New data has revealed that the number of global social media users grew to 3.96 billion at the start of July 2020, which is a surge of more than 10% in the past year. This also means that more than half the world’s population now use social media.
Naturally, marketers are taking notice. According to Econsultancy’s Future of Marketing report, 64% of marketers see social as becoming more important to their organisations’ marketing effectiveness over the next two years.
So, with more people using social media than ever before, what impact will this have on brands’ social strategies? Let’s take a look at some of the trends that have and will continue to shape 2020.
Facebook reported its slowest revenue growth since its 2012 IPO in Q2, with a rise of 11% year-on-year. However, this was still 7% higher than analysts expectations, and combined with a 12% year-on-year growth in daily active users (to reach 1.79 billion) – Facebook has shown surprising resilience so far.
It’s a far cry from previous growth, of course. And along with further impact from Covid-19, the full consequences of the ad boycott won’t be known until the third quarter. Further losses could also arise from the platform’s potential ban on political ads in the month of the US election – a move that Bloomberg suggests is currently being considered.
The decision to impose a blanket ban on political ads is not cut and dry, as it will be difficult to determine where to draw the line (and it doesn’t necessary mean an automatic solution to disinformation). In a speech given last year, Mark Zuckerberg said: “Political ads are an important part of voice — especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”
Even if brands do start to return to Facebook’s ad platform, the banning of political ads could diminish the platform’s recovery of revenue losses.
Interestingly though, big brands have been veering away from Facebook long before both the pandemic and the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ initiative. Data from Pathmatics, reported by Digiday, shows that 11 out of the 20 largest Facebook advertisers to have paused ad spending have been reducing the amount they spend in the US over the last two years. Consequently, we could see the trend continue long after the boycott ends, but it won’t necessarily harm Facebook too much. This is because a large percentage of its nine million or more advertisers are small businesses, who are less likely to be in the position to sacrifice the reach that Facebook offers.
Elsewhere, Twitter’s recent earnings report was not as bad as expected, but revenue still declined. Despite seeing a “gradual, moderate recovery” in March, Twitter’s year-on-year revenue fell by 19% for Q2, as brands paused ad spend due to both the pandemic and US civil unrest. Twitter typically earns ad revenue from sports and live events.
Interestingly, however, Twitter has seen its daily active users increase 34% to reach 186 million – a record since the platform started sharing the data. Twitter is now said to be considering a subscription model, which would involve charging users for certain parts of the platform. It’s unknown how or whether this will affect users in the near future, but it’s certainly a sign that platforms’ reliance on advertising revenue is being shaken.
In terms of ad strategy, it is likely that the coronavirus pandemic will continue to shape paid social for the rest of the year, particularly for retailers. Depesh Mandalia, founder of SM Commerce, predicts that, ahead of Christmas, we will see the trend for consumers gifting direct rather than ordering and giving gifts in person. As a result, he suggests, “shifting messaging to include messages like ‘deliver direct to your loved ones’ will help brands target consumers.” Further to this, Depesh predicts that people will be shopping sooner for the festive season rather than later (due to concerns over delivery, as well as greater online demand due to physical restrictions). As such, “creating awareness early through paid social will be key”.
Many brands have turned to influencers in order to draw in viewers over lockdown. At the same time, however, influencers have found their sponsorships dwindling – a knock-on effect from wider changes such as travel restrictions and retail closures, and brands in turn losing business. According to a report by Attain, 79% of travel influencers were posting less sponsored content and had their potential income cut by 47% during March to May 2020. Lifestyle influencers have experienced a 46% average loss of earnings.
Despite this, Attain suggests that engagement for influencer posts is still the same or even higher than usual, with users turning to social platforms like Instagram to engage in meaningful and positive conversations as well as to find a sense of community.
Other research backs this up. According to a May 2020 survey by GlobalWebIndex and Influencer, 96% of US and UK social media users say they are engaging with influencers more or to the same extent as they were before Covid-19. Of these, 47% claimed to be engaging more with content posted by influencers during lockdown.
Going forward, it is likely that brands will continue to monitor and evaluate influencer partnerships closely, particularly in terms of the type of content that consumers want to see post-Covid. We certainly saw this during the pandemic, with brands pivoting to more ‘how-to’ style content in relation to cooking, working, and exercising at home, as well as anything related to general well-being.
With businesses of all kinds forced to suspend operations, many have capitalised on increased social media usage to stay connected with consumers stuck at home during lockdown. Video has been the over-arching medium of choice, with many brands pivoting to video content as well as live video to increase interaction with users.
According to Socialbakers’ Trends report for Q2 2020, the amount of video content increased across the three platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in March (when lockdown was first introduced). Interestingly, Socialbakers also found that Twitter contained the highest percentage of video compared to Facebook and Instagram during this time; over the last three quarters more than 20% of tweets from brand pages with more than 1,000 followers contained video.
Video content also increased on Facebook and Instagram, with the latter seeing significant growth in comparison to the year previously. Video content accounted for 17.1% of all content on Instagram in Q2 2010, which is an increase of 16.3% compared to Q2 2019. Meanwhile, Facebook Live usage increased nearly 27% compared to Q2 2019.
US fashion retailer American Eagle is one example of a brand that has successfully pivoted to live video in the past few months, specifically using Instagram Live to generate online engagement. According to Glossy, American Eagle posted 10 live Instagram sessions from March to April alone, with over 19 million people in total tuning in.
With lockdowns easing, we could see digital consumption lessen in the coming months, with user engagement in video decreasing from the level seen at the pandemic’s height. However, examples such as American Eagle’s ‘At Home with AE’ concert series prove how effective live video can be, particularly when brands use social platforms to build hype and excitement around these live digital events.
