Social Media Trends and Insights 2018

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Social Media Trends and Insights 2018

Although this request was meant to detail social media trends for consumer-pagacked goods companies (CPGs) and social media influencers separately, research indicates that these two aspects of social media trends cannot be easily separated, as influencers are primarily discussed in the context of marketing and advertising. In fact, the use of influencers for marketing purposes via social media is itself a growing trend. Furthermore, many of the trends that are applicable to CPGs hold true for social media influencers as well. Based on this research, some current and forthcoming social media trends for both businesses and influencers include: the use of videos; live streaming; ephemeral content; and augmented reality. Social media trends that pertain specifically to businesses, however, include: marketing towards Generation Z; the rise of AIs and chatbots and consumer participation through messaging apps; increase in mobile-friendly content; and investment in social media influencers.

According to Marketing Profs, online sales of consumer goods are on the rise, with 9 out of every 10 dollars being made online. Competition in the CPG industry is very high due to "market saturation and low consumer switching costs". The nature of CPGs - that they are generally not durable - means that CPGs will always be in demand. However, due to the competitive landscape of the CPG industry, many companies are turning towards social media as a way of exposing their products to the market, engaging consumers, and generating sales. 52% of social media marketers report that social media has improved revenue and sales at their company. While there is not much quantitative research that addresses the relationship between CPGs as a category and social media specifically, there is an abundance of research on social media trends capitalized by businesses.

Video content is rapidly growing across social media as the most preferred content form. In general, visual content such as videos and images are "40 times more likely" to get shared than other types of content. Consumption of video content in particular continues to skyrocket. According to Social Media Today, by 2020, "80% of global internet traffic will be attributed to video", and about 87% of marketers incorporate videos into their campaigns. This has been vital, as 95% of a message is retained when the contents are delivered by video; however, only 10% is retained if the message is delivered via text. Furthermore, YouTube has reported that it has 1.5 billion logged-in users every month. This trend is also vital for social media influencers, who rely on views, engagement, and message retention from their followers on all their social media channels.

Livestreaming has become an incredibly successful tool for both CPG companies and influencers to promote their brands and passions. More social media platforms are adopting live streaming due to its success, and the video-streaming market is anticipated to become a $70 billion industry by 2021. 80% of consumers are reported to prefer watching live videos as opposed to reading content, and consumers spend 3x longer watching live videos than pre-filmed ones. The authentic and unedited nature of live streaming is likely a factor in this preference. Live streaming is typically used for events, live Q&A sessions, product manufacturing, product launches, and company news.

An example of one CPG segment that has successfully incorporated live videos (and ephemeral content) is the craft brewing industry. By shooting live videos, craft brewers engage their customers by making them feel more involved in the brewing process. Live videos are also used to reveal aspects of brewing that customers and beer enthusiasts are not typically aware of, and can serve as tool for brewers to unveil new releases, limited edition products, and to improve branding.

Another example is backpack manufacturer, GORUCK. The company organizes extreme endurance events, and has grown its market tremendously through live streaming. When a company announces a live stream, followers flood in to watch. In the case of GORUCK, "thousands of followers tuned in to watch 48-hour coverage of a recent endurance race".

Similarly, influencers use live streaming to engage their followers more directly and build a personal connection. As mentioned, the unedited nature of live streams give viewers the impression of authenticity, which works in favor of influencers maintaining their popularity. Not dissimilar to CPGs like craft brewers, live videos make fans and followers feel more engaged with and connected to the influencer. Furthermore, comment sections on YouTube and Facebook live streams are a popular way to engage and communicate; influencers will read comments as they come in, and answer followers' questions directly.

Ephemeral marketing is defined as a "variant of online marketing that focuses on producing content that is short-lived". While repetitive content grows tiresome and may cause users to become desensitized to particular marketing tactics, ephemeral marketing produces continuous engagement for the very reason that it can only be accessed for a limited time. The popularity of ephemeral content on social media, first pioneered by Snapchat and then adopted by Facebook and Instagram, has exploded in the past year. Over 200 million people reportedly use Instagram Stories each month, and over 250 million use Snapchat. If this trend continues, it is anticipated that about half of all Instagram users will be using Instagram Stories by the end of the year. This provides CPG businesses ample opportunity to capitalize on a rapidly growing trend; bearing in mind that top brands see an engagement rate of 4.21% on Instagram, which is "58 times higher than on Facebook and 120 times higher than on Twitter", Instagram stories may provide a tool for increasing engagement even further. According to Social Media Today, ephemeral content is enticing to users because it capitalizes on what is colloquially referred to as "FOMO" or "fear or missing out". Ephemeral content is also perceived as authentic, and since it is accessible primarily through mobile devices, users are more likely to engage with the content throughout the day while they are on the move.

