8 eye-catching marketing trends for social media in 2018

Marketing your business on social media works for one very good reason: everyone is there. But ‘everyone’ includes a lot of other marketers, which means the people you want to reach are already getting inundated with ads from competitors. That you have to stand out isn’t news. But how you can stand out on social media in 2018 is news—because for every platform, there’s an emerging trend you can leverage to get seen and engage your followers.

Here’s everything you need to master social media marketing this year.

Instagram trends

Trend #1: Instagram is the new Facebook

“For marketers searching for a social media platform that can provide access to a growing audience of highly engaged users, Instagram has become a market leader.” —Owlmetrics, Instagram Stories Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide.

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Instagram stream

Instagram is a great platform for posting your travel photos. Get your favorite and pair it with a personal message using any of these layouts from Canva: Travel Blog Instagram PostOrange Madrid Travel Instagram Post, and Travel to Spain Instagram Post.

Instagram has been growing like crazy, and there are a few reasons why. For one, it’s still a happy, cheerful place where people share pictures of their breakfasts and vacation destinations, rather than spewing their political opinions. For another, it hasn’t yet reached the ad saturation that prompted Facebook to switch around its algorithm yet again to prioritize “friends, family and groups” (we’ll get to that later).

“One reason for Instagram’s rapid adoption among advertisers is the pipeline of 5 million active advertisers on Facebook. As Facebook faces ad load saturation on its main app, marketers have more reasons to experiment with Instagram advertising. Facebook can provide the same targeting capabilities on Instagram, but there’s a growing number of ad types and more available inventory on Instagram for advertisers to drive conversions.” —JD Prater, Director of Growth Marketing & Customer Acquisition at AdStage.

But Instagram is an inherently visual platform, which means it requires a different approach than Facebook’s text-forward posts. If the image doesn’t grab viewers, you’ve lost them immediately. But, overlaying words on images can give you the best of both worlds.

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Blinkist uses overlays to great effect with either taking pictures of book covers, or overlaying quotes on top of stock photo backgrounds. Followers come for the quotes and stay for the books, or at least the summarized key ideas of the non-fiction books Blinkist shrinks down.

Trend #2: The push towards original, branded, niched images continues

As more marketers get wise to Instagram, generic ads are cropping up. Consumers are well-trained to ignore these already. Stock photos? Gimme a break.

The content that Instagrammers pay attention to often aren’t polished, professional photos. The images that get views and engagement tend to be a lot more personal, and extremely tightly niched.

“In 2018, it's important for visual creators to produce content tailored to specific audiences. Social media is becoming noisier as platforms mature. To reach your desired fans, you must create unique designs that match their interests. You may find that your followers prefer wild patterns versus solid colors. For more insight, do the research, execute, and evaluate your work.” —Shayla Price, B2B Marketer.

Here are two different approaches that each work well—one with shared images, the other with original.

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Audrey Crisp Interiors Instagram stream

Audrey Crisp Interiors has more than 51,000 followers and just 926 posts on her Instagram account, but her “modern boho” aesthetic is so consistent, that she’s become a go-to image source for the inspiration-hungry, modern design lovers. The images she posts aren’t original - they’re sourced from other designers and stores like West Elm. But, because *her* style is reflected in every post she curates, it works for her audience. Besides, sharing other people’s content (and attributing it accordingly) is a time-honored way to build a following (and it’s clearly working for Crisp).

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8fit Instagram stream

Create your own motivational social media post that’s sure to attract health buffs to your page. Try this Fitness Motivational Quote Instagram template on Canva.

Fitness Motivational Quote Instagram

8fit, a health and fitness app, has an Instagram feed that looks like it belongs to a health food blogger, or maybe a personal trainer. Actually, it’s original content produced by 8fit that uses their in-house expertise (yep, from their own 8fit nutritionists and trainers). They have recipes, health tips and even short workout videos that followers can use whether or not they buy the app. But notice the ratio of informational content to content that’s more focused on sales—it’s less than 1 in 50.