For video in general, the launch of Reels can only continue to drive this trend amongst both creators and marketers.
As well as live streaming, short-form content has also become more popular with social media users in 2020, driven by the growth of TikTok.
With 113 million downloads, TikTok became the most-downloaded game in February this year. In the UK, the number of users increased from 5.4 million to 12.9 million between January and April 2020. The app is particularly popular with younger users; it was recently reported that kids aged 4 to 15 in the UK, US, and Spain are spending almost as much time watching TikTok videos as they are watching content on YouTube. This is particularly significant considering YouTube is now 15 years old, while TikTok was only made available to markets outside of China in 2018.
One of the reasons for the app’s popularity is its championing of authenticity and personal expression, driven by user interest in niche topics such as dance, comedy, fashion, as well as user engagement in current affairs and political movements. Unsurprisingly, marketing involvement has also increased along with general usage, with many taking the opportunity to show a more fun and quirky side to brand personas.
NBA is one of the biggest brands on TikTok, now with an impressive 11.4m followers. Most of this is generated by casual and comedy-driven content, showcasing behind-the-scenes action from NBA players. This is a deliberately different strategy to the one executed by NBA on Instagram, where the brand typically posts content that is more inspirational and professional in tone.
Joe Gradwell, CEO of social agency, Campfire, suggests that now is the time for brands to take advantage of the opportunities that new or unexplored social platforms can offer. “Consumption on platforms such as TikTok and YouTube look set to continue” he says, “there’s still time to build your presence across social networks you’re not yet operating on – build your TikTok strategy, begin the podcast series you often talk about.”
The second half of 2020 could see even more brands experiment with TikTok, though the potential for regulation by the US Government is something marketers are keeping abreast of. Reels offers an alternative, particularly as it is wooing TikTok’s most popular creators. As my colleague Rebecca Sentance writes, “Even if TikTok survives unscathed, the confusion and uncertainty have given its rival Reels a shot in the arm, which may well mean that TikTok has to step up its game – and its appeal to creators and users – in order to compete.”
Whatever the platform, it’s clear there may be a pivoting away from slick and professional influencer content towards more creative, quirky, and unique user-generated social content (like the kind popularised by TikTok creators).
2020 has also seen a shift in the type of conversations both brands and users are having online, largely fuelled by the Black Lives Matter movement. This has led to brands taking a stand against platforms that fail to address hate speech.
Following on from #BlackoutTuesday – a boycott of social media activity taken in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on Tuesday 2nd June – more than 150 global brands agreed to suspend all advertising on Facebook for the month of July.
The initiative, called ’Stop Hate for Profit’, has the potential to significantly damage Facebook’s ad revenue, even if slowed ad revenue growth was still an impressive 10% in Q2. Unilever, for example, announced that it will boycott all advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the rest of the year.
Another consequence could be a dent in Facebook’s overall dominance within advertising, with brands possibly transferring budget elsewhere. It’s also worth noting how some brands have been called out as hypocritical.
Regardless, the boycott is a clear example of how both brands and social media platforms are being held increasingly accountable, driven by the clear expectations of consumers (and the demand that brands become socially responsible). Looking ahead, we could see more brands follow in the footsteps of those like Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Nike, and incorporate their stance on political and social issues into consumer-facing marketing.
The coronavirus pandemic has given way to a number of new features on social platforms, in part driven by shifts in user behaviour (such as increased time spent on video calls). Facebook rolled out ‘Messenger Rooms’, for example, which is a challenge to other video conferencing tools like Zoom and Houseparty, both of which saw surge in usage throughout the pandemic.
According to a report by App Annie, downloads of video conferencing apps reached 62 million during the week ending March 21st. With Messenger Rooms, users can create a chat involving up to 50 people, which can also be ‘locked’ to prevent uninvited guests from entering.
With Covid-19 a huge source of discussion in 2020, platforms have also been quick to develop landing pages dedicated to the pandemic, whereby users can easily find and access the latest news and information on the topic. Twitter also extended warning labels to any Covid-related content that could be misleading, instead pointing users to trusted external sources.
Overall, this suggests greater recognition of mis-information and a bigger attempt to combat deliberately panic-inciting content. It also indicates that brands and social platforms are increasingly trying to find ways to honestly reflect the current climate, but to avoid appearing as if they are monetising or profiting from these issues.
Joe Gradwell from Campfire suggests that brands should expect to further adapt as the year goes on, and take on a short-term approach to strategy rather than think too long-term. He states, “the increased dependency on social apps, as well as rapid changes in ‘normality’, created a perfect opportunity for new software updates and tests to be quickly accepted in the first half of 2020.” He goes on to predict that, “for users, we can expect increased dependency on social apps, increased content consumption, and a continued insurgence in online shopping.”
Indeed, social commerce has continued to gain momentum in 2020, driven by new features rolled out on Instagram and Facebook.
Instagram has recently expanded eligibility for Shopping, meaning that anyone with a business or creator account can now sell via the platform. Facebook Shops offers a similar service, enabling all types of businesses to set up their own online store.
With the arrival and expansion of both Instagram Shopping and Facebook Shops, some of the barriers to ecommerce have been removed, allowing businesses (that would otherwise not have the resources or budget to do) sell online. With more consumers shopping online since coronavirus, it also means that businesses have a greater chance of being found by users who are increasingly using social to discover, browse, and shop.
According to McKinsey, more than 75% of US consumers have experimented with a different shopping behaviour during the Covid-19 crisis, and social media was a key source of information about new places to shop. Consequently, social media could steer the way for new and exciting shopping opportunities in 2020, particularly as platforms like Facebook and Instagram are able to incorporate social proof to further drive sales.