One might speculate that ephemeral content is growing increasingly popular for CPG marketing strategies due to the somewhat ephemeral nature of the products themselves. By employing a 'get it before it's gone' or 'nothing lasts forever' marketing message in combination with ephemeral marketing platforms, consumers' sense of urgency and FOMO may be amplified. Similarly, FOMO dictates much of users' dedication to viewing influencers' ephemeral content.

Augmented reality is becoming a popular method of innovating the social media experience. For example, social media platforms that focus on video and images, such as Snapchat and Instagram, will provide filters that can project objects onto the video or image, such as a celebrity.

Influencers typically use Snapchat filters to make their videos more interesting, engaging, and entertaining for viewers, while companies could easily leverage this idea with their products; CocaCola or any other CPG brand that markets perishable goods can have their products projected onto social media as a form of product placement. Furthermore, through sponsorship, influencers and CPGs may partner up and employ apps such as Snapchat that allow for augmented reality. Social Media Today writes that augmented reality is "a creative and innovative method of connecting with customers". For example, games like Pokemon Go, which released in 2016, can largely attribute its success to the fact that it capitalized on augmented reality; players hunted Pokemon in real life locations, enhancing the experience of the game. By uniting mobile gaming and augmented reality, CPG companies may find innovative new ways to engage consumers.

Furthermore, augmented reality in social media platforms is quickly becoming a feature of the technology through which social media is accessed. The iPhone 8 and the iPhone x, for example, are outfitted with augmented reality chips, demonstrating the "gradual entrenchment" of augmented reality in the devices people rely on daily.

According to Science Daily, "90% of Instagram users are younger than 35", and "32% of teenagers consider Instagram an important social network". With consumers aged 18-34 being the most likely demographic to follow brands via social media, it has become vital for companies to target their most engaging online markets: millennials and Generation Z.

However, according to a Goldman Sachs study, "Generation Z [is] more valuable to most organizations than millennials". Generation Z includes people born between 1995 and 2012. Currently, the oldest of Gen Z are in their early twenties and just entering the workforce; soon, this demographic will have increased buying power, making them a profitable target for CPG marketing strategies. This generation is considered to consist of "true digital natives" in the sense that they may not remember a time before the internet, and are thus more engaged in social media than any other generation. Brands have increasingly recognized the importance of digital consumption to Gen Z, and are shifting their marketing strategies to target this demographic, especially through investment into Snapchat and Instagram. According to Blogdash, Gen Z is the "social media target audience of choice for both commercial & non-profit (governmental) ventures in 2019". Furthermore, the impact of millennials in the workplace is weakening, especially as Gen Z enters the picture. This will likely mean that advertising money will be invested in targeting Gen Z. Since social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram currently host "the largest number" of Gen Z-ers compared to any other generational category, marketing for Gen Z appears to be a quickly growing trend among all businesses, including CPGs.

With the rise of messaging platforms, brands are looking to access these markets and increase participation and engagement. According to Social Media Today, the term "dark social channels" refers to messaging apps such as Messenger, Kik, and Whatsapp. Dark social channel's market share in North America is 59%, and 69% worldwide. There are 1300 million Whatsapp users, 1200 million Messenger users, and 889 million WeChat users. In total, there are approximately 2.5 billion people active on messaging platforms worldwide. 2018 is expected to see a larger investment in instant messaging on part of businesses, including CPGs. This will primarily happen through the integration of AI, voice assistants, and chatbots that can offer round the clock customer service and "personalized shopping experieces" through messaging platforms. Social media, particularly instant messaging apps, are viewed as a way for businesses to grow closer with their customers; instant messaging via chatbots and AI will allow for real-time engagement that can help improve customer experience. Currently, there are 12,000 active bots on Messenger every month. This year, 30% of conversations on messaging platforms are expected to be with chatbots, and 80% of chatbots can be used for 24/7 customer service.

