How will you change the way you use social media in 2018?

What will be the big trends for brands' use of social media in 2018? We asked businesses of all sizes across the US how they’ll be changing the way they use it in their marketing in 2018. Here’s what they had to say.

Social media trends in 2018

Trend 1 – Marketers advocate the use of influencer marketing

The use of social media influencers has quickly become a core part of many brands’ marketing strategies. With the breadth and reach that social media offers, brands are finding it much easier to find influencers and connect. 86% of marketers say they used influencer marketing in 2017 – the majority of whom (92%) said it was an effective strategy, according to a recent survey.

So it’s no surprise then that spend on influencer marketing is expected to increase in 2018. Latest figures state that 39% of marketers will increase influencer marketing budgets in 2018.

Instagram in particular is expected to be the ‘darling’ of the influencer market. $1.07Bn was spent on influencer marketing on Instagram alone this year. This is expected to grow to $2.38Bn by 2019. Its fast growth and propensity of users to make purchasing decisions based on something they saw on the site make it a key platform for marketers.

Darren Schreher, Into The AMBased out of southern California, INTO THE AM is a world leader in festival fashion. Darren Schreher, Digital Manager at INTO THE AM said: “As 2018 approaches, we plan to start using influencer marketing, particularly on Instagram. We are predicting that this will be a bit of a challenge though, as more and more users buy likes and followers. This will make it more challenging to figure out which accounts are legitimate and which ones are not. When we’re trying to validate a popular account before working together, we will try to see how consistent their engagement is. We will identify measurables such as likes and comments. Generally people won't pay to boost every post so if some posts have very high engagement and others are mediocre, you can tell that they put money behind some of them. Also, if the same people are commenting every time then you can tell they use comment pods. Comments should be thoughtful and most people who are good at social media will respond to genuine ones.”

The Rise of the Micro-Influencer

Determining which influencers to work with is a challenge many marketers will face in 2018. It’s easy to make the mistake that the only influencers are household names or A-list celebrities. In fact, for millennials in particular, a recent eMarketer study found that 78% of millennials either don't like celebrity endorsements or are at best indifferent.

Micro-influencers (ie with 10K to 100K followers) can actually be the most effective in terms of engagement and impact. Higher profile influencers may generate more likes but studies show that engagement rates are higher for those focused on a niche area whose opinions are well-regarded.

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Mavens & MogulsPaige Arnof-Fenn, CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global branding and marketing firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, believes that “a targeted small audience can be more powerful and effective than blanketing the masses, getting to the right people gives you the best multiplier effect and going viral is still the goal.”

Quality over quantity rules here, Paige says: “Peers command higher trust, original content is at a premium, consumers continue to trust content more than ads.”

Micro influencers can be incredibly useful in B2B marketing strategies too. Community Tax, a national tax and accounting company based in Chicago, is one company that is focusing its social media strategy on the micro-influencer in 2018.

Jacob Dayan, Communnity TaxJacob Dayan, CEO and Co-founder of Community Tax said: “Micro-influencers, or those with a smaller, but targeted following, will become instrumental in helping businesses of all industries find and connect with a specific group of consumers. Especially as other social advertising options become more and more competitive, these influencers will prove to be a great addition to any brand's local and national marketing strategies.”

Trend 2 – it’s time to pivot to video

Every year the ‘big trend’ for the following year has been video. Will 2018 be any different? Well, yes because we are now finally starting to see video take centre stage. Major agencies are opening up video production arms. Meanwhile established production companies are expanding into content marketing. The race is on to own video and therefore own the relationship with the brand.

The generic 2 minute company video won’t quite cut it though. Facebook has recently announced that it is prioritising video content that drives repeat viewership. One off pieces won’t be as effective as a series. Content that is focused on creating active communities will be preferred. That changes the way many brands view their use of video. Instagram, already a strong visual platform, is also seeing video take off. A study by eMarketer found that engagement with instagram videos is surging. Video ads are fast becoming a key approach to maximising engagement against ad spend. And that ad spend is going up – with the latest estimates expecting global video ad spending to jump 25.4% in 2018.

