now.

You need to make sure you’re doing it properly. Familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations, and utilise the Branded Content feature wherever required.

3. From social to media

We’ve all now acclimatised to the fact that organic reach, at least on Facebook, is now dead and buried. It’s no longer a viable social strategy to rely on the roulette of organic distribution. Everything needs to run through paid. We get it.

What is perhaps more interesting is the side-effect that this wholesale change in social strategy has produced.

When we combine this increasing reliance on paid media to take care of our distribution for us, as well as an increase in dark social sharing, we now seem to be drifting dangerously close to traditional media buying. We’re forgetting what made social media…social.

We’re beginning to chase reach over engagement. Eyes over action. Vanity metrics over business results.

The solution lies in adopting an organic mindset in a paid landscape. Remember that paid reach doesn’t make up for shit content. Fight for your place in the news feed, but use the incredible tools that paid allows you access to. The brands who strike this balance will be the ones who succeed in 2018.

If you haven’t yet seen Ben Shaw’s Social Media Week talk, you absolutely must. He hits this particular nail right on the head.

4. The drawback of ROI

2017 was the year that social media shed it’s skin as an unprovable marketing channel. For so long we’ve been playing in the arena of ‘brand building’ but have struggled to justify, in cold hard numbers, the return on investment.

This has changed, mainly thanks to Facebook’s innovation in the space.

Instagram Shoppable Tags and Facebook Shop have tied up content discovery with e-commerce.

It’s now a rare sight to see an e-commerce brand without the Facebook Pixel installed and tracking all conversion activity.

And the criticism has always been that that’s all great, but what about brands that don’t sell online? Well, Facebook have been working to solve this with Drive Store Visits and Offline Conversions.

What all of this has meant is that marketers in the social space have got very, very excited. Finally, we can prove ROI. We can prove that we sell stuff. That we have an impact on the bottom line.

Sounds great right? Except there’s one big drawback to this shift. If we’re not careful, we’re going to drift completely towards short-termism.

You are what you measure, and we’re beginning to be able to measure ROI really, really well. In light of this, it’s important that you also give significance to the longer term, brand building metrics.

Why? I’ll let Peter Field and Les Binet school you on that.

As we get better at proving the ROI on social, I urge you not to forget the longer term brand building metrics. Make sure you are solving the business problem, and balance your short term and long term strategies.

5. Convergence

Social media has converged.

Stories started as a Snapchat feature. Now they’re everywhere. Live Video started on Periscope. Now it’s everywhere.

What’s going on here? Social media has moved into its maturity stage - we’re beyond the era of the USP.

Snapchat started as ephemeral stories, then it evolved into much more. Instagram started as beautiful filters. Twitter started as breaking news, quick.

This is natural, and it’s a good thing for users. It means that they rarely have to join a new platform in order to gain access to a certain feature - they can stay where they have invested time into building a network.

However, I think one thing that is worth pointing out is that in an era of convergence and consolidation, Facebook are the clear winners.

The digital duopoly is a real thing - Facebook claimed 77.7% of all US social media ad spend revenue this year, and that only looks set to grow. There’s no clear counterforce.

As marketers, we have a responsibility to be conscious of this duopoly and take action where we can to break out of it. We should also be sceptical by nature, using third party measurement tools to apply checks and balances to the Facebook monopoly.