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If you want to be successful on social media in 2020, you need to base your strategy on the latest real-word data and social media trends.

That’s why we interviewed more than 3,000 marketers toward the end of 2019. We also spoke to dozens of industry specialists. This gave us multiple perspectives on the social trends that matter most in the year ahead.

Finally, we pored through the latest data from respected research organizations, like:

  • Deloitte
  • Edelman
  • eMarketer
  • Gartner
  • GlobalWebIndex
  • The CMO Survey

As we sifted through this huge mountain of information, five key trends emerged that we predict will shape the social media space in 2020 and beyond.

Here’s our insider look at what you need to know for the year ahead.

Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2020.

Top 5 social media trends for 2020

    1. Brands strike a balance between public and private engagement
    2. Employers take center stage in a divided world
    3. TikTok shakes up the status quo
    4. Social marketing and performance marketing collide
    5. The social attribution gap closes

1. Brands strike a balance between public and private engagement

2019 was a big year for messaging.

Instagram launched Threads, a camera-first messaging app to connect with close friends. LinkedIn began rolling out Teammates. It’s a new feature that helps users better connect with people they work with in real life. And Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to unify Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Nearly two-thirds of people say messaging apps are where they feel most comfortable sharing. And half of the senior marketers we polled say they’re rethinking their content strategy to make the most of private channels.

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But the future of social media is not going to be completely private. People use social to find entertaining posts, read news, and research products, all in public channels. More than half of brand discovery online still happens in public social feeds.

This is a clear opportunity for marketers who understand how to strike the right balance between public and private:

  • Public feeds are the place to drive awareness.
  • Private channels are the place to drive meaningful one-to-one engagement.

For example, look at the Data Open tournament, a game-based social recruiting program from the hedge fund Citadel. Citadel used traditional public social feeds to promote the tournament and create excitement.

But they used private channels to give the game sticking power. They helped students connect through an invite-only Facebook Group. And they used a Facebook chatbot to test students with complex math problems. Those who completed the problems successfully had their resumes sent to the top of the pile.

Students interested in the Data Open spent 149% more time on the Citadel website than other visitors. The Facebook chatbot drove more than 5,500 conversations. And the number of applications for entry-level positions increased by 74%.

Likewise, the meditation app Headspace uses public social channels to raise awareness of its brand.

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Posted by Headspace on Tuesday, November 26, 2019

But they also have a closed Facebook group with more than 17,000 members. Headspace users discuss mediation practices, ask questions, and lend support to one another in this private space.

The Facebook Group includes no product placement posts or advertising. It’s all about developing a relationship between the brand and its customers, and creating a sense of community.

What you should do in 2020

  • Create a pathway from public to private. Use public feeds to guide customers to your private channels. Try using a Facebook or Instagram ad to send users into a private conversation with your business. This is easy to do with the click-to-Messenger feature.
  • Automate the easy stuff. Use a blend of automation and human connection to build relationships. Bots can address common customer queries. But real people still need to handle more nuanced customer requests. More than half of consumers get frustrated when brands don’t offer any human interaction.
  • Respect the intimacy of private channels. Don’t invade private channels with impersonal brand content. Offer real value that builds brand loyalty over time, rather than trying to make a quick sale.

2. Employers take center stage in a divided world

Only one in five people believe economic and social systems are working for them. The majority of the population does not believe they will be better off in five years.

Millennials are feeling particularly bleak. Less than a quarter of them expect an improvement in their country in the next year.

In this divided world, trust is more important than ever. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 75% of people trust their employers to do what is right. That’s more than they trust government, media, or business in general.

This trust means employees expect the companies they work for to make things better, not just make better things. In particular, millennials identified several areas they want their companies to deliver on. These include community impact, talent development, and diversity and inclusion.

For example, Citi decided to look at the wage gap among its employees. They found that female employees earned 29% less than their male counterparts. So, they decided to start a conversation about the problem. They created a video with daughters of Citi employees talking about their confusion and frustration about the issue.

Citi created the hashtag #itsabouttime. They used it to highlight their commitment to talk about the gender pay gap and work towards closing it within their organization.

Brands that earn employee trust will have a significant competitive advantage in 2020. Purpose-driven companies grow three times faster on average than their competitors. They also have higher workforce and customer satisfaction.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that a group of nearly 200 top CEOs recently announced a commitment to focus on more than just shareholders. Modelling one of this year’s most important social trends, they committed to consider customers, employees, the communities they operate in, and society as a whole.