Facebook trends

Trend 3: Messenger bots are becoming marketers

Facebook only recently brought brands and Messenger bots together, but this pairing is poised to take off. Brands like LEGO and Sephora invite Facebook users to contact them via bot on their page to get answers to questions like “what LEGO set should I buy my 8 year-old niece?” and enable faster, simpler scheduling of makeovers, respectively.

Arri Bagah, Head of Chatbots at BAMF media, says Facebook Messenger bots can be used to build relationships with customers with informative, helpful content, offer customer service troubleshooting and FAQ-answering, and even recover abandoned shopping carts. But, the secret to successful Bot marketing is to make the Bot as human-like as possible. Cute. Funny. Informal. And not just text-based. As Arri says, “If you look at how people use messaging apps, they use images and gifs. And that’s what you need to use with a chatbot to make it feel personal and engaging.”

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Social media-based bots are on the rise. As digital marketing strategist Gus Younis adds, “with the success of FB messenger ads, it’s very likely that other platforms might copy that experience. Everybody is trying to get more ad inventory, and messaging is the next placement to go for.”

Trend 4: Facebook is adding virtual reality

This trend may not hit in full force until next year, but if you want to land early-adopter status, get ready to go virtual. Facebook owns Oculus, a virtual reality hardware and software company, so it’s no surprise that the two are collaborating on a project that brings together the best of both worlds: Spaces. Spaces will use Facebook photos to build a custom avatar, players can record their VR activities live and post them on Facebook for friends to follow in real-time, and Facebook friends can make and receive Messenger video calls whether they’re in VR or not. Facebook announced plans to scale Spaces in 2018, and while marketing opportunities probably won’t be rolled out early, you can bet they’re in the near future.

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Facebook Spaces

Trend 5: Facebook groups are where the action is

That latest algorithm change prioritizing friends, live video and group posts dismayed most brands—but not those who already heavily use their own Facebook groups. Cultivating communities around your brand has proven to be an incredibly powerful way to connect—and stay connected to—a core audience of customers who are engaged and willing to help each other out.

The Copywriter Club
'The Copywriter Club' Facebook group

Take this Canva-made design and customize it to reflect your own community: Breathe Facebook Cover.

Breathe Facebook Cover

As digital marketing strategist, speaker, and entrepreneur Ross Simmonds says, “Facebook Groups surpass pages as being the most important organic tool in the Facebook marketing toolkit."

"Facebook has talked about their commitment to making the world more connected for years and currently Groups is the best way for strangers to meet strangers. The latest announcement from Zuckerberg stating that they want Facebook to be more social and less priority around media & brand content shows me that the writing is on the wall. In 2017, 1B people were accessing Groups in a single month. I expect that number to continue to rise in the months ahead.”

The Copywriter Club podcast site
The Copywriter Club podcast site

In just one year, the professional group The Copywriter Club has grown into a 7,000 member strong network of highly engaged, mutually supportive copywriters. There’s also a podcast, but instead of the community supporting the podcast, it’s actually the other way around, as co-founder Kira Hug explains.

“We started the Facebook group a year ago, and the strategy immediately was just to get the right copywriters in the room. I sent personal invitations to all the copywriters I knew; I was stalking other Facebook groups to find writers I did not know; I was looking at different online directories with copywriters abroad—anything I could find.

The podcast helped as well to support the growth. The podcast gets us all speaking the same language. We can refer to different guests and shows, we know the general topics we’re talking about. That’s how we got started. And I think the Facebook algorithm has helped us greatly over the past year. I feel like we’ve popped up in a lot of people's feeds.”

Does it work as a marketing tool? You bet. Founders Kira Hug and Rob Marsh just sold out their first members-only conference in New York.

Live streaming video (all channels)

Trend 6: Forget evergreen content - try Instagram stories

Instagram stories don’t have to be video - they can also be pictures or even GIFs (made with Boomerang), with added filters, stickers, drawing, text and other capabilities that are constantly being added. The key is like Snapchat, they only last for 24 hours. Yeah, not exactly evergreen content. So why invest?

