The future of social media
The Future of Social Media... is self-expression
In the first in a new series of essays on social media, VML's head of social lists five changes every brand should consider to stay relevant
05 February 2024
Social media reshapes itself faster than Kim Kardashian’s hairstyle, but the evolution has never been greater than the last 18 months. Alongside the platforms’ day-to-day twists and turns, there have been three fundamental shifts:
The new era of TikTok
The fickle world of social media means new platforms can struggle to make a mark. TikTok faced no such challenge, answering a growing need a new social media generation’s quest for a more authentic space to engage. The platform’s mantra to ‘Make TikToks not ads’ resonated with the user base and required brands to immediately reshape their immediately outdated social media strategies.
The Meta miss-step
After years of telling brands to flash their logo in the first three seconds, social media audiences have developed internalised ad blockers, switching off to content that has become a rude interruption in their feeds. This led to a media war, with no winners, as each brand looked to outspend its competitors for their logo to be seen.
Meta quickly saw a step change was needed and began to track the brands that featured content that bucked outdated ‘best practice’, featuring content that replicated the way the audience behaves. They found:
There’s an 84 per cent likelihood that self-recorded, mobile-shot creative will outperform studio-shot creative in driving content views.
As well as a 63 per cent likelihood that it will drive more lower-funnel outcomes.
Ads featuring creator partnerships see a staggering 83 per cent higher engagement rate versus non-creator ads.
The X-ponential demise of Twitter
When Twitter was born, it provided a platform where anyone could have a voice and became a community of like-minded individuals. As this community grew, they faced a challenge tacking a miss-spread of news that all social platforms now face.
When Musk aggressively acquired the platform, the conversational narrative shifted yet further in the wrong direction. Cutting the workforce meant more misinformation and the user sentiment has become increasingly, depressingly negative.
As each platform heralded new changes, they have each contributed to one significant shift in audience behaviour – the longing for more human connections and authentic content, driven by the desire for a space that will facilitate true self-expression.
So what does this mean for brands?
The brands that achieve social media success in 2024 will be those that help facilitate the audience's demand for self-expression.
There’s no cheat sheet to win in the new social media world but there are five changes every brand should consider to stay relevant to an audience with a new social media mindset:
Build your Trojan horses:
There’s nothing guaranteed to turn off social media audiences more than brands telling them what to do. Avoid building social briefs by listing the messages you want to share. Instead, consider how to entertain and engage your social media audiences, Trojan-horsing your message in along the way.
Put yourselves in the right company:
Love or hate them, influencers have never carried more weight with a social media audience. Building a community of influencers who can help tell your brand story builds credibility and extends your reach into new audiences. In a world where social media users follow a lot more people than brands, building your influencer strategy has become one of the most efficient ways to reach your audience.
And while you’re at it, remember to act like an influencer:
The brands that are celebrated as social media superstars have one thing in common – they behave like influencers in their own right. Spend time building your brand personality and stay consistent in your TOV. Get involved in the topics that the audience care about the most and join in with the trends they love.
The most successful influencers also engage in a two-way conversation with their audiences - so brands should make sure they elevate the importance of community management.
Embrace the creator economy:
Data from the platforms tells us that co-creating ads with the creators guarantees an uplift in performance. Creators enable you to front your brand content with a credible voice, activate native production techniques and stay on top of the latest trends.
Rethinking your approach to production by either working with creators to make content or replicating their style in-house is now social media best practice. If ‘craft’ in traditional advertising means replicating a cinematic style, ‘craft’ in social means mirroring creators. Ditch your cutdowns and go creator-first.
Get your shop in order:
TikTok Shop is the hot topic in every business, but the world of social commerce is untapped by many brands. Get your social shop in order and it’ll be more than just TikTok that can ‘make them buy it’.
So, what does the future of social media hold? As we progress further into the age of audience self-expression, there will be an increasing shift towards more human content that builds connections with what matters the most to audiences.
Brands have the choice to remain an unwelcome interruption or to transform to become the facilitators of expression and a welcome part of their audiences’ lives.
Beth Carroll is the head of social media at VML