In 2020, employee advocates will use social media to highlight the good work their companies are doing.

For example, one Patagonia employee posted her gratitude for the company’s on-site childcare. She noted that Patagonia has a 100% retention rate for employees returning from maternity leave. The post has generated over 87,000 reactions on LinkedIn.

What you should do in 2020

  • Do it before you talk about it. People don’t like it when brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy, a.k.a. “woke washing.” True purpose is more than just a marketing campaign based on the new social media trends. It’s a long-term belief at the core of the company.
  • Lead from the top. 71% of employees believe it’s critically important for their CEO to respond to challenging times. They expect CEOs to speak up on industry issues, political events, national crises, and employee-driven issues.
  • Have a strong brand protection plan in place. Taking a stance on social media may anger some customers as much as it drives loyalty and praise from others. Have a game plan in place to deal with controversy.
  • Make employee advocacy a business priority. When forming their opinion of a company, people trust a company technical expert more than a CEO, a journalist, or even one of their peers. But, even though the benefits of employee advocacy programs are obvious, half of the respondents in our 2020 Social Media Trends survey say they struggle with finding the time to source content and run the program. To live up to its potential, employee advocacy needs to be prioritized as a corporate strategy.

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3. TikTok shakes up the status quo

TikTok was the most installed app in Q1 of 2019. Its more than 800 million monthly active users now spend an average of 46 minutes per day on the app. That’s an astonishing amount of time when you consider that TikTok videos are typically only 15 seconds long.

TikTok’s short, addictive video clips are influencing pop culture and digital content. Reposted TikTok content is spreading across Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube like wildfire. Songs are getting shorter as artists take a “meme-first” approach to creating music. And brands are having to rethink how they connect with consumers.

For example, Nike saw that few young women in Italy take part in sports. But thousands of them were performing physically challenging dance routines on TikTok. Nike identified this as an opportunity to get more young women involved in the sporting world.

Nike recruited three TikTok influencers. They paired them with elite athletes who introduced the young women to boxing, basketball, and soccer. The athletes and influencers co-created a dance based on each of these sports, which the influencers performed on TikTok.

The influencers then challenged their followers to participate. They got more than 46,000 user-generated routines in response.

While TikTok is new, its role in the social media landscape is not. Younger users have always flocked to new social networks. They seek places to be creative online without being bombarded by advertisements (or spotted by their parents).

The million-dollar question is: Will the hype last? TikTok recently experienced its first ever growth slowdown on a quarterly basis. And with over 60% of its user base living in China, TikTok still needs to gain some serious global steam.

Instagram has set its sights on TikTok with the release of Reels. Reels allows Instagram users to set 15-second video clips to music and share them as Stories. There’s a new Top Reels section of the Explore tab. The Reels feature is sure to attract users who prefer not to leave Instagram to create the type of content that TikTok has made so popular.

Even though the future of TikTok is uncertain, ignoring it would be a mistake. TikTok can be a great way to reach a very specific demographic, since 69% of users are 16-24 years old.

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TikTok’s popularity is built on short video clips that feature real people doing fun, creative things. One of Seventeen magazine’s most popular TikToks showcased the art of bullet journaling.

TikTok’s authenticity reflects the new social media trend to shift away from glossy, staged content. It’s clear Gen Z sticks is done with the “Instagram aesthetic.”

What you should do in 2020

  • Keep an eye on TikTok—for now. Is Gen Z your target audience? And does a funny and playful tone work for your brand? If not, you’re better off investing your time and resources elsewhere in 2020. For now, adapt some of the fun and innovative energy of TikTok into your posts on established social platforms.
  • Use new video formats to build community. Experiment with fun, authentic video on Instagram Stories, where you can reach a larger and more diverse audience. Or try the new LinkedIn live video feature. It offers brands a way to deliver authentic video content to a more relevant audience.
  • Experiment on other growing niche platforms. Think about diversifying your audience beyond the major social platforms. Pinterest now has 322 million global monthly active users. And advertisers can now reach more than 650 million users on LinkedIn. Smaller niche platforms can deliver outsized web traffic and engagement for brands.

4. Social marketing and performance marketing collide

For a long time, brand awareness has been the main reason businesses use social media. But organic reach is shrinking. And businesses are thinking about how they can use social media to deliver measurable return on investment.

Enter social performance marketing. This simply means using social ads to achieve a specific conversion goal. This could be a sale, a lead, or a click, rather than focusing on likes and follows.

