7 Important Social Media Trends for 2016

Social media is on track to play an even more important role than ever in 2016; A strong weapon in the armoury against ad-blocking (according to a recent report from PageFair the use of ad-blocking in the UK grew 82% in 2015), an increased importance in the consumer journey at pre-trigger stage as search behaviours leaks out of more traditional engines, and responsibility for a whole new way of communicating based on video and motion.
Below is the exploration of the top 7 trends I believe to be the biggest social evolution’s in 2016 that agencies and brands should be structuring their communications and priorities around

1. Search Is Going Social
Google, Bing and Yahoo are going to have some serious social competition this year as people’s search habits evolve outside of traditional search engines in the quest for more visual responses to their searches and the shortcut of peer endorsement.
Facebook dumped Bing at the beginning of 2015 to focus on improving their own product and are also working on a digital personal assistant called ‘M’. Google’s renewed firehose with Twitter which pulled relevant tweets into search results, also gave a nod to how the growth of search in social platforms is changing the way people choose to find their information.

Therefore the link between Social and SEO will be more integral than ever in 2016 as we apply basic SEO best practice within social platforms and honour Google’s algorithmic principles of Expertise, Authority and Trust to social content and in social environments. We desperately need to work to understand social’s new role in pre-trigger and active stages of purchase.
In 2016 we should all be asking “How can I get found on Google AND social?”
2. Video is the Dialect of Social
New data from Cisco shows that globally consumer internet video traffic will be 80% of all consumer internet traffic in 2019, an increase from 64% 2014. Increasingly motion (GIFS, cinemagraphs, vines) are how people choose to express themselves and consume content.
Auto-play features in newsfeed from Facebook and Twitter in 2015 opened up a world of possibility this year, forcing creatives and brands to think differently – how do we capture attention in 3 seconds? How do we do it without sound? This is brilliant for creativity and innovation and drives campaigns such as this
With video shares increasing by 43% at the start of 2015 the fight between YouTube and Facebook (and even Twitter) was evident by the introduction of native video players and organic rewards for posting through platforms rather than a YouTube link. This will only get more aggressive in 2016 in an attempt to seize advertiser’s budgets.
And finally to give a nod to live-streaming. Despite widely publicized high figures of user uptake on Meerkat and Periscope (which also won Apple’s app of the year) these apps are struggling to find a regular role in people’s lives – possibly for reason that people can’t edit or amend (critical to an online persona that needs to be carefully crafted) and undeniable issues with sound and quality. Live –streaming is already being picked up by celebrities and influencers (Facebook’s streaming product is currently only open to celebs) who may help tip it into mainstream behaviour.
Also keep your eye out for Facebook’s 360 videos, ‘Suggested Videos’ and maybe even a dedicated video feed – this space will continue to evolve at a vociferous pace.
Agencies and clients should be setting Motion to Static ratio targets across their digital content for 2016 to move in line with consumer expectation and the landscape. For brands with larger production budgets it should be around 80:20 in favour of motion.
3. Data and Insight Will Increasingly Inform Creativity
Much to the delight of the industry in 2015 Facebook finally opened up access to its wealth of audience data via topics, symbolizing a shift towards much more informed activity for advertisers. There is absolutely no need for advertisers or agencies to ‘guess’ what content consumers might want to engage with and with the plethora of data and predictive technologies available already ( Mashable’s Velocity tool for agencies was an important release in 2015) this will only continue to grow.
Just as importantly data will start actually informing creativity itself. Two of our award winning campaigns this year (the Netflix FOMOmeter and McVities Breakfast Buzz) have social data at the heart of them and shaped the whole creative output.
Also in 2016 keep your eye out for advancements in technologies and tools that can ‘read images’ for products, mentions and context – meaning Instagram could soon be as useful as Facebook as a data insight provider.
4. Organic Decline Will Spread To Other Platforms
One of the tallest stories in social media is that Facebook ‘switched off’ organic reach to punish advertisers and collect the pennies. The simple reason for organic reach decline is pure saturation and overcrowding – if Facebook didn’t filter your newsfeed with the algorithm you could potentially have up to 15,000 stories served to you every day.
Facebook organic reach for advertisers is typically now less than 1%, Twitter roughly around 15% and on LinkedIn we’re seeing almost 100% (an abundance of organic potential which B2B advertisers are taking advantage of).
Some are predicting 2016 will be ‘Twitter Zero’ for organic reach as the platform gets more cluttered, and certainly as platforms evolve and develop and bring more attractive propositions to market we will see more competition- and less organic reach to go around!
2015 was defined by paid media, and the importance of this isn’t going away in 2016. Targeting options such as Facebook’s 3rd party data options and custom audiences will only continue to evolve and help offer a halo effect to organic reach.
The relationship between the two is what’s integral in 2016 – neither should be looked at separately.
 5. Social Keeps Getting Better At Proving It’s Worth
The accountability back to ROI from social will only continue to grow in 2016 – the surge of buy buttons across platforms like Pinterest and ‘Shop now’ ads from Instagram will continue as users get more comfortable with the concept of social commerce. Things like Apple Pay are also helping consumers get more confident in this space.
Facebook’s introduction of ‘Instant articles’ shows attempts to make platforms more ‘sticky’ ( back to the ‘walled gardens’ of the internet we saw years ago) so people spend more and more time in the contained environment. Time spent and familiarity will help consumer trust and leads to users buying in this environment – a massive kick start to the proper social commerce era.
Platforms are also using data as a huge tool for accountability and predictability and this will help strengthen their roles with advertisers and better justify their presence on a media plan. Facebook also have a very convincing argument for incremental reach on top of a TV campaign, and the role they can play to compliment more traditional media choices.
6. Messaging Mania
There are now nearly 4 billion global active users of messaging apps; including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat as dominant players. The top five apps in the world in 2015 in terms of frequency of use are all messaging apps!
Messaging has traditionally been bundled in as ’Dark Social’ (a term used to describe private sharing between individuals or small groups) and platforms have to be very VERY careful about how they get data and learnings from their users. WhatsApp even went as far as to get banned in Brazil recently because it would not release data on a judicial case.
User privacy on messaging apps has to be safeguarded as a priority before advertisers can even begin to start integrating into these environments.
7. Social Media In The Workplace
Often hailed as being the email killer, social media structures internally at companies could take a massive stride forward in 2016.
Slack has proved to a serious contender in the states U.S. It now has 1.25 million active business users in just two years’ time (including NASA!) Facebook at Work also soft launched in 2015 and is predicted to be opened up for wider use as a freemium model in 2016.
This is great news if social media gets widely adopted in clients businesses, and means they are spending more time in social environment, using the platforms, and better understanding of the role for social in their business.
You will notice that mobile or handheld is not on the list, it is not a ‘thing’, it’s everything! The more savvy agencies are now presenting creative concepts on a mobile instead of a large screen. Mobile sits underneath and within every single one of these trends.
Here’s to more steps forward in better user experience, advertising accountability and utility from social media in 2016!

