We had the privilege and the honour of having my second favourite Drew*, the warm and wise Drew Benvie of multi-multi-award winning communications agency Battenhall,with us at Digital Gaggle.
Drew, or @drewbas he likes to be known to the heaving anonymous masses, took the opportunity to talk to Digital Gaggle about the future of social media marketing, specifically the rising ubiquity of messaging apps in the mainstream. Here’s my summary of Drew’s talk. Out of respect for you all, I’ve omitted the part where I debase myself and pathetically plead for a Black Card in response to his throwaway comment about working with a “grilled chicken” brand.
People Have Stopped Using Social Networks
Obviously, this isn’t strictly true. But certainly the big social networks are no longer exhibiting the explosive growth that they once did.
It’s not hard to see why, either. As the big brands march in and saturate platforms like Facebook, feeds that were once alive with news about your friends are now increasingly diluted with stuff from manufacturers and drinks companies. Subsequently, audiences are seeking more private and more intimate platforms. Platforms with a ‘self destruct’ aspect (such as the popular picture trading app Snapchat) or instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger are growing faster than anything else.
Whatsappening To My Organic Reach?
With organic reach of the social networks falling by design, forcing brands to either ‘go viral’ (which if Steven Bartlett’s talkis anything to go by, involves paying hundreds of people in order to seize their social media accounts simultaneously in order to create the façade of grassroots enthusiasm) or start participating in the social advertising marketplace, what else can corporations do but find a new way to barge into your new private space?
The BBC have started distributing news in India and Africa… via WhatsApp. The broadcast lists are hard to find and seek out, but the audiences in these cases are hyper engaged. Other brands have followed suit, and there is a burgeoning underground of these very specific broadcast lists with very interested audiences in many sectors, on subjects as spectacularly niche as B2B technology in the healthcare sector.
Breast Pactice of Tomorrow
Not just WhatsApp. Brands are on Snapchat now. When Snapchat first started out, it was basically Pokemon Snap, but for genitals. Now, big brands are on it and Snapchat’s “Story” is a vision of the future of social media. Everyone is copying the Story, and this is likely to be the shape we can expect Social Media to take in the near future.
On reflection, this isn’t too surprising. Messaging apps being used in this way have been a fundamental element of the public internet since the very beginnings – in the early 90s, hyper engaged audiences (read: nerds) flocked to BBSes, IRC channels and newsgroups, where often they interacted directly with the tech companies of the day. We’re now seeing these ways adopted by the legions of cool-shoe-wearers that today’s big brands like to dance in front of.
It’s also a fundamental pillar of the Inbound approachto marketing. If your audience came and found you, qualified themselves by not just opting in but seeking you out, that audience will always be more attentive and more interested in what you have to say than even the most targeted of ads.
Off the back of this, we’re also seeing a merging of the two, as traditional social media platforms start including functionality to become more like messaging apps and messaging apps including functionality to become more like social networks.
Trends changing the Social Media Marketing Landscape
1. A change in behaviour – the death of the demographic
It used to be that each social media platform roughly represented a certain demographic. Nowadays, a typical influencer is on all of the social media platforms. Trying to stay in front of them means maintaining a brand presence on all of these disparate platforms – a non-trivial task doomed to failure.
2. Rise of The Machines – AI and Automation
The MSN Messenger generation might remember having a bit of fun with Cleverbotin the early 00s, an interactive chatbot educated on a heady diet of mostly weird and repugnant sentiments courtesy of the edgiest teens on the web. Well, now those bots are good enough to be public facing customer service droids – brands like KLM are leading the charge with friendly, sassy AIsable to field customer enquiries that used to require the systemic harvest of human souls via industrial call centre worker battery farms. KLM’s AI can deal with who-knows-how-many simultaneous enquiries, doesn’t get fatigued, get wound up, and will not stop. Sort of like a helpful, smiling, customer services terminator.
Computer automation is increasingly pervasive, with voice recognition, image recognition, customer services, even actual press releases and news reports being managed by bots and machines.
3. The Story has changed everything
The news feed, hashtags, trending topics – all dead according to Drew. Where Twitter came along and changed the way everything looked with its news feed, so Snapchat will change everything with The Story. Private networks are where stories will proliferate in the social media of the future.
4. Trolling is a art
In the land of the internet, all keyboard warriors were made equal. Big brands perhaps didn’t realise how utterly savage and vitriolic real people can be when they can speak their mind in an unmoderated venue.
People using the freedom of the internet to be downright abusive might have caught the social networks off guard at first, but now the defences are up. We can only expect to see more tools for fighting trolls, reporting abusive content, closed comment sections as time goes on.
5. Future of Engagement
Engagement is falling across all social networks. Organic reach is dropping. Brand content is increasingly being throttled by platforms who want you to pay if you want to do successful marketing on their network. The future of engagement is on the messaging apps, where audiences are more engaged than on traditional social or email marketing. It’s invisible, but that’s where the people have gone.