Social media today: 10 observations and trends for brands and organisations

News - Jul 01, 2019

One of the big advantages of working for an agency like Weber Shandwick is that we get to experiment with new innovations and formats on a regular basis in partnership with a range of clients (and industries).

This breadth and scale is particularly useful in the realm of social media when everything changes so quickly. Our social and digital experts across the region have years of experience running social campaigns for clients and on a regular basis we get them together to uncover what they believe to be the biggest trends shaping our clients’ work.

Last year, we added even more client experience and talent to our digital and social team with the acquisition of social creative agency That Lot in London.

Based on the latest trends identified, I’ve pulled out ten areas that I’d advise anyone working with social media over the next 12 months to focus on:

1. Focus on local news

The Facebook algorithm change that occurred in January prompted huge traffic decreases for news publishers. This signalled a shift in the way that Facebook works with publishers, including polling users on publishers they ‘trust’ as a way of ranking news-focused content in the news feed. One of the other big shifts we’ve seen is the Facebook algorithm prioritising local news content – it’s something you might have noticed in your own newsfeed. So, finding local angles to stories could be a good way to maximise Facebook distribution.

2. Reject influencers with fake followers

Last year, in the world of influencer marketing, issues around fake followers and inauthentic brand partnerships were well publicised. Regulators and authorities are taking note; demanding transparent disclosure of branded partnerships. We expect this to continue to be a major focus throughout 2019.

3. Obsess over vertical

Ninety-five per cent of Facebook users now access the platform via a mobile device, which means that the vast majority are using a vertical screen. Maximising this screen real estate seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many brands still post image or video content that isn’t built for vertical. Research shows this doesn’t just provide a better user experience, it also increases engagement rates for content.

4. Experiment with Stories

Linked very much to the vertical trend, is Stories. Stories on Facebook and Instagram have been the success story of the last few years with Instagram now seeing 500 million daily active users for its Stories product. And don’t forget Whatsapp Status which actually has the biggest number of users of any Stories product in the world. Stories is such a big trend that Facebook is even expecting it to overtake the traditional newsfeed in popularity: “We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in feed as the most common way that people share across all social apps,” said Mark Zuckerberg in January 2018

5. Use data for insight

One the great by-products of working in a digitally charged world is that data is now easier to access than ever before. You are most likely using social data for measurement purposes and you might increasingly be using it to optimise content as it’s published. But we’re seeing an increasing trend where clients are using data to inform strategic decisions from a marketing perspective but also to help make business decisions; everything from product development to recruitment strategy.

6. Build a chatbot that adds value

Chatbots have promised much over the last few years, but in many ways have failed to deliver. As with all emerging technologies, there’s often a period where we all sit around scratching our heads while we try and work out the best way to add value to the user experience. But I fully expect chatbots to come of age in the latter half of 2019 and adding value will be at the heart of this approach. The businesses that are getting the most out of chatbots are the ones that are finding real utility and offering their audiences solutions to common problems.

7. Design your messaging strategy

One of the reasons that chatbots are likely to grow in popularity is the user growth for messaging apps; Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger have both passed the 1 billion user mark and Direct Messaging on Instagram isn’t far behind. Messaging has always been a tough arena for businesses and marketers to capitalise on, but the platforms are beginning to open this up and make it easier. Whatsapp has launched a business app, initially to support small and medium businesses that want to deliver customer communication through the platform and they are rolling out an enterprise version throughout 2019. Facebook has also announced this year that it plans to knit the plumbing that sits behind Whatsapp, Messenger and Instagram Direct Messages to allow user to message across platforms.

8. Get your CEO on social

The C-suite has been reticent to take to social media and yet, over the last few years a number of CEOs are discovering that social engagement can be a reputational driver and a good communication vehicle in good times and bad. As an increasing number of companies see the benefit of taking a stance on societal issues (see trend number 10), we are frequently working with clients to demonstrate how building social profiles for their C-suite is not only a nice-to-have but can increasingly be business-critical, especially from a reputational standpoint.

9. Experiment with social selling

For years now, the potential of social commerce in Western markets has been lauded far and wide; especially as the model has been well established for some time in China. Yet the tangible proof points have been few and far between. That’s beginning to change as the platforms are shifting consumer behaviour and streamlined UX is making shopping on social platforms easier. Instagram is a pioneer here. Buyable tags and swipe ups on Stories are providing consumers with an irresistible way to fulfil retail urges on a platform where inspiration is easy to come by. The widespread adoption of technologies like Apple and Android Pay do away with the need to enter long card details. The development of other emergent social shopping features – using augmented reality in the Snapchat camera to ‘try before you buy’ – suggests that further innovation will soon be upon us. Now is the time to take this seriously.

10. Be purpose-led but reputation-aware

Twenty-eighteen was also the year when brands really started to use purpose-focused campaigns to stand out from the crowd. Frequently social was the viral mouthpiece that either supported and augmented these campaigns or, in some instances, saw them turn sour. Courting controversy isn’t necessarily a bad strategy but you need to go in with eyes wide open and that means understanding the risks and potential backlash. More often than not, this will play out on social media.

By Danny Whatmough, Managing Director, Integrated Media, Weber Shandwick. If you would like to learn more about our digital and social media services in the UK or across the EMEA, please contact Graham Cox at



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