Google+ – SEO superhero or Engagement Graveyard?

This is a joint contribution between Abi Morrish, Digital Engagement Account Director at MEC UK and Andreas Nicolaides, Operations Director of Organic Performance at MEC UK.

Google+ has irked us for some time now. A platform that is haunted by potentially false idols (‘it’s GREAT for your SEO’) and sweeping statements (‘It’s an engagement graveyard’).

The most recent announcement has seen Google split the G+ product into ‘Photos’ and ‘streams’ – “I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area,” says Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Chrome, Android, and apps.

Whilst that it is at least some communication update on the platform, the truth is Google have allowed rumors and theories to gather momentum for far too long due to their near radio-silence on the subject – we’ve never been allowed country level statistics and usage, we don’t know the profile of what a Google+ user looks like, and we don’t know for definite that it has any effect on SEO – we keeping hearing “correlation” not “causation”.

The reason we’ve penned this together is though the wider common ground between SEO and social media exists, this doesn’t not mean that we approach things with the same objectives in mind, and Google+ is a really unique situation that forces the 2 specialisms to be as close as they can be.

What we do know about Google+ from an SEO perspective:

We believe that Google+ is maybe used as a sort of ranking factor, we can only prove certain correlations and definitely not causation, therefore we can’t prove that it definitely has an effect and what this effect will be.

In the September 2014 study, SearchMetrics identified that the second highest correlating factor for higher search rankings was the amount of Google +1s a page received. Google +1’s actually outscored and showed higher correlation for search rankings than other well-known metrics including Facebook shares, keyword frequency and even the amount of linking websites to a web page.

Google+ content is much more optimised for semantic search than its social counterparts. It utilizes various SEO best practices, including every post being able to have a unique semantic URL and title tag. These signals allow Google to understand the Google+ content in more detail which turn sends signals to Google’s search algorithm.