Meg Brunson, EIEIO MarketingMeg Brunson used to work at Facebook and now manages EIEIO Marketing, a Facebook marketing agency in Phoenix, Arizona. For 2018 Meg’s approach will be on repurposing content to work across multiple social media platforms: “Every time a Podcast or blog post is produced, we will create image variations specific for each platform based on their unique best practices. We're also going to do the same with video content. For example, the 30-45 minute video in its entirety will be posted to YouTube, and will be edited down into bite sized segments to be used in Facebook/Instagram Stories.”

Wes Marsh, SolodevMeanwhile livestreaming is looking to take off too in 2018. Wes Marsh, Director of Digital Marketing at Solodev, a web content management system developer firm based in Orlando, Florida, said: “In 2018, we're definitely looking to video rather than traditional copy - especially livestreaming. Rather than our traditional blogs, we want to start using Facebook Live to get a conversation going with potential customers. Our weekly #TutorialTuesday posts will also be supplemented with live videos detailing the tutorials in real time. Videos show that we're confident experts in our field and give us a chance to answer questions people might have either about our business or our area of expertise with little to no delay.”

Video has a place with B2B comms too. Toolots is a B2B e-commerce marketplace and international distribution channel for industrial tools, machinery, equipment, and technology. Operating out of California, their focus is on generating awareness with a B2B audience.

David Alpern, ToolotsDavid Alpern, Marketing & Traffic Acquisition at Toolots said: “A trend we are getting more into for our social media cadence is video content, not just for virality, but also for product information. We have hired a film crew to create videos about our industrial manufacturing equipment features, uses, applications, and showing the equipment in operation. As our target is B2B, there are trends that have been prevalent in B2C, which are slower to make it over to B2B. For example, a higher percentage of our engagement activity still happens on desktop compared to the mobile dominance seen in most consumer oriented social media channels.

Providence Capital Funding in California is another example of a company using social media as part of its B2B marketing strategy. They have the additional challenge of operating in a highly regulated industry.

Edward Shi, Providence Capital FundingEdward Shi, Marketing Manager at Providence Capital Funding said: “In our industry, it’s particularly rare to have high engagement. It's the dry nature of B2B finance. We've been experimenting with doing Facebook Live and the response has been overwhelming. Going live and doing a Livestream has produced some good results for us. It allows us to answer questions and concerns immediately. Moving into the new year, our emphasis will be on producing video content and applying strategies to quantify our Livestream results. Since almost every social media platform offers a Live platform, we have our work cut out for us to replicate the success found on FB.”

Trend 3 – balancing organic social with paid social

The debate as to which is the most effective strategy – organic social media or paid social ads – will continue well into 2018. Most brands take a view of combining the two, but in very different ratios. Whatever your current approach, however, it’s clear that paid social is not going anywhere but up. Spend on paid social is set to significantly increase in 2018. Latest figures show that over $36 billion was spent on paid social last year. That figure is predicted to rise to $100 billion by 2021. Some of the world’s biggest brands are already spending over $1million a month on Instagram ads alone.

Whatever the combination of organic and paid social media, one thing that’s for sure is that the teams responsible for the creation, delivery and return on this investment need to work more closely together in 2018 if campaigns are to be fully effective.

Michael Ray, STIR Advertising & Integrated MessagingSTIR Advertising & Integrated Messaging in Milwaukee is one organisation that will be looking more at the integration between organic and paid social media and how to encourage closer working practices between the PR and digital teams. Michael Ray, Social Media Director at STIR said: “We’ll use organic posts as a testing ground for different types of content to identify which posts will have the biggest impact and potential for greater engagement. Additionally, posts and stories that do well will be handed to the digital team for ads or to the public relations team to further the reach and give a more holistic approach."

The concept of teams working more closely together is something that will underpin all activity on social on 2018. Silo working can quickly make any campaign ineffective. Customers don’t see the difference between an advertising campaign in the print media, a user generated post on social media, or a story trending in the news. It’s all about the brand and being consistent in your messaging.

Social media, PR, digital marketing, advertising teams all need to work together, or at least communicate well, to ensure messaging remains consistent. But it doesn’t stop there. Social media also impacts on customer services teams, HR, legal and security teams. Brands that have good working relationships across all those departments will be the ones to fully benefit from social media in 2018.