"Users of social media platforms want to see authentic content that reflects their personal values"

"Users of social media platforms want to see authentic content that reflects their personal values"

In this latest edition of FUTURES, Lucy Britner explores what the next generation of social media platforms might look like – and what it means for  food and drinks companies.

When Mark Zuckerberg and his college friends invented Facebook in the early 2000s, they changed the way we see the world. Although social media pre-dates Facebook, the platform captured the moment. According to Statista, in the third quarter of 2012, the number of active Facebook users broke one billion, making it "the first social network ever to do so". At the same time, the smartphone was busy becoming not only more sophisticated but also more affordable.

Fast-forward to today and Hootsuite's 2019 Facebook stats analysis says 88% of Facebook users are accessing the social network via a mobile device.

As new social media platforms emerge and consumer needs change, even the behemoth that is Facebook has had to work hard to keep up, acquiring Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

Now, according to Hootsuite, one billion people use Instagram every month (500m every day) and 71% of Instagrammers are under 35 years old.

In fact, says Hootsuite, 45% of the total world population uses social media. That's 3.48bn people – and 3.26bn of them use mobile devices to access social media, up 10% from 2018.

The state of social media

Instagram – still growing

In the US, 47% of the population uses Instagram, up from 16% in 2014. In South Korea, just 7% of the population used Instagram in 2014 and use is now at 50%. Meanwhile, use in the UK has risen from 13% in 2014 to 39% in 2019.

Facebook – stagnating

Use peaked in most markets in 2017 – at 82% in the US and 73% in the UK. In 2019, use has dipped and is now at 73% in Twitch - small but significant for certain demographics

Twitch – small but significant for certain demographics

In the US, just 10% of the overall population uses Twitch, in the UK it's even lower at 6%. But, among men aged 16 to 24, use jumps up significantly – to 32% in the US and 24% in the UK.the US and 69% in the UK

Snapchat – concentrated among younger consumers

Some 63% of Americans aged 16 to 24 and 66% of Britons of the same age use Snapchat. Just 11% of Americans and 5% of Britons aged 45 to 54 use it.

Megatrends

Personalisation

According to Jaana Jatyri, founder of trend forecasting agency Trendstop, personalisation continues to be a huge and growing social media trend. Looking at how this will play out in the future, Jatyri says: "Bots will give way to more sophisticated AI tools which will allow brands to create personalised posts that make their user feel involved and unique."

Changing technology

The latest digital revolution is in full swing and, according to PwC, by 2020 there will be "close to seven times the number of connected devices as people on the planet". Moreover, the way we see advertising is changing. Hootsuite suggests 50% of Generation Z and 42% of Millennials believe social media is the most relevant ad channel.

Authenticity

There is now a push for unfiltered, 'real' content, says Laura Dennehy, head of content innovation at UK consumer trends company Foresight Factory. She highlights how some members of Generation Z have 'Finsta' accounts. "They typically have two Instagram accounts. Their main one, where they post glossy, perfect pictures. Then they have a Finsta account – which stands for fake Instagram – but it's actually more real and they have close friends following them and will post pics of themselves looking less than perfect," Dennehy says.

She believes this behaviour will grow over the next five years, driven by authenticity, as consumers get braver about sharing more real content.

Transparency and social responsibility

As more consumers wake up to wider environmental concerns, including climate change and the impact of plastic waste, both transparency and social responsibility will continue to go hand in hand. Citing a Drapers survey of 2,000 UK consumers, Trendstop's Jatyri says 46% of shoppers spend time researching ethical and sustainable brands to buy from. "Users of social media platforms want to see authentic content that reflects their personal values on their feeds," she adds.

Democratic learning

Foresight Factory's Dennehy says 'liquid skills' are a big trend behind social media behaviours. "People love learning but they are also looking for accessible, easy-to-master and perhaps easy-to-discard skills," she explains. She gives the example of tutorials and how-to content, though she also points out it's debatable how often people will actually go on and cook a recipe for a video they watch.

The future of social media

The trend for discovery will continue to drive social media use, believes Genna Osler, industry head FMCG at Facebook.

"Food and drink brands that are using the platform well have visual storytelling and mobile at their core," she explains. "This is especially important for targeting food and drink fans who are increasingly driven to buy based on their 'digital hunger'." According to Osler, food and drink is about feeling part of a community. "Engagement is at its highest with content that helps them to explore new tastes, share experiences and get inspiration."

Osler says this trend will remain but we will see an evolution in the way we connect, pinpointing augmented and virtual reality. "Video is already a powerful platform for advertisers to connect with their customers, but as AR and VR become part of the norm, this will create even more opportunities for brands to make people's mouths water," she says.

These types of experiences are already being tested and Osler believes they "create even more depth and immersion, helping to foster deeper connections" by effectively enabling a company to bring its store or products directly to customers.

