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5 global social media trends, and how they impact publishers

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Publishers have a complex relationship with social media. The scale and the opportunities afforded to reach new audiences have to be balanced with the fast pace at which the platforms change, and as a result, social media strategies have to be constantly adapting to the latest trends.

With that in mind, here are some global social media trends that are shaping how we connect with each other in 2019, and how they are impacting the publishing ecosystem.

1: Three of the top five most popular global social media platforms are owned by Facebook

According to Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Trends report, Facebook has the most global internet users accessing it at least once a day, at 30%. Although usage is declining in the West, it continues to grow in other parts of the world, meaning that overall usage has remained steady.

Source: Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends

YouTube surprisingly comes in second at 27%, having risen from fourth place back in 2017. The strong performance of the platform should be reassuring to publishers looking to make money from video, after a study last month revealed that YouTube topped the list of platforms that publishing executives believed offered the most meaningful long-term revenue.

WhatsApp, another Facebook-owned platform, has climbed steadily over the past few years to come in at third place, with Instagram in fifth place, despite a rapid growth from 13% in 2017 to 19% today.

However, when it comes to how these platforms are used to access news, it’s a very different story. Reuters’ Digital News Report 2019 still had Facebook in first place for the best social media platforms for news, with 36% using it weekly to access news stories. But the other platforms are clustered near the bottom; 16% use WhatsApp, 10% use Twitter, and just 9% use Instagram.

Source: Digital News Report 2019

Despite a rocky few years between Facebook’s relationship with publishers, news on Facebook-owned properties reaches 57% of social media users.

But that looks set to be changing this year, especially amongst under-35’s. Fewer young people are using Facebook and Snapchat to access news, instead turning towards Instagram, YouTube, and private messaging apps like WhatsApp.

Source: Digital News Report 2019

2: 60% of people no longer trust social media companies

2018 was a bad year for platform press, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to Twitter’s mass bot pure, and governments around the world putting pressure on with questions about the privacy, accuracy and ethics of all social media platforms.

As a result, the majority of people no longer trust social media companies, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Report. This also impacts the general public’s perception of once-celebrated ‘influencers’, a number of whom have had large fake followings exposed.

Source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

When it comes to publishing on social media, the picture isn’t much better. Just 34% of people trust the news they find on social media in Europe and the U.S., with that rising to 44% as a global average.

There is a positive to this trust trend. Confidence in traditional media is much higher at 64% globally, which is good for publishers looking to connect directly with their audiences.

3: Private messaging apps are now the primary way of sharing news

Thanks to the aforementioned issues with trust, and wider problems with trolling, mental health and more, people are increasingly turning to private messaging apps.

The top messaging apps – WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, QQ and Skype – have nearly 5 billion monthly active users between them, which is more than the big social networks have worldwide. 

It’s a trend that has increasingly driven brands to launch chatbots or private messaging options where customers can get in touch directly, rather than dealing with convoluted customer service departments.

Source: GlobalWebIndex / We Are Social

When it comes to publishing, this is a trickier trend. Sharing links via private messaging makes it difficult to track where traffic has come from, which has given rise to the term ‘dark social’.

Facebook Messenger is currently the most popular way to share publisher’s links with 82% of people using it, followed by WhatsApp at 56%, according to a study from GlobalWebIndex.

4: Stories are set to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things

Stories are a form of social sharing originally invented by Snapchat, where vertical videos and images, sometimes overlaid with stickers and animations, are shared on a user’s profile but then disappear within a timeframe. Combined, nearly a billion people share stories across Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Facebook shamelessly ripped off the format in 2016 with the launch of Instagram Stories, followed by launching Facebook Stories, Facebook Messenger Stories, and WhatsApp Stories (still keeping up?). They now own three of the top four most popular platforms for sharing stories, with over 500 million people creating stories each day on Instagram, compared to Snapchat’s 220 million.

Source: Social Media Today

Now, Stories as a format is growing 15x faster than feed-based sharing according to Block Party, and is expected to be the primary way people share things on Facebook within the year.

When it comes to publishing, Snapchat has been ahead of the game for a while now, winning publishers over with the ‘Discover’ section of the platform where they can post their own ‘Stories’. It’s paying off too, with 65% of publishing executives seeing Snapchat as a significant revenue driver, despite it being a smaller platform.

Will other Story formats follow suit in being directly profitable for publishers? It’s unlikely at present, given that Instagram Stories has been established for a few years now, and owner Facebook is notorious for turning the dial down on revenue when it suits them.

5: Platforms are jumping on ecommerce

Ecommerce and social media are a natural fit. 70% of Gen Z-ers in China buy products through social media, but it’s something that the West has been on the back foot with.

But all that is changing. Instagram has recently launched directly shoppable posts, as well as a dedicated ‘Shopping’ tab on its Explore page. Pinterest is doubling down on driving sales, with 55% of users now using it as a place to shop for products, rather than just create inspiration boards. Additionally, Facebook’s Marketplace, where users can post their own items for sale, is now used by more than 800 million people in 70 countries.

With these platforms, there’s a distinction between those where the transaction takes place outside of the platform, like Marketplace and Pinterest, and those where the platform is being used to make the transaction, like Instagram’s new shoppable feature. A move to the latter could spell trouble for publishers getting into ecommerce on their own sites, if social platforms seek to directly enable that transaction.

It’s worth bearing in mind though that this is a field which is moving rapidly. Buzzfeed, a leading publisher in the ecommerce game, made $100 million from revenue sources that didn’t exist two years ago. 

Popsugar is another publisher getting ahead on social ecommerce. It started developing Sparkle as a tool to increase traffic from Instagram Stories, but is now taking it to market as a subscription product to help retailers and brands with their own ecommerce efforts.

Ecommerce through social isn’t likely to be a massive revenue driver for a lot of publishers, but it’s one that holds a lot of potential for fashion and lifestyle brands in particular.