Just how dominant a business tool was social media in 2017? Despite being involved in an investigation by Congress, Facebook reported its highest earnings ever in Q3, up nearly 50% from a year ago. Its mobile ad are so popular that the platform is actually starting to run out of space for them, even though they’re charging more than ever. Meanwhile, the network eclipsed the 2-billion-user mark, now counting nearly one-third of the planet among its user base.
Behind these numbers is a growing realization among businesses that social media is the single most effective way to reach audiences, with teens (i.e. tomorrow’s consumers) now spending up to nine hours a day on social platforms. An insatiable appetite for video among users, paired with better technology for making, posting and targeting social updates, sees companies now spending more money on social and digital ads than on TV advertising.
These trends show little sign of slowing up in 2018. Here’s a glimpse into five key factors that will impact how businesses use social media in the year ahead:
Goodbye free reach on social media (for real). For years, companies’ organic reach on Facebook (the percentage of their followers who see company updates that aren’t “boosted” with ad money) has been dwindling, dipping as low as 2%. Now it seems Facebook may finally kill organic reach on the News Feed entirely. This fall, the network rolled out a new “Explore Feed,” a kind of second-class stream just for company updates. Testing has already begun in some countries to banish all company social posts from the all important (and increasingly crowded) News Feed over to Explore.
Unless, of course, you pony up. These latest developments are a final, firm reminder that Facebook is now a paid platform for companies, little different in this respect from traditional pay-to-play advertising channels like TV, radio, print or billboards. To reach an audience via the News Feed—any audience, at all—it’s going to cost you. Considering that 51% of companies currently struggle with lack of a social media ads budget, this may prove a harsh wake-up call in 2018. One silver lining: Facebook has pioneered some of the most precision ad targeting tools ever. (Wanna pitch to twenty-something soccer fans living in Phoenix who work in retail and like dogs? No problem.) So, at the least, ad money promises to be well spent.
Make more videos (but don’t worry about going viral). It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that video is the future, not just of social media but of the Internet in general. By 2018, Cisco forecasts that 82% of all consumer Internet traffic will be video. Live and recorded video and video ads increasingly dominate our feeds across Facebook and Snapchat, and are surging on Instagram, Twitter and even LinkedIn. Nearly half of businesses are already implementing social videos, with another 26% planning to implement in 2018.
Just one problem. In the race to earn video views and clicks, too many companies are missing the bigger picture. Ultimately, who’s watching your videos—and what they do after they watch—is far more important than how many people are watching. Going “viral” doesn’t mean much, after all, if you’re not reaching actual customers who want to buy something. One antidote to fixating on video vanity metrics in 2018: analytics tools that track conversions and highlight how video actually leads to the acquisition and retention of customers.