Folks, that just about does it for 2019. While it’s just one more year under our collective belts, we feel as though we’ve aged at least a decade over the last 12 months. But you can’t spend the holidays dwelling on 2019—you only have a few days to acquaint yourself with the biggest shifts coming in 2020! To that end, we’ve compiled a list of some macro trends to watch out for in the coming year, and a few thoughts on how to get out ahead of the tide.
What happened to social media? You used to be able to retreat to your suite of social apps as a way of taking a break from the real world, and distract yourself from what was going on “out there.” Over the years (but especially in the last five or so), the lines have blurred considerably, and any distance you could once place between yourself and “out there” on social is long gone. The call is coming from inside the house, so to speak.
In a sense, this was always bound to happen. As time spent in these spaces increased (the U.S. average still sits comfortably at over an hour per day), it stands to reason that they would become a part of our lives, rather than purely escapes from them. Look for that to change in 2020 (just in time).
To a certain extent, these pieces have already begun to fall into place:
- The “demetrification” of content. Instagram announced its plans to remove public engagement counts from posts in the feed, citing the desire to create a healthier platform environment—one not driven by post performance and comparisons to other users, which research suggests does active harm to our mental health. Watch for other platforms to continue to test and adopt policies that make users feel good about logging in, rather than stressed about their engagement numbers.
- The fight against “fake news.” 2019 was the year that social media finally had to come to terms with the fact that, in the hands of bad actors, these platforms were being used to spread disinformation. Twitter’s answer was perhaps the boldest, committing to banning all political ads. As other platforms opt for increased transparency and clearer labeling of such content, the fact remains that these spaces were not built with politics in mind. As with demetrification, these adjustments have a lot to do with improving user experience. A 2019 survey conducted by CivicScience showed that, not only are users largely on board with platforms banning political ads (57 percent), but almost 60 percent claimed that they would be fine with all organic political content going away as well. At a certain point, if users are left to navigate a sea of questionable (or enraging) content every time they log in, they might be less likely to do so.
- The rebirth of mindlessness. We have this to thank for the rapid, sustained, and global rise of TikTok. If you’ve spent any amount of time in this strange corner of the internet, you know that nothing of substance is happening here. And that’s precisely what users are drawn to. The feed is mostly an endless scroll of short, joyful nonsense, with a refreshing lack of politics, #sponsored content, or publishers jockeying for eyeballs (for now). TikTok’s closest relative is likely Vine (RIP), so look for platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to continue to bite off the app’s capabilities in an attempt to invite this type of user content and consumption behavior.
2. Macro to Micro
Up to now, the social tides have been shifting toward growth and expansion. Updates to platform algorithms have been aimed at getting users to expand their networks, discover more content from more creators, and ensure that users never get bored with feeds comprised of a stale set of accounts. This approach relies heavily on the algorithm making some educated guesses when it comes to content, and A-list influencers being able to maintain mass appeal in an increasingly atomized (and somewhat hostile) social space. In 2020, look for users to gladly re-shoulder the burden of deciding what content they see.
Here’s how we see this happening:
- Hyper-specific groups and feeds. Already on the rise in 2019, look for these to really take off in 2020. In November, Twitter introduced the ability to follow Topics, which can start as broad as “Soccer” or get as granular as “Lionel Messi,” so users no longer need to curate feeds around these niche interests on their own. On Facebook, Groups have been recently becoming active gathering places for everything from fans of Frasier, to Fitbit’s local workout clubs, to hugely popular private meme groups. Akin to Reddit’s subreddit framework, look for users to flock to these communities when they’re looking to consume or share hyper-specific content that they just can’t on their public feed.
- The age of the micro influencer. It seems that the same marketing truism that brought us the influencer is now leading to its decline. Consumers are heavily influenced by the recommendations of their peers, and most trust what other people have to say about a brand over what a brand has to say about itself. But in 2020, look for consumers to realize that, in fact, influencers are not their peers. In a sense victims of their own success, the biggest influencers will continue losing broad appeal with their audiences, as consumers seek out more authentic connections with micro influencers who are often closer matches in terms of interests, lifestyle, and product niche.
At the risk of undermining this prediction before it starts, go back and look at social media trend listicles from the past few years and it’s an odds-on bet that “live” appears in at least half of them. This time though, it actually has a good chance at being real (no, really).
Nearly every major social network has its own live offering, but at this point, live streaming is almost only synonymous with gaming and esports. This is thanks in no small part to the overwhelming popularity in that community of Amazon-owned Twitch. In July of this year, one of Twitch’s top gaming streamers left the platform for rival, Microsoft-owned Mixer, in an effort to expand his brand beyond gaming.
In 2020, we will see the major streaming platforms continue to expand their content offerings, and if marketers want to capture some of the nearly 120 million monthly live video watchers, they’ll need to follow suit. Like with podcasts, audiences that consume live streamed video can be difficult to reach elsewhere. As the format continues to burst into the mainstream as it seems poised to in 2020, this opportunity will be increasingly difficult to pass up.
For brands, we see at least two major ways in:
- Originals and exclusives. We’ll just say it: this can be difficult. Creating a branded series is hard enough when it’s recorded, edited, and targeted, and when content is being released live, you need to give users an especially good reason to tune in. That said, it can be done. Adidas and Nike have both done exclusive product drops via Twitch, and Wendy’s has experimented with game streaming on the platform. Marketers will spend 2020 testing this space, so look for learnings that can be applied to your brand.
- Drafting off culture. Being a trendsetter or tastemaker is no easy feat. This needs to be ingrained in your brand DNA or consumers will see right through you. So instead of trying to draw users to you, it is often easier to go to where they are already. Partnering with established channels/streamers can be fairly turnkey. Alternatively, look for some brands to use streaming platforms the way they use Twitter now—participating in the zeitgeist. As we said, the live streaming audience can be difficult to reach, so reaching them on their own terms is paramount.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it gives you a solid foundation on which to build your social content in the coming year. We’ll be paying close attention to these and, as always, to other emerging trends as they arise.
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