With social media's influence on SEO and digital marketing increasing, it is up to SMEs to keep in touch with the latest trends and the tools and technologies available to them.
A lot has happened in 2017: we saw Instagram Stories take off at the expense of its competitor Snapchat; Apple announce its iPhone X complete with augmented reality chip and Twitter double its character capacity.
So what can we expect in 2018? We have looked at the predictions being made by some of those sources with their fingers firmly on the social media pulse and three clear themes have emerged.
Many of the sources we looked at suggested that 2018 will see businesses cater more closely to the needs and preferences of so-called Generation Z. This is the demographic cohort which follows on from the Millennials (or Generation Y).
Some generalisations being made about Generation Z are that they are obsessed with mobile technology, enjoy consuming ephemeral content, crave authentic experiences and can be powerful social media influencers.
What is ephemeral content? Popularised by Snapchat and Instagram Stories, ephemeral content is designed to last 24 hours before it is gone forever. Usually consisting of images or short videos, ephemeral content echoes the fast-paced lives of younger people who have grown up in a constantly changing world of information on demand.
With Instagram, back in April, announcing that 200 million people were using Stories on a daily basis, some commentators are predicting that by the end of next year, half of all Instagram members will be using the service to share snapshots of their lives.
What does this mean from a digital marketing perspective? It suggests SMEs should start thinking now about how to supplement – if not ultimately replace – traditional advertising campaigns with short-lived, high-impact social media content.
In terms of the type of content, the experts are advising marketers to focus on authentic experiences with plenty of spontaneity and 'behind the scenes' footage rather than overly scripted ads. Generation Z are telling researchers that they are cynical of traditional advertising methods and businesses may find their messages falling on deaf ears if they ignore this trend.
There is also expected to be an increase in the 2.5 billion plus people using instant messaging services. When talking to businesses, this immediate connection is preferred over asynchronous email by many from the Generation Z cohort and has led to the rise of chatbots, computer programs designed to provide human-like interaction via text or voice communication.
One last word about Generation Z: due to their innate understanding and use of social media, connecting with this demographic could be a very powerful means to build social influence (and enhance SEO). The teens and early tweens of Generation Z are invested in building their own personal brands and are likely to actively promote brands that resonate with them.
2017 was the year which saw several social media platforms take their first tentative steps into live video streaming. According to the experts, 2018 is likely to be the year that live video finally goes mainstream.
Facebook Live, Periscope and similar apps continue to offer the facility to instantly stream video from mobile devices while YouTube offers advanced features for creating brand channels, scheduling live events, encouraging real-time interaction and even monetising content. The cross-platform app Agora aims to make interaction even easier over live streaming events.
If you have yet to explore some of the branding possibilities that can be brought to life through augmented reality (AR) then we suggest you have a look at some videos on the subject. Augmented reality involves blending virtual content with the real world using digital technology. Apple's recently unveiled iPhone X comes pre-installed with a chip that allows owners to download AR apps to their handset.
AR is set to take user engagement to the next level. For example, AR apps will enable users to virtually place objects (e.g. furniture) in their rooms, interact with brand animations and tag real world objects with pictures and messages all via their existing handset.
Virtual reality (VR), which offers an even more immersive experience than augmented reality, is also likely to expand from gaming into social media and hence digital marketing. Facebook, for example, are inviting developers to contribute to its Spaces project, a virtual hangout whereby users interact using Oculus VR technology.
Although these three themes came up again and again on the radars of the experts we studied, there are certain to be unforeseen changes to the fascinating social media landscape as we head into the New Year and beyond.
To make sure you stay connected, sign up to our Digital Marketing for SMEs Facebook group or join our next social media webinar for small business owners.
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