2017 was an interesting year for social media: Facebook tried to pull Snapchat users to Instagram, Twitter doubled the character limit for tweets, and Pinterest started offering ad groups for more targeted advertising campaigns.

Using social media for marketing is considered a low cost, high return on investment (ROI) approach, so businesses are constantly testing ways they can leverage social media to establish their brand name and stay competitive.

According to a survey by Statista, 60 percent of responding small businesses in the U.S. have used social media marketing to promote their business, and one study forecasts social media advertising revenue in the U.S. will grow to $86.22 per internet user in 2021, up from $43.23 per user in 2015.

As social media marketing continues to see explosive growth, the marketing software market will keep pace. One report forecasts that the digital marketing software market will be worth $48.39 billion by 2018.

So, what will social media marketing look like as we enter 2018? Let’s take a peek at the top three social media marketing trends to watch:

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Trend #1: Influencer marketing tools will evolve; strategies will be more targeted

Influencer marketing is when brands collaborate with thought leaders or social media influencers to promote their products and services. Studies show that about 40 percent of people purchased a product online only because an influencer was promoting it on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, or YouTube.

According to Gartner*, there are five different types of influencers:

Media Media outlets, journalists, bloggers
Celebrities Artists, actors, YouTube or other social media celebrities
Industry leaders Trade journalists and analysts
Employees Employees as brand advocates
Customers Customers as paid advocates and customer testimonials

*Full report available to Gartner clients

In 2018, influencer marketing will evolve in the following ways:

Instagram use will rise. Advertising spend with influencers on Instagram is predicted to be more than $1 billion between 2017 and 2019. The photo-and-video sharing app has 8 million business profiles, and the majority are small and midsize businesses (SMBs). There are also 600 million monthly users on Instagram. With the introduction of features such as Instagram Stories, we can expect more SMBs to get on board and leverage influencer marketing on Instagram in 2018.

Celebrity Julianne Hough promotes a product on her Instagram page
Celebrity Julianne Hough promotes a product on her Instagram page (Source: econsultancy.com)

Integrated influencer marketing will emerge. While 2017 has been a year of microinfluencers (those with 500-10,000 followers), 2018 will see integrated influencer marketing strategies blending microinfluencers with macroinfluencers (10,000–1 million followers) and mega influencers (usually social media celebrities).

Enterprise marketers will choose influencers with different stages of the customer journey in mind: awareness, interest, desire, decision, and advocacy. While micro and macroinfluencers are more suitable for interest, desire, decision, and advocacy, mega influencers—due to their huge following—have the ability to generate brand awareness most effectively.

B2B influencer marketing to increase and focus on social channels. We’ve all witnessed the popularity of B2C influencer marketing, but in 2018, we’ll see a rise in B2B influencer marketing.

While B2C marketing is a more straightforward approach, which simply involves choosing an influencer to promote a product or service, B2B influencer marketing is more targeted and nuanced. Rather than trying to reach the masses, B2B influencer marketing focuses on diverse sets of customers across industries. So, while it may be effective at reaching the right audience, finding the right influencer in the B2B marketing space can be a challenge.

In 2018, B2B marketers will also focus more on B2B social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The emergence of B2B microinfluencers and the increasing availability of software solutions that identify key influencers will help drive growth in B2B influencer marketing.

Maturing of influencer marketing tools. There has been a lack of robust influencer marketing tools, up to this point. As marketing technologist Travis Wright put it in 2016, “With influencer marketing technology, there isn’t one solution that comprehensively covers all areas…there are many different solutions, but they don’t always fit together.”

However, in 2018, we can expect some more mature all-in-one software solutions to enter the mainstream. These tools will be capable of handling all related tasks from finding the right influencer to tracking performance.

How can small businesses leverage influencer marketing?

Engage influencers that are highly relevant to your industry, have a substantial following, and add value to your brand.

Since you’re less likely to be able to shell out the big bucks it would take to hire a world-famous celebrity to boost brand recognition, focus on more niche influencers. Pitch ideas for guest posts you can write that link back to your site, that an influencer will share out to their followers. Or, ask them to post about your products and link to your website.

Through inspiration content, influencers can introduce your products to their followers, and thus create awareness about your product and brand among a larger audience.

For example, if you’re promoting kitchen tools, hire a local chef who is active on blogs and social media. Bloggers will have a social media following that is already targeted to the industry, they relate better to your product, and you can often compensate these influencers with free product, instead of cash, to see a better ROI (return on investment).

Software solutions such as #paid, TapInfluence, and Traackr help businesses connect with the right influencers, track engagement rates, identify target audiences, monitor targeted conversations, and more.

 RECOMMENDATIONS:  If you’re going to use influencer marketing, have a clear goal in mind for the program. Have a strategy for carrying it out that includes using dedicated tools for measuring success, and that fits into your overall marketing strategy.

Here are some recommendations from Gartner (full report available to clients) for enlisting the help of an influencer:

  • Choose an influencer based on how many followers they have and their relevance to your product and brand. For example, if you’re promoting a juicer, you might choose a fitness expert with a large following.
  • Choose the right tools, techniques, and metrics (referral visitor traffic, brand awareness metrics, social media engagement, etc.) to track the effectiveness of your influencer marketing activities.

Trend #2: The role of chatbots will expand from help desk into social media marketing

Chatbots are software programs that are designed to simulate a human-like conversation through voice commands, text conversations, or both.

The use of chatbots for business applications is only going to increase over the next few years. Gartner predicts that:

By 2021, more than 50 percent of enterprise businesses will invest more per year on bot and chatbot creation than they do on traditional mobile app development.

