There's no denying the trend that mobile is taking over the digital landscape, particularly amongst the 18-34 year old demographic. There are currently 2.6 billion smartphone users, and that number's expected to grow to 6.1 billion by 2020. For reference, that equates to 1 smartphone user for every 1.2 people in the world by 2020.
This rise of smartphone use will undoubtedly have a huge impact on social media usage - already 1 in 5 minutes of all digital media time is spent on social sites or in social media apps, and nearly 80% of all social media time is spent on mobile. These numbers are also set to increase, a point highlighted in the latest version of the influential Mary Meeker's 2016 Internet Trends Report.
Here are some quick observations on the effects of these mobile and social trends from the report, and some recommendations for brands.
Messaging Apps Are on the Rise
80% of users' mobile time is spent in three apps, and the three that currently dominate usage are Facebook, WhatsApp, and Chrome, with others like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WeChat growing in significance.
Almost all of these apps have messaging capabilities that have the potential to shift messaging away from straightforward, text-based SMS to more expressive, creative, and immersive forms of communication housed within apps.
Facebook's already well on its way by investing heavily in Messenger - and inviting brands to use the feature.
As noted in Digiday, "what began as a way to privately message your college crush is now being infiltrated by brands using it as a customer service platform or publishers looking for a new distribution channel."
Not only are social apps giving added features to the communication channel, but, as shown by Facebook, they're also providing direct, continual, and personalized interactions between individuals and brands. This type of communication is also becoming more in-demand, as 88% of Millennials report that they prefer chatting over the web or social media to talk to businesses, rather than over the phone.
Recommendations: Begin to think about what a messenger social marketing and/or customer support program could look like, if it fits with your brand, and what type of internal team investment would be needed to implement one. It's still early for these, but it's worth putting the thought in now.
Attribution and Websites Are Changing
Since apps dominate mobile usage, these will increasingly become where and how people access content. In fact, it's estimated that 70% of sharing is done outside of social channels. This pattern makes even more important to better understand how, where, and what content your audiences are engaging with, and how that's leading (or not) to conversions.
Furthermore, the role of the website is changing too. The combination of features like Instant Articles, live video, and auto play video within Facebook, ae well as an built-in audience, means social media channels and apps are reshaping the destination-centric model of websites to a distribution-centric model of channels. Now, purchases and touchpoints with audiences can exist completely outside of a brand's website.
Just as apps may become the access point on mobile devices, these same apps and social channels are becoming the portals to brands for most people. Facebook's director of product design, John Lox, has gone as far as to question the need of a website at all, and while I'm not that bold, the concept is still worth pondering.
Recommendation: Reassess your current attribution modeling and experiment with some new features like Instant Articles or Canvas Ads on Facebook to understand how they impact business objectives. It may be getting close to double-down on Facebook.
Visual Content is King on Social and Mobile
Images and videos are growing in importance and use, while text in posts and social media usage is fading. The rise of images and video is correlated with the increase in smartphones, using richer forms of media to engage on the smaller screen, and the ease with which visual content can be made and shared.
The amount of visual content shared daily has grown to 3 billion images and 10 billion videos between Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp - all but one of which are owned by Facebook. Video is further projected to account for 75% of mobile traffic by 2020.
As this pattern plays out, visual apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are poised to gain more mainstream adoption, and visual content will become more important across all social channels.
The barrier to entry to produce video and engage directly with audiences is lowering. Social channels are also influencing this trend by prioritizing video and making it a more native experience within their platforms.
This evolution means that videos are becoming more effective ways to engage with audiences - especially live video, which gives audiences the chance to engage with the brands and influencers directly.
Such trends also mean that live events are further becoming social experiences for those not actually in attendance, which enables brands to reach audiences at a scale never before seen outside of traditional media.
This opportunity is one the NBA has been leveraging to perfection over the past year to grow its active fan base, and one Twitter jumped on with its recent contract with the NFL.
As Meeker puts it, "video is evolving to combine the control of video-on-demand, the intimacy of direct communication and the mass audience and urgency of live broadcast" - and it's all available through mobile devices that can be taken anywhere.
Recommendations: Invest in image production, incorporate rich media formats like GIFs on social, and start experimenting with how new video functions (live video and 360 video, for instance) can work to provide greater access to your brand. Adopt image and video guidelines and best practices, such as captioning videos for play without sound to match how audiences are consuming the content.
Power is Shifting to Influencers and UGC
Since social apps are moving closer to one-on-one communication channels, brand engagement will naturally need to shift toward users and organic visual experiences that have been accelerated by mobile adoption.
Think about these three statistics:
92% of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don't know them) over brands (Nielsen).
74% of consumers use social media to make purchase decisions (Sprout Social).
Ad-blocking on mobile devices has grown by 94% in the past year (TechCrunch).
Influencers and social media are becoming dominant methods by which consumers are influenced. This trend gives tremendous new power to influencers to determine winning and losing products and audiences to amplify awareness of brands, events, or products.
It also gives profound leverage to the platforms that host their images and videos, which is proliferated by the ability to create and share visual content immediately through mobile devices - all leading to new levels of virality.
Sponsored content creation tools like Snapchat lenses can also drive huge engagement by incorporating marketing in an organic and interactive way.
All of these methods can help brands subvert the growth and prominence of ad-blocking across the Internet and engage with audiences in more effective manners or drive sales of products.
Recommendation: Engage with influencers, but make sure it is done organically and naturally. Brand-sponsored interactive features like filters and UGC encouragement give audiences new ways to engage with (and personalize) brand experiences through social apps and smartphones, which can lead to deeper connections with a brand.
Mobile Advertising Via Social Media = Opportunity
Despite the rise in ad-blocking, social advertising still presents a huge opportunity for brands. Social advertising lags far behind what is being spent on traditional channels, creating opportunities fueled by mobile.
Advertisers and ad agencies are sticking with traditional media, even as consumers have shifted their attention to the Internet and mobile devices, in particular. Moreover, Meeker estimates that advertiser inertia translates to under-spending on mobile to the tune of $22 billion.
Social platforms also offer vast data collection opportunities to power highly-targeted advertising, which is even more important as audiences demand personalized and tailored experiences.
Hyper-targeted native ads built for specific social networks and mobile experiences let brands focus their advertising spend on demographics they know have a better chance of being interested in their offerings, and in a manner that can adapt to the opportunity on mobile. Additionally, these ads fit within the channels' ecosystems to limit disruption and annoyance.
Recommendation: Brands should jump on the native advertising and personalized targeting options available through social networks. This means that brands that can experiment and refine their mobile ad strategy now could get a big head-start before everyone else shifts spending here.
Organizations have been paying lip service to a mobile-first approach for a long time - Forrester Research reports that "44% of companies state that mobile services are simply a scaled-down version of their online initiatives." Looking forward, as mobile and social become more of the gateway to brands, now is the time for us to start prioritizing these aspects to create mutually beneficial interactions, relationships, and experiences with audiences to remain competitive in the evolving digital world.
This post originally appeared on the Simply Measured blog.