What do we know about Google+ from an engagement perspective?

Google’s refusal to release country level figures/data for the number of active users on the platform and any kind of demographic information makes it hard to know if our target audience are even on the platform and how they are using it.

Active user’s definition is infrequent and many are counted as users just from having a Gmail account. So therefore global numbers are grossly exaggerated and give a false illusion of scale.

From an engagement point of view G+ is deathly quiet. Red Bull’s (touted as being one of the best brands on Google+) last post to a global audience only got +307. So though we think that plus 1+’s could be the second highest correlating factor, it’s actually really hard to get these +1’s in the first place.
Are Google deprioritizing Google+?

Google has stopped forcing a G+ account when you sign up to Gmail, and Vic Gundotra, the Head of Google+ left in mid-2014 and so far has not been replaced.

A previous strength of Google+ was that it was the only social media platform that had all its content indexed by Google. However, Google has now come to agreement with Twitter that means it will index if not all, a lot of the tweets and content. This weakens the USP of Google+ in this area.

As mentioned, last week Google announced they are splitting the social network apart, breaking it into “Photos” and “Streams” – but we can’t say with any kind of certainty this is the end of Google+ as it is still existing as a social layer.

The future of products and platforms is something we have to do our best to predict in social and SEO because we are very much at the mercy of the platform owners and any changes they chose to make – because we ‘rent’ our space on their platforms.

From a social perspective we as an industry learnt the hard way by investing a lot of money in recruiting Facebook fans, only for the algorithmic change to mean organic reach is now less than 1%. If we are getting clear signs from Google that this product may be on the way out, or not on the roadmap and we’ve invested time and effort in building a community for it to mean nothing – well that’s a difficult conversation to have with a client.

Where can Google+ posting add true value?

One opportunity is to implement knowledge graph, which is a piece of real estate on the google search pages that triggers for brand related searches. It pulls through the most recent G+ content and allows brands to take advantage of being reactive.

Author Rank or Publisher Rank are terms largely manufactured by the SEO industry to describe content that may be impacted within the search ranking algorithm by being written by a well – known author, or published by a well-known publisher.

It is believed that Google use Author Rank to some extent to influence Google search results, e.g. an article written by the editor of The Guardian, may rank higher than an article written by Joe Smith in his bedroom.

Therefore sharing content on Google+ that is written by an individual and not just ‘branded’ content may have some effect in search rankings.

In summary

There are still potential benefits (although they are ill-defined) from Authorship to assist organic visibility. Ultimately, G+ is a Google product and we would be staggered if they didn’t utilize G+ data to influence the algorithm in one shape or form.

However at present if all your content is branded (e.g. no ‘authors’ of the content) there’s not much of a benefit here, unless you utilise specific authors and authorship markup, thus building your online authorship .

With signals from Google that the product is being deprioritized we should be careful about investments in time and money.

What’s the recommendation?

Google+ pages or profiles are created by default with a YouTube profile so often you are stuck with a presence. Therefore from a hygiene and brand reputation point of view if it already exists, it should at least look tidy.

It’s advisable to copy and paste your other social media updates into G+ straight after you’ve updated your other platforms – this will only take an extra one minute of your time and covers off the ‘just in case’

Whilst the future of Google+ is in its current state of flux, making large investments in time and money by creating bespoke content for the platform and building/ nurturing a G+ community may be ill –advised.

We’re not saying there is no value there, for example if you have managed to establish that your audience is active on G+ or you have success at being the first mover where there isn’t, then it makes sense to consider developing an approach that’s custom to G+ or as an extension of existing activities. Or if there are some benefits and functionality that can only be created through G+ (like hangouts) to mature your community, then you might consider it.

BUT, and it’s a BIG BUT, there might be lower hanging fruit elsewhere across other social platforms, and the social web at large, that could be more effective and efficient to work with, and during this state of change, less risky.

Facebook unveils standalone mobile app ‘paper’

Today Facebook sneaked out another potential game-changer. Their internal security really is commendable. 

It seems that Zuckerburg has finally achieved his vision of Facebook becoming a ‘digital newspaper’. Well kind of…but he’s had to build a separate stand alone app to achieve it.

‘Paper’ launches on the 3rd February in the US for iPhone. Paper is a news-consumption app akin to existing options like Flipboard, Feedly and Zite which presents longer-form Facebook content in a more attractive, magazine-style way that will encourage users to linger over posts, stories and images.

The first section of the new app will be your Facebook News Feed. It won’t have all the functions of the native Facebook app, but it will present your friends’ posts, along with stories from other news categories.

The cool and main differentiating feature is that you can finally customise SOMETHING on Facebook (compared to other platforms actual control over the FB platform is low from a users POV) You can choose to pull in categories: photography and sports to food, science and design etc

Another difference is no buttons, just swiping.

“Paper makes storytelling more beautiful with an immersive design and fullscreen, distraction-free layouts,” said the social media giant.

Does distraction mean ad-free I wonder?! Undoubtedly the app will launch ad free and remain so for a while whilst download numbers are going to be critical. Ultimately though  it could turn into another platform for FB to advertise on and offer more inventory to advertisers and more $ to investors. They have repeatedly been criticised for failing to monetize the mobile trend, so this is definitely one big step on their journey.

Only time will tell how consumers will react. Will users be willing to split their time across 2 apps and find different utility for both? From historical learnings from their attempts at ‘camera’ and ‘home’, I think not. Personally I think they should have spent the time and money improving the current application, but maybe this is their plan?

The current reviews of paper point to its superiority over the current app. A cleaner, richer and simpler experience. So maybe this is designed as a replacement, but for the more early adopters – we all saw the backlash when timeline was brought in due to people’s inability to accept change.

Mobile is an even more personal experience so maybe they’re taking their time, testing on a wider scale and making sure change is overtime and tolerable to users before binning the current app.

Check out the typical Facebook X-factor styled ‘pull on your heart strings’ video here: https://www.facebook.com/paper

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Why Buzzfeed is the new news format for a digital generation

Buzzfeed has recently been getting some massive wins on the board. Why? Because they are simply doing EVERYTHING right to disseminate news in a relevant and interesting way to engage a younger and digitally native audience.

Buzzfeed describe themselves in the following way: “BuzzFeed has the hottest, most social content on the web. We feature breaking buzz and the kinds of things you’d want to pass along to your friends.”

But for me it’s not necessarily the content itself ( you could scoop that up across a range of sites elsewhere) but the delivery and execution of content. Quite simply put, Buzzfeed has redesigned news format and delivery for the next generation.

Does anyone under the age of 30 sit down at 6pm and watch the news on TV? Of course not! Not only are their lives not regulated and scheduled in such a way, but the internet allows them a constant link to the happenings of the world, and a filtered/tailored option at that.

So what is Buzzfeed doing that’s so on the money?

1. Their articles are very visual heavy. Platform adoption rates of Instagram, Vine and Snapchat are reflective of this being a huge part of the way this generation communicate with each other. Videos and images are also highly shareable.

2. The list format ( ‘Top 30′ or ’25 things’) A fantastic way to allow readers to skim read and implies that they have done research to bring you the best of the subject you’re reading. The key thing about this audience is attention span – their attention is near impossible to keep and lists are an easily digestible format.

3. Bearing in mind the point made above, the whole layout is designed to effortlessly move you onto the next piece of content with a very prominent sidebar of content. By giving people a plethora of options for their next piece of content they are making the platform as sticky as possible.

4. They make a huge deal about nostalgia – something we as content writers recognise the huge value in. A lot of their articles are focused around throwbacks from the nineties, or top kids TV. This generation has a particularly rose-tinted view of their youth probably because technology has advanced SO much in the last 10 years, probably more than any other generation gap and it seems another life ago.

5. The creators of the content are bang in the demo – they are young, creative digital natives who understand how this audience use the web and what they read.

Using these execution tactics actually allows Buzzfeed to even cover serious topics. They don’t shy away from the heavy subjects like rape, gay rights and the problems in Syria. Even more interestingly all this content is mixed in against ‘8 problems only dogs understand’. Again this is to tailor to the butterfly mentality of this demo who don’t approach consuming news in the traditional 6pm News TV format: main headlines/sport/weather.

The next big thing for Buzzfeed will be the integration of paid-for content – that’s right, this will be their version of advertising space. I’ve already seen some highlighted ‘sponsored content’ – so lets hope they maintain integrity about what this content is, as there’s nothing more off-putting to this audience than being obviously sold to…

Check it out: http://www.buzzfeed.com/

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#buzzfeed #newnews #digitalnatives

Think you’ve discovered the secret reach trick on Facebook? Think again!

Recently whilst reading through one of our weekly content reports, I enlightened upon a staggering discovery. An image page post that one of my moderators had scheduled had published without the image.