Foresight Factory's Dennehy also underscores the future of visual search technology. She says Pinterest, for example, can recognise 2.5bn objects.

The knock-on effect, she explains, is social browsing becomes online browsing, because "any image you see can give you inspiration and can be feeding into an algorithm that helps you hunt down things that look like it".

Dennehy also believes that, in the next five years, the distinction between social networks will become less important because almost every platform we use has some social elements.

"YouTube [and] Spotify have some social element where you can be following friends. Twitch is kind of gaming and kind of social," she says. "Even things like Depop, which is a reselling platform, you follow people, you message people."

Stories and videos

Facebook's Osler tells just-food that as consumers have moved to mobile, there has also been a shift towards interacting more using imagery and video. "From videos in Feed – people on average spend five times longer looking at video than static content – to, most recently, the huge growth of Stories, the fastest growing format on our platform," she says. "Stories have been on Instagram since 2016 but today, across our platforms, one billion Stories are created every day."

According to Buffer's 2019 State of Social report, brands are "riding the organic Stories wave" with Stories ads expected to be the 'next big thing'. (The Buffer study involved 1,842 marketing professionals in companies of varying sizes – from fewer than ten employees to up to 1,000). "As the number of people using Stories has grown so has the number of businesses using the format to connect with their audiences on social media," Buffer says.

Some 61% of businesses in Buffer's survey say they plan to invest in Stories ads from Facebook-owned entities this year.

Citing US brand management company Chatmeter as well as Hootsuite, Trendstop's Jatyri explains 54% of consumers say they want to see more video content from brands and "one in three social video viewers watch videos from brands regularly".

When it comes to consumer behaviour, Foresight Factory's Dennehy predicts by 2022 some 66% of Chinese, 60% of US and 42% of UK consumers will be posting live videos.

In fact, Facebook has recently launched a new social viewing experience called Watch Party, a feature that lets people connect via Facebook Groups to watch live or pre-recorded videos and chat together in real time.

The rise of video is also influencing the growth of newer social media platforms. UK PR agency Ambitious named TikTok as the next big social network at its Social Media Week event this year.

TikTok is a platform for shortform mobile video and, according to Ambitious, its core demographic is mostly teens and tweens. TikTok is available in 150 markets, in 75 languages.

The company behind TikTok, Beijing-based Byte Dance, reported via CNN it now has one billion users across its apps. CNN said TikTok's international appeal "sets it apart from other Chinese social media platforms such as Tencent's WeChat, Sina Weibo and Alibaba's Youku".

The need to capture the best images possible is also influencing product development among social-media companies. Snapchat will this autumn launch Spectacles 3, the latest version of Spectacles sunglasses with dual cameras designed to "capture the world in 3D".

The glasses (recommended retail price GBP330 (US$413)) feature two HD cameras on either side of the frame to capture depth and dimension the way your eyes do, and "power new augmented reality creative tools" to enhance pictures.

Shopping channel

Earlier this year, Instagram introduced @shop. The @shop platform is a "celebration of small businesses and the creators behind them", according to the launch release. The content is inspired by Instagram's community - "a real-time reflection of our community's interests across top shopping categories like fashion, beauty, home decor and more".

From a food and drinks perspective, the service offers Square Root sodas by the case and an array of cocktail equipment as well as a whole host of different foods, including sausages from The Ginger Pig butcher. Square Root, for example, tells users a case of sodas is GBP25, with a link to the company's website to complete the purchase.

Osler says Instagram's shopping function allows companies to "tag products directly in their feed and in Stories, helping them to place their products directly into the hands of their customers".

"This will mean brands will be able to combine high impact, visual ads in News Feed or on Stories with a function that drives purchases in real time," she adds.

Anti-social media

Where is no doubt social media has become more private in recent years, as users gravitate towards smaller communities and messaging apps.

"Another trend we're seeing is the rapid growth of messaging," says Facebook's Osler. "People now send around 100bn messages each day using our services." She says this isn't just text, but also photos and videos using apps such as WhatApp and Messenger. "They want to share their experience in real-time and in ways that aren't permanent," Osler adds.

But Buffer's survey suggests the messaging arena has not yet been exploited by brands.

"Seventy one per cent do not use messaging apps for their marketing," the report says. In fact, Foresight Factory's Dennehy says "these spaces are much harder for brands to crack into".

Once you're in, though, the prospects are good. Social media marketing agency Social Chain's head of marketing, Peter Daly, tells Buffer the requirement to actively opt-in "means users are much more engaged in these private spaces than they are when scrolling through a news feed". The company says this makes it easier for brands to "build direct and meaningful relationships with their customers quickly, on a mobile-first basis".

Data and privacy

"We are more aware than ever of the digital traces that we leave behind," Foresight Factory's Dennehy says, describing what she says is a "push and pull" affecting social media behaviour.

