The growth of social media since 2009, trendspotting the next 10 years and the rise of social goodness
Trends on social media and the rise of social goodness were the key focus of my talk at our 10th birthday party on April 25th 2019. Trendspotting is always part of a leader’s job description – if you can’t spot the upcoming trends that will affect your business and your customers then you won’t be in business very long.
Social media marketing was a trend I spotted a long time before most people, which meant we were able to launch the agency in 2009, and provide services and create campaigns for the more digitally-savvy corporations, including Vodafone and Ford. Remember this was before Instagram, Snapchat or Pinterest even launched, so a seriously long time ago in the evolution of digital.
Later that year I wrote a book called ‘WTF can social media do for your business’ in direct response to what I was hearing in a lot of offices and boardrooms up and down the country. Some businesses got it; a lot didn’t, and some still don’t.
Yet my thoughts about how that landscape would grow and change and how it would affect marketing, sales, advertising and business were spot on, although even I couldn’t foresee all the changes that have super charged the growth of social media.
The Last 10 Years: 10 things that have changed social media
1. In 2009, 0.9 million people were using social media (a huge increase on the year before). Now it is 3.3 billion, almost half the world’s population.
2. In 2009 people spent on average one hour a week on social. In 2019 that is now two hours and 22 minutes per day on average.
3. There are a lot more networks now, with different ones aimed at distinct demographics and interests.
4. Businesses do business on social – if people have a need, a question or a problem, they often go to social media for an answer first.
5. With the introduction of 3G, 4G and now 5G, as well as readily available wifi, we can engage with social, including images and videos, anytime, anywhere.
6. And with better connections, came better quality content, which has contributed to the increase in engagement.
7. A staggering 97 per cent of all purchases start with an online search, probably on Google. Back in 2009 we were still Asking Jeeves! With links to successful social media posts forming an important part of top Google listings, social media optimisation is becoming essential.
8. The Rise of AI – bots and automation weren’t around in 2009 and this is one of the areas of social media which is still growing and changing at a rapid pace.
9. Whether you’re a president, a pop star or a politician, the chances are you might announce something on Twitter first, which is something I couldn’t have foreseen in 2009.
10. Influencers – the big influencers pre-2009 were the traditional ones, including journalists, analysts and politicians. Social has given rise to the ‘Social Influencers’ who can gain millions of followers (and bank accounts to match).
As I predicted in ‘WTF can social media do for your business’ in 2009, social is now central to human society because social IS humans being social, just online. And businesses have been forced to follow their customers on to social and adjust the way they behave.
Ten Years On: Where we are now in 2019
People were largely taken unawares by the speed of social media’s growth, and legislation has lagged until recently. This enabled the Wild West approach by some of the networks, particularly Facebook, with their ‘go fast and break things’ motto and Amazon, notorious for their tax dodging while simultaneously breaking up traditional high streets. This is now being seriously addressed by governing bodies and legislation put in place to curb it, which is to be welcomed by any responsible business. However, it will once again change the social playing field, especially with regard to ‘like’ farming, bots, and very targeted advertising on social media, all of which I predict will be reined in and either banned or made less effective in the wake of data privacy scandals and GDPR.
In response to the rise in trolls and bots and the use of targeted data during elections we are also seeing a rise in coordinated action by ordinary people online, who are increasingly intolerant of any fake accounts, lies, spin, inaccuracies or perceived wrongdoing – and very active in calling it out. Twitter even has a name for posts that are not retweeted because no one likes them (because they are wrong, hateful, inaccurate etc), but which gather a lot of comments, usually countering the inaccuracies – they call it ratioed. And ratioed posts are on the rise.
Not unsurprisingly, many brands are somewhat reticent about expressing an opinion on social media, and while pretty much every business realises that it needs to be on social media, what to say and how to say it is a constant challenge. Consequently most businesses fence sit, falling back on spasmodic business updates, salesy or product posts, or boring or dry PR announcements.
Unfortunately these just don’t work on social if you want to gain visibility, increase ROI, boost sales, build reputation and maintain integrity. Most people will ignore boring mundane updates, even if they see them, and if they don’t interact with them the algorithms will then ensure they literally won’t even see them. The upshot of that is that most people wouldn’t care if 77% brands were to disappear overnight, according to Havas Group’s Meaningful Brands. This report is wide-reaching based on 1,800 brands and 350,000 respondents across 31 countries. The brands that people do care about are the ones that provide meaningful content, focus on improving their customers’ lives and whom they perceive to be doing good.
Brands that made the top 10 in 2019 are ones being transparent and committed to social good. Interestingly, that top 10 list included Gillette, who suffered a bit of backlash from some quarters at the start of 2019 following their ‘We Believe’ advertising campaign, which focused on countering male bullying and toxic masculinity.
However, this has actually played in their favour, with the advert going viral and triggering a fierce social media discussion that included some men (especially older and more traditional males) threatening to boycott Gillette (figures suggest they didn’t) and Millennials celebrating them for stepping into the political void left by out-of-touch governments.
As Pankaj Bhalla, the North American brand director for Gillette, says: “I think it is important to stand for more than the product’s benefit that you provide, and I think that’s the expectation of our younger audiences.”