In the grand scheme of Facebook’s range of deficiencies this was a  fairly minor incident, but what did capture my attention was the organic reach against that post. Despite the fact the engagement remained on par with other images we had posted that week, the organic reach was FIVE times greater. All the times of the posts were within 1 hour timeframes of each other and the content was not massively disruptive or dissimilar to what we usually post for that brand.

Despite my confidence that I had eliminated all extraneous variables, I ran a test on another page. Exactly the same result for the text only post – the organic reach increased to the factor of 5.

Off the back of this enlightening discovery I had started to reintroduce more text only posts back into my clients calendars – chasing comments over likes or shares for this particular content.

However, like anything too good to be true with Facebook, it usually means it is. Yesterday Facebook announced that due to ‘lower levels of engagement on this format’ we would back to seeing the usual reach declines applied to this format too.The move is to ‘prompt more pages to take advantage of Facebook’s more visual link share format, instead of posting a link within a status update.’

However, within their statement here (http://www.insidefacebook.com/2014/01/21/news-feed-algorithm-tweak-status-updates-from-pages-moving-down/) it was less of what they didn’t say than what they did that interested me:

– They’re the boss, they can change things at drop of a hat and don’t you forget it. Though they argue they didn’t flip a switch and decrease organic page post reach for brands – isn’t this a demonstration that this IS completely in their power?

– They’re a public company, they have shareholders, shareholders want money, money comes from ad revenue, ad revenue comes from brands who actually want consumers to see their messages- they’re not going to let a sneaky format like text only through the net if it loses them $.

In a meeting with Facebook when I recently mentioned this wonderful reach grabbing format, they denied knowledge of this. This could suggest they they don’t know their own product at all but more likely it was simply a mistake.

I believe the text only format was wrongly programmed/tagged in the algorithm to sneak through as an update from a friend ( therefore prioritised) An interesting insight potentially that an update from a connection is programmed to the power of 5 in newsfeed compared to a brand.

Sadly the mistake has been detected, and we are back cursing organic reach declines across ALL page posts types enough to glue our eyelids close.

You win this one Facebook.

Say No To Facebook’s Sponsored Stories Page Likes

My New Years resolution is to retire the sponsored stories page like unit across all my clients before Facebook does in April. Lofty.

Sponsored stories page likes have historically proved to be the most cost effective format in offering easy wins for recruiting new fans and are an exceptionally simple ad unit to execute and implement. However, in the convenience is also where the problem lies.

They are a lazy format. They require no bespoke or unique copy. They simply pull in your brand name and cover photo. Not only are they lazy formats, they are arrogant. The assumption being we know who your brand is and because our friends Likes it we automatically will.

Not good enough.

With the (non-exaggerated) landslide in organic reach we have seen on the Facebook platform how can anyone investing advertising dollars into this platform afford to be lazy?

As the platform gets more and more competitive and brands fight head to head to win their place in the newsfeed ( with even more competition due to the facebook algorithm change to the prioritisation of news publishers and trending topics) we desperately need to either target highly relevant messages to a well segmented audience through our ads or provide something totally disruptive.

How can a sponsored story page like provide either of those things?

The brands that should step away from sponsored stories page likes with immediate effect especially are those who:

– Have already recruited large percentages of their potential audience numbers already ( noticed your CPL rising? That’s your low hanging fruit picked and saturation heading your way) Chances are if they haven’t liked your brand already – why will they now? You need to give them a new reason to click, to like you, to rediscover you – you need to be relevant and give them a tailored message.

– Large global brands with high brand awareness. Chances are most people on Facebook already know you and could find you if they wanted to. So why haven’t they?

– Brands who are using social to drive a perception change or connect with a new audience. Why would you pay to put a piece of copy in front of someone that doesn’t represent where you are now? Consumers and potentials probably have an out of date perception of you already that’s stopping them hit like. Very few brands are static, they are continually moving beasts with new products, new designs, new innovations all designed and refreshed to continually frame and reframe peoples perception. Does a sponsored story tell a potential consumer where you are now as a brand? No.

Every consumers relationship with a brand is unique, but it can be misguided and out of date. Facebook as a platform is getting too competitive to not get it right, and our cost per likes across clients are only going to go up as recruiting new fans become harder. Hanging all your hopes on your brand name is no longer enough.

Be relevant. Be disruptive. Be engaging. Just don’t be lazy.

Just say no to sponsored stories page likes.

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