"2018 will be a year where we'll witness a surge in live streaming and videos as a content distribution channel. With diminishing attention spans and need for bite-size content on the go, the above channels would make brands use them in innovative new ways. A report by Statista states that there are over 300 million daily active Stories users worldwide- clearly, early adopters on platforms like this will enjoy an edge." —Taru Bhargava, content marketer & strategist.

There are a lot of people watching stories! Stories are authentic, fun and engaging, and nearly effortless to create. Since they don’t last forever, businesses can use Stories to test out ideas on their audience and gauge reactions, and, since Instagram lets creators add links to Stories (otherwise forbidden on regular Instagram posts), brands can use them to drive traffic.

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Instagram post shared by Pride of Maui

Tour company Pride of Maui posts stories frequently, taking advantage of their beautiful surroundings to take videos of swimming turtles or just waving palm trees. Notice the text overlay with the palm tree sticker - little touches that send a crystal clear message that it’s time for a vacation.

Fun fact: photos tend to drive more ‘likes’ per post, but videos drive more comments - and video engagement stats are growing faster than those for photos.

Trend 7: For Facebook Live, make videos practical and/or inspiring

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The Uncaged Life Facebook Live video with Rebecca Tracey

The most shared type of content on Facebook in 2017, according to Buzzsumo, was video. Not just any videos though. Live videos posted from Facebook groups do particularly well in news feed placement. But videos that are inspiring, heartwarming, and contain practical tips are the ones that get shared the most.

buzzsumo-most-viral-facebook-posts-2017 

Trend 8: Snapchat - go native or go home

To understand Snapchat marketing, you have to understand this: Snapchat is where you go when your target audience is Generation Z.

Now in their tweens, teens and early twenties, Gen Z is coming into some serious spending power. In fact, a recent study from Goldman Sachs found that Generation Z is more valuable to most organizations than the decade-older millennials.

Snapchat is where Gen Z lives (71 percent of them, specifically).

Snapchat

But here’s the kicker: they show zero interest in ads that appear in Snapchat stories. They’re on Snapchat (and Instagram too) to stay in touch with friends, not to connect with brands (or be bombarded with ads).

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity here. Traditional ads don’t work, but day-in-the-life videos, behind-the-scenes videos and how-to videos can. Think of it as a form of native advertising, but the editorial content you’re trying to fit in with is the user-generated content teenagers are coming up with themselves.

Speaking of trends: Twitter is trending down

With all of the talk about social media platforms, one popular one has been waning in influence: Twitter. Statista shows the number of monthly active Twitter users leveling off throughout 2016 and 2017, marking a distinct shift from previous years where the numbers just kept growing. It doesn’t help that Twitter lost access to streaming NFL games to Amazon either. No one seems to know what the future of Twitter holds, but there is consensus that their leadership will be making some changes.

Does all of this speak to an overarching trend for 2018?

When you put these trends together—the rise of video, Facebook groups, Instagram gaining popularity, and even bots and VR—one overarching trend begins to emerge.

People are gravitating towards positive online experiences.

That might sound obvious, but that hasn’t been the case in years past when consumers were flooding Twitter and Facebook with political and social outrage, sharing the latest bad news about climate change and refugees.

This year, people gravitating towards videos that are overwhelmingly positive, inspiring, and/or useful; Instagram is still about people sharing what they love about their lives; Facebook groups are clusters of like-minded people (for the most part) agreeing to help each other out; and bots, when done well, are so darn cute that they’re practically a form of escapism to a brighter bot-filled Jetson-like future.

If you want to be on-trend this year, just spread hope.

Community Growth at Zest.is. Moderator at Product Hunt and Growth Hackers. Previously: Growth at Inbound.org. I teach SaaS Founders how to build, engage, and grow communities for their SaaS products. Check out my book: The SaaS Growth Playbook.