Nearly half of senior marketers (44%) told us “driving conversions” was their top goal for social media. That’s second only to brand awareness. But it takes more than these quick wins for a business to succeed.

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Driving real growth requires a long-term social media strategy. That strategy should define your brand and promote customer happiness.

Researchers Les Binet and Peter Field have found a formula for sustainable growth. It’s all about balancing brand-building activities with “sales activations.”

  • Brand-building activities: These efforts cast a wide net. They help define your brand so potential customers know who you are and what makes you the best choice for their needs.
  • Sales activations: These are specific offers targeting hot prospects. They’re designed to create a conversion right away.

The right balance of these activities depends on whether you’re marketing to consumers or to other businesses. Here’s the winning formula:

  • B2C: 60% brand-building and 40% sales activations
  • B2B: 54% brand-building and 46% sales activations

In the past, social performance marketing has been handled by specialists. Now, third-party tools like AdEspresso make it easy for anyone to create and optimize social ads.

Performance marketing is becoming a standard skill set for social marketers. There’s now less need for specialization in many businesses. Gartner predicts 40% of specialized mobile and social marketing jobs will be absorbed into generalist roles, or replaced by automation, by the end of 2022.

Michael Graham is a group of specialist estate agents with 14 offices across England. They originally used an outside agency to manage their social media profiles. But they wanted to better coordinate their brand and performance marketing goals. So, they decided to bring their social marketing strategy in-house.

They built an internal team to handle everything from content creation to campaign management. They united organic and paid social in Hootsuite so they could analyze performance.

Facebook ad by Michael Graham Living

They can track, refine, and manage both brand-building and sales activation posts. They can also ensure all content aligns with the same unified brand message. Their social campaigns now get an impressive 10% click-through rate.

In 2020, the most successful social marketers will keep long-term creative strategy in mind while optimizing ads on the fly. They’ll work with data analyst teams to understand the impact of social across all channels.

What you should do in 2020

  • Use a full-funnel approach to social advertising. The top mistake social marketers make with paid social is running only performance-driven ads. Paid social is also effective for building brand awareness and moving customers along the path to purchasing.
  • Unite search and social ad campaigns. Brand awareness efforts on social are a waste if you’re sending your audience straight to the competition on Google. A strategic approach across both channels makes your digital ad campaigns more effective.
  • Give your brand campaigns time to perform. Focusing too much on short-term metrics reduces the effectiveness of longer-running campaigns. Remember: Brand building happens over the long term.

5. The social attribution gap closes

Social marketers have access to more data than ever before. Still, measuring return on investment remains a top challenge.

There’s no universally perfect method. But the most successful marketers measure the impact of their work and elevate social media within their companies. Here are three traits of organizations that are successfully measuring ROI.

They unite social data with other data for a holistic view. The most confident marketers gather data at every stage of the social customer journey. Then, they analyze that information alongside web data, digital analytics, and CRM systems.

They focus on omnichannel integration. Integrating customer engagement between social media and other digital and traditional channels leads to higher confidence in social ROI. This goes for paid social as well. Social is not executed—or measured—in isolation.

They don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to attribution. High-performing organizations use attribution models that have been tested in channels like search engine marketing, television, and outdoor advertising, and apply them to social. Respondents in our survey specifically singled out multi-touch and market mix modeling attribution.

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It’s important to choose an attribution model that measures all activity that comes from social.

For example, ThirdLove—a women’s underwear brand—originally only tracked sales that came from clicks on their Facebook ads. That meant they missed sales that happened after someone viewed their Facebook ad, but didn’t click through directly.

Third Love Facebook ad

Once they started tracking these sales, they realized they were actually seeing a 2x lower CPA with Facebook and a 4x lower CPA with Messenger.

What you should do in 2020

  • Standardize UTM codes. Every social post should contain a unique UTM tracking parameter. This allows you to analyze what content is achieving business objectives. Consistency is especially important if you’re syncing social data with web analytics and CRM data.
  • Don’t get lost in attribution. No attribution model is perfect. Other metrics might work better for your organization. For example, Customer Lifetime Value can be an effective way to measure the value of social media based on the Cost of Acquiring a Customer.
  • Invest in both skills and tools. Access to data and tools doesn’t solve the challenge of knowing what to measure and how to analyze it. To stay on top of the latest social media trends, 2020 will be a year in which marketers focus on learning as much as execution.

Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2020.

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