With the massive influx of smart phone use, capitalizing on mobile devices and making content mobile friendly has been a key social media marketing trend for many businesses. Social Media Today reports that in 2017, 2292.5 million smart phones were in use around the world. This figure is expected to rise to 2480.4 million in 2018, and 2659.4 million in 2019. Furthermore, there has been a gradual shift in device preference for social media platforms. 64% of Facebook access happens via mobile phone, while the figures are even higher for Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. While Snapchat is only accessible by mobile device, Twitter and Instagram are accessed through mobile devices 86% and 98% of the time. Furthermore, mobile devices have grown increasingly popular for YouTube, with mobile access constituting 50% of YouTube views. This trend has made developing mobile-friendly content indispensable for businesses.

According to Pixlee, a social media influencer is "a user on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry". Typically, these individuals have access to a very large audience, making them an indispensable marketing tool for businesses. This is especially true for CPG companies, who have always partnered with social influencers, such as celebrities, to help sell their products. A celebrity consuming a particular food or beverage product, for example, has always been a favored marketing tactic. However, with the rise of social media, marketing with celebrities has shifted away from television advertisement and more towards social media platforms. While traditional marketing strategies have developed a negative image due to their association with capitalistic exploitation, marketing strategies that employ social media influencers are thought to be more personalized. By creating a "psychologically rooted sales connection" with consumers, social media influencers have an impact on consumers' buying decisions. While traditional advertising is understood as "pushy", messages delivered through influencers appears more genuine and credible.

By 2019, money spent on "sponsored posts by influencers" is expected to reach $24 million. Furthermore, 67% of marketers say they will increase their "influencer marketing budgets" in the coming year, with the average budget increasing from $25,000 to $50,000. 90% of those who employ influencers believe the strategy is successful. However, brands that stayed with traditional advertising "struggled to connect to social media users", demonstrating that traditional advertising tactics are quickly dying out. In the coming year, it is expected that a larger number of companies will attempt using social media influencers rather than traditional advertising. The growth of this trend is evidenced by some statistics cited by Social Media Today; nearly half (49%) of Instagram and Twitter users rely on recommendations from social media influencers they follow. Furthermore, influencers are reported to increase conversion rates by 10 times, and constitute the fastest growing marketing channel at 22%, as opposed to 5% growth in affiliate marketing and 9% growth in display advertising. According to one study, the largest influencer market can be found on Instagram, with 2017 seeing 12.9 million brands on sponsored influencer posts. More remarkably, this number will likely double in 2018, "creating an estimated market size of nearly $1.7 billion".

Occasionally, influencers will unintentionally market a product simply by posting a picture that happens to include that product. If the company catches on, they will very quickly leverage this and re-post the image throughout their social media channels. One example of this was when New Belgium Brewing, a small craft beer company, leveraged Jason Mamoa posting a selfie of himself and a friend drinking a New Belgium beer. When the brewery's social media team found the picture, they re-posted it through all their channels, and saw their Facebook engagement jump 150%, while their Instagram engagement jumped to 4.4%--four times that of the average for other breweries.

However, not all social media influencers are celebrities. Many of them are ordinary people who begin social media accounts to post about a specific passion, such as "cooking, fashion, comedy, or gaming", among others. Through constant engagement, they build a connection with followers who share their passion and hobbies, which in turn earns these individuals online popularity. As a result, they can "shape and influence audience opinions" though whatever content they choose to post, whether blogs, videos, pictures, or tweets. A study by Emerald Insight on "peer endorser and advertising effectiveness" concluded that an indivdual's level of influence correlated to the level of perceived power they had. Furthermore, a key aspect of "perceived power lies in expertise". Therefore, if an Instagram influencer whose passion is cooking endorses a particular brand of olive oil by posting a picture of it with a caption, they will likely exert significant influence on consumers' perceptions of the brand. Similarly, if a gamer with a large YouTube following starts wearing a particular brand of headphones during his live streams, his/her fans are likely to look up the brand, or even ask the YouTuber questions about it via comments.

Trends indicate that social media influencers and CPGs are quite similar, and apply overlapping strategies for user engagement. Furthermore, the use of social media influencers for marketing is itself a prevailing trend in this industry. Leading current and forthcoming social media trends for both businesses and influencers include: the use of videos; live streaming; ephemeral content; and augmented reality. Social media trends that pertain specifically to businesses, however, include: marketing towards Generation Z; the rise of AIs and chatbots and consumer participation through messaging apps; increase in mobile-friendly content; and investment in social media influencers.