"There are two things at play here – there's the privacy angle, not wanting to share too much information – but also this desire to be almost digital archivists and record everything that we're doing, save content, usesocial media as an online diary."

According to Trendstop's Jatyri, tailored content will become "ever more intelligent, with brands creating personalised content, based on their users' behaviour, to create as relevant experiences as possible". She says the personal adverts in the film Minority Report are getting "closer to reality".

Dennehy adds consumers are willing to trade their data for something in return, such as exclusive offers or discount codes.

"For some consumers, personalised and better services are enough of a draw for them to give more data," she says.

Then there is the question of data ownership. PR Week reports that, by 2028, we will be able to monetise our own data and influence by selling, trading and transferring personal information.

Dennehy says people are now much more conscious and aware of the value of their data. "Things like GDPR pushed this further into consciousness," she adds.

There is also no question that data must be handled more responsibly. Jatyri says: "Privacy will be one of the primary factors concerning social media use and privacy abuse cases will continue to make media headlines, following the Netflix documentary The Great Hack and the #ownyourdata campaign by former Cambridge Analytica director Brittany Kaiser," she says.

The topic is also front-of-mind at Facebook and the company in September launched a white paper to explore data portability and privacy.

The future of the influencer

The world of the influencer has been under scrutiny, as companies struggle to navigate this nascent environment. In late 2018, drinks giant Diageo was moved to investigate claims almost 2,000 social media influencer posts relating to its Ciroc vodka brand were not tagged correctly.

The complaint, made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by watchdog Truth In Advertising (TINA.org), said more than 1,700 Instagram posts from 50 different Ciroc influencers "failed to reveal their material connection to the alcohol brand in a clear and conspicuous manner".

Although Buffer's research showed 88% of those brands that use influencer marketing are also planning to continue, the report also revealed more than 90% of marketeers find guidelines confusing.

There has also been a backlash from consumers, Dennehy says, against "how fake big influencers are perceived to be".

She highlights two interesting Instagram accounts that counter the 'big, fake' notion and are gaining a lot of followers: @thingtesting and @gelcream. She says the accounts post unpaid reviews. "It will be interesting to see whether these kinds of accounts can scale and maintain that level of authenticity and there's also the challenge of how they monetise," she adds.

Facebook's Osler welcomes moves towards more transparency. "We... have introduced our 'paid partnerships with' tool to help influencers to comply with local guidance and help consumers know when they are being advertised to," she says.

While the future might look bright for authentic influencers, Dennehy doesn't see much scope for AI influencers. A few years ago, an AI influencer called Lil Miquela grabbed the headlines but Dennehy says that, although they occasionally have the capacity to go viral, they won't be 'the next big thing'.

"Interestingly, people seemed to like when [Lil Miquela] became slightly more human and fallible," she adds.

What can food and drinks companies do now?

Be even more authentic

One exciting way brands are engaging with their consumer is merging the brand story with the consumer's personal story by reposting their consumers' content," explains Trendstop's Jatyri. "This shows that the brand is engaging with their follower base and it brings a community-based aspect to any social media platform."

When it comes to influencers, Facebook's Osler says consumers are savvy and increasingly turning away from forced and overly commercial partnerships.

"For this reason, food and drink brands should go beyond just product placement and create content that is more memorable and true," she says.

Be prepared to change tack

Behaviours and technology are changing at a pace we've never seen before. Facebook's Osler says the advertisers and content creators most likely to succeed are "those that can react, adapt and respond quickly".

"We find that the best advertisers go on a journey of unlearning and learning again," she adds. "They create endless amounts of content. They experiment andthey base all decisions on data. In essence, they test, learn, and adapt."

Make an impact, fast

The speed at which people take in content is getting faster, according to Osler. "People spend on average 2.5 seconds reading an update from a member of their own family – so if you're an advertiser you have to work extra hard to grab attention – you literally have seconds," she says. "And the younger your audience, the harder it is; a teenager scrolls 1.6x faster than a person in their 40s."

Research which platforms attract which demographic

Not all social media platforms appeal to all people, says Dennehy. "In the UK, 15% [of the population] use Pinterest but if you look at women, that rises to 24%," she explains. "Twitch, although it is tiny overall, if you look at men aged 16 to 24, usage is at 24%." She also highlights Snapchat, where usage drops off over the age of 35. "It's quite striking how daily use of a social network is completely different for different groups of people."

Look at whether you even need social media

Earlier this year, UK cosmetics firm Lush announced it was shutting down all of its social media. Dennehy says this throws up an important question: are you offering content that is useful on your platforms?

"If not, then you'd question whether they need them at all," she says. "We've gone through the era of people being willing to follow brands and now we're into digital overload."

The wrap

In sum, the future of social media is more visual, more video-orientated and more authentic. As technology and consumer behaviours continue to evolve, brands will have to make connections even more meaningful.