Brand takeaway – stand up for what you believe in. Yes, some people won’t like it, but if it is what your core audience want and need then you will attract the right people, and they will become committed and loyal customers.
The demand for brands to provide news and context
While the over 65s still cite TV as their main source of news according to Ofcom, this falls with age until a whopping 82% of 16-to-24-year-olds cite social media as their main news source.
Brand takeaway – If there’s a news story in your niche about which you are an expert, you need to step up and comment, provide facts and context, be a leader.
Desire for educational content
In 2018 there was a 70% rise in people following YouTube creators and engaging with them every day. Why? Because people follow their passions and they want to learn, and they increasingly turn to social media to fulfil this need.
Brand takeaway – step in to this gap by being proactive and creative in the way you use social media. Invest in making your content useful, educational and entertaining.
Zero tolerance for spin, lies or fake claims
As we have already seen, people’s tolerance for spin is at an all-time low, and they are becoming increasingly vocal against what they perceive to be harmful or wrong. While you may not make an epic social media fail a la Ryan Air, you may very well get pulled in to the fray, as Clearcast did over the Iceland palm oil Christmas video or experience a backlash against your adverts or decisions.
Brand takeaway – The best way to guard against this happening is to be ethical and conscientious as a business, have crisis monitoring and a social media crisis plan in place, backed up by a social media staff policy, and build a robust social media presence that is in line with your brand ethics and values. A strong circle of supporters and influencers who will fight your corner is not a bad thing either.
For brands in 2019 the challenge is not just to do what you do well; it is to make sure people know what you do and what you stand for. Obviously this is not without its challenges, as increased transparency and taking a lead can sometimes spark push back in an increasingly polarised world, as Gillette and Greggs have both found early in 2019, and it is why many brands are a bit frightened to be proactive on social media. However, while the worst social media upsets are very visible and can be very damaging, most aren’t serious and can be dealt with easily enough so long as you are properly prepared.
The Next 10 Years: How social media will evolve
We have seen that trust and privacy issues on the platforms have led to trust issues with brands generally, and triggered the rise in the demand for transparency, ethical brands and social responsibility. This is certain to result in restrictions on advertising going forward, including online adverts having to be pre-approved as television ones already have to be. I think that we will also see the introduction in paid social access, at least for brands.
These are not bad changes. Social media marketing has long been perceived as a ‘cheap’ option, which has led to ineffective marketing (and advertising) that doesn’t work very well, if at all, and just clutters up the social stratosphere, heavily contributing to the tsunami of noise online and making it hard for the best brands to be visible.
In addition, social media and digital have been siloed as an ‘other’ thing, separate from general sales and marketing, often with separate teams. This is now changing. Integrating it all (social, content, SEO, PR, advertising, print, offline) is the only way for it to work to get brands visible in a crowded environment and get to the front page of Google.
What Brands Need to Do To Survive and Thrive
• Be authentic. Businesses need to strive to make a difference and improve peoples lives and the communities and wider world that we live in; it’s not enough to just make money. Which means businesses have to lead. Social media is the mirror of this – remember it is just people being social online – and in essence that means businesses mustn’t shy away from talking about the things that matter or just sit on the fence.
• Be the expert. Do provide the answers to the things that are challenging your audience. People want to know, and are hungry for information and education. If you know your stuff (and you should) you need to supply the answers.
• Be transparent and don’t ever use spin. Do shout about what you are great at, do state your aims and goals, and do stick to your principles. Your ideal customers will then be attracted to you and your brand will become visible and memorable.
• Be honest. Remember no one wants to be ignored, fobbed off or lied to. Be totally honest about what you are trying to achieve and how you are doing it. For example, don’t try and make out you’re are 100% ethical if you aren’t. The nature of social media means that not only will people notice, but they will make the effort to check and then publicly call you out if you have lied, as Iceland found out to their cost following their Christmas advert and palm oil claims.
• Be consistent. Make sure your brand is consistent at every touch point and that the messaging is clear. Don’t risk your reputation with a slow (or no) response on social media, allowing rogue posts as Ryanair did, or having a disconnected brand message between social media platforms or social and your website or adverts.
• Become visible. No business can grow if it stays invisible and this is what will happen you use social media as a standalone channel for broadcasting your press releases or putting up pretty pictures of your products to try and increase sales. Using social media as part of an integrated marketing strategy is the best way to increase visibility so people become aware of you and can find you on search as well as on social media.
• Capture attention immediately – there is a prevalent myth that our attention spans are dropping. They aren’t. What is happening is that in a very noisy online world filled with poor marketing and spammy posts, we are becoming way more choosy about what we give our attention to. Google knows that people like reading good information as it prioritises articles of 1000+ words in SEO. Use this to your advantage by writing good optimised content and capturing attention immediately.
• Be helpful and relevant – as well as being expert, make sure your content answers your customers’ pain points in a truly helpful and relevant way. None of this advertorial PR salesy rubbish that is more about self promotion than it is about helping people.
• Be creative and entertaining – don’t be boring. That’s it.
• Take action – and encourage others to act for the benefit of themselves, their families, their teams, their businesses, their customers, their community, our world. Social media is a force that can be harnessed for good, and the time to do that is now.
Here’s to the rise and rise of social goodness. Together we can change the world for the better.