Until now, chatbots have primarily been used in simple customer service and support scenarios. However, platforms such as Facebook Messenger have paved the way for businesses to create their own chatbots, and now businesses can design chatbots for Twitter, Slack, WeChat, and more.

Tools such as Smooch function like a bridge connecting your business apps, (e.g., Slack and ZenDesk) with chat apps (e.g., Facebook Messenger, WeChat, etc.) to streamline communication.

Apps such as Chatfuel let you create your own Facebook and Telegram chatbots, even if you have little technical knowhow. Other tools such as Ning let you build a custom social networking site.

How can SMBs leverage chatbots for social media marketing?

Publish content relevant to your audience based on behavior and preference. With chatbots, you can share personalized messages and content with a targeted audience on social media platforms, based on consumer interests and preferences. Chatbots use digital insights such as customer location, preference, past behavior, etc. to help businesses publish the right content at the right time on their social media platforms.

Leverage bots as virtual sales assistants: For eCommerce companies that have online shopping carts, chatbots can advise customers while they shop as well as answer their questions related to product, price, or shipping. One example is online florist 1-800-Flowers, which, in 2016, deployed a chatbot that allowed customers to place orders through Facebook Messenger.

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Placing an order for flowers through a Facebook Messenger chatbot (Source: topbots.com)

Chatbots with smart learning capabilities can give customers tips on fashion, makeup, etc. For example, beauty retailer Sephora, in collaboration with Kik, runs a Sephora Kik bot to share makeup tips and product reviews with customers through a messaging interface.

 RECOMMENDATIONS:  Before you launch a chatbot, test it on a range of online users. For example, older generations may not be as receptive when it comes to adopting a new technology, in contrast to millennials. So, know your audience.

Choose your chatbot platform carefully too. For example, what’s successful on Facebook won’t necessary be as well-received on Twitter. It’s important to study which social media platforms are popular among your demographics.

Trend #3: AR will enter the social media marketing mainstream

Many people were first introduced to augmented reality (AR) in 2016, when Pokémon Go exploded onto the scene. AR integrates virtual information, such as text, images, audio, and more with real-world objects and scenarios.

As we enter 2018, we’ll see more sophisticated applications of AR in social media marketing. Research says by 2021, virtual and augmented reality traffic will have increased 20-fold from 2016.

Apple’s newly launched smartphones, iPhone 8 and iPhone X, also support apps built on Apple’s new AR platform. The technology uses the phone’s camera to add virtual objects to real-time situations. For example, you can add a virtual coffee mug to a real table or even place virtual furniture to your living room.

Companies such as furniture giant IKEA and cosmetics retailers L’Oréal and Sephora have also adopted AR. IKEA offers a virtual catalog that allows customers to place furniture items virtually in their living space before buying them. Likewise, L’Oréal and Sephora have AR apps that let customers virtually test makeup and hair styles with selfies. Customers can post these selfies on social media platforms and tag the brand.

With big brands already adopting AR for social media marketing, and AR development tools such as Apple’s ARKit becoming popular, it’s only a matter of time before SMBs will begin experimenting with AR-enhanced marketing campaigns as well.

How can SMBs leverage AR for social media marketing?

SMBs should become intimately familiar with the ways enterprises are incorporating AR into social media ads to make them more entertaining, interactive, informative, and realistic feeling. For example, brands such as Estée Lauder are using AR to allow customers to virtually “try on” its lipsticks, through LipArtist, a Facebook Messenger bot. Customers can choose from a range of lipstick shades and then link to the company website to buy it.

AR is still relatively uncharted territory for SMBs, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t start strategizing the ways they can best highlight their products and service through AR now.

Facebook has jumped into the AR game, recently announcing its AR studio for developers. Ultimately, object recognition capabilities could allow customers to point their phone cameras at your grocery or beauty products and receive information not only about the product, but also about your brand, according to a scenario laid out by digital marketing agency, Newpath WEB.

 RECOMMENDATIONS:  Don’t use AR just because it’s the currently hyped new tech. Make sure it fits in well into your social media marketing strategy, as well as your sales and marketing funnel.

You should go ahead with AR only if it adds value to your customers. Use it in a way that makes sense for your product, and don’t try to force it. For example, does your customer need to come down to your store to make a buying decision? Can AR help them in some way, so that they don’t have to visit your store every time they want to purchase something?

Timing is also a key factor when implementing an AR marketing strategy. First, you must ensure any new technology is tested before rolling it out to customers. On top of that, keep things simple. Overly complex or confusing tools that aren’t immediately easy—and fun—to use will turn customers off.

Key takeaways

There is no question that businesses—whether eCommerce or brick-and-mortar—need to maintain a strong social media presence in order to stay competitive, and using the latest technology and tools is an important part of doing that.

Influencer marketing, chatbots, and AR will be some of the most talked about social media marketing technology trends in 2018. AR and influencer marketing will enter the mainstream, while chatbots will evolve from simple greeting tools into customer experience and marketing must-haves.

Additionally, brands are likely to shift to newer social platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, as Generation Z (the generation following millennials) increasingly spends time on these sites.

Whatever medium for online promotion you choose, keep the following points in mind:

  • It must be relevant to your audience
  • It must add some value for your customers
  • It must represent the authentic voice of your brand
  • Timing is everything; don’t launch an untested tool, but don’t wait until it’s no longer cutting edge

Want to take a deeper dive into social media marketing and related software solutions? Check out further reading below: