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Social Media Trends for 2015

If 2014 taught us anything about social media, it is that it is firmly embedded in our daily lives whether you want it there or not. Facebook's 10th anniversary look back was the exclamation point to the statement: social media is here to stay! VT Design Works Dog Pack PageMySpace may be the first true social network that we all remember when it launched in 2003. Close on its heels was Facebook and then the avalanche of new technology and the applications to use social media rolled onward. We're now at a point where there is a platform for nearly every interest group. Even our office dogs have own social network. If you're like me, you may recall the late 80’s intranet message boards that really started the move toward online communications. We didn't recognize it at the time but that is truly where we had our first taste of creating social networks on computer screens. As the year comes to a close, it is easy to look at the big successes and even bigger disasters that came from trying too hard. What stands out is that these stories, and all of the year end tips and recaps, focus on big brands and make poor attempts to be relevant to small and medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations. That's the purpose of this post. Our social media recap and look ahead highlights which trends are important to you, the smaller shop and office that is spinning plates and putting out fires every day. Thus we cut through the noise and present our top picks for what you need to know.

Social Media 2014 Recap

In 2014 (and 2013 and 2012), rumors spread that Facebook would die because young people were leaving in droves and users were getting weary of the "blue sky vacations, selfies, and lattes" posted by their friends. It is true that young adults turned to Snap ChatTumblr, and Instagram, but let's be realistic about the numbers. Facebook has BILLIONS of users. As some leave, others join, and new features will bring back those who left. You may not see younger people posting on their timelines; however I guarantee that they are using Messenger where they have all of the features of Facebook without their parents and grandparents commenting on their posts.
27% of teens said Facebook isn’t as cool as it used to be. ~ MarketingPilgrim.Com Report 11/26/14
Sadly, social media has become a megaphone for a vocal minority to spew hatred and bigotry. Anonymous apps like After School and Yik Yak are gaining notoriety for creating an environment for bullying to flourish (and yes, I left out the links to these sites because they are not worth your time). Yet with the bad behavior come those who shine a light on the poor etiquette and make it teachable moments -- case in point is Alanah Pearce, a gaming vlogger who will track down the parents of the minors who take their negative comments too far.

Rise of Generation C

To be clear, this isn't so much of a rise as it is naming the people who fill the internet with content. Google introduced Gen C in 2013 as a cross-generation community of content creators. The phrase is starting to gain traction as we see the "internet famous" become "mainstream famous" by popping up on television and advertising offline.
Gen C is a powerful new force in consumer culture. It's a term we use to describe people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community. It's not an age group; it's an attitude and mindset... ~ Think with Google
Who really are Gen C? They are the people behind the tweets that scroll below sports commentary, the ones creating the amusing YouTube videos, and the bloggers who always seem to write something clever. Why are they important? Because they are being noticed. They are leveraging their fan base and knowledge of social media as a communications tool to get the attention of brands and the media. You know that they have an impact every time you hear a major news organization mention Twitter activity as a source or see a viral video on the morning news.

2014 Changes in Social Media

Social media platforms are tweaked almost every month. Sometimes more; sometimes less. Your mileage will vary based on which ones you use and how often. I won't bother to elaborate on Facebook's algorithm and features changes because they happened so frequently...over and over...and over. My advice is to keep up, continue to post, and adjust your attitude to welcome the new surprises that Facebook brings to your day (yes, I may have had a Christmas cookie sugar rush when I wrote that). Changes to take note of in 2014 include:
  • Common features and interfacesTwitter's launch of a new profile design began the cascade of all of the other players changing their user interfaces as well. And they are all looking a lot like Facebook, don't you think? Direct messages, ads, and edit features are all becoming standard across platforms as well.
  • Google Orphans Google+...Or have they? The demise of Google+ may be highly exaggerated. Many social media experts will argue that G+ never really got off the ground. Others, like me, will say that they are disappointed that it didn't go anywhere. G+ held great promise in that it was easy to use and looked great because of its lack of ads...which is most likely one of its greatest problems. Google pushed us to G+ by requiring profiles for YouTube commenting. They gave every Gmail user an account (usually without warning). In return, they gave us the search engine boost by indexing G+ posts in organic searches. Now with the demise of authorship and the G+ team dissolving, you can see the platform disintegrate before your eyes -- if you actually use it that is. Then again, maybe this is testing for a bigger push in 2015. Who knows?
  • New platforms: As with anything, there will always be the new toys to play with; yet the question for social media is: what will take hold? While the list of new options is long, I'll point out two local players to check out: Ello and Notabli. If you're a social-media-loving parent who has not considered Notabli, go to their site right now.
Buffer pulled together a quick list of changes that is worth a look as you close out the year.

What's Ahead: Social Media 2015

Change is the one constant with social media, perhaps because each company has dozens of programmers creating new and different features to delight and frustrate you. It is time to embrace the evolution and disruption that will come from these changes while you incorporate them into your traditional communications strategies. For my look ahead, I am focusing on what small businesses and non-profit organizations need to consider. We will see big brands use every new feature but it doesn't mean that a smaller shop can or even should do the same. What's ahead for you includes:
  • Greater Authenticity and Less Automation: We have all received the canned "thanks for following" and bland self-promoting posts. This lack of substance Pew Research Smartphone Usage 2014is backfiring and will continue to do so. For both company pages and personal accounts, people are longing for genuine connections. We are tired of constant barrage of Polly Annas as well as the Debbie Downers. We just want you to be real! My best example of keeping it real is the Bangor Maine's Police Department.
  • Mobile: Have you heard about the mobile revolution yet? Take a look at the number of smartphones and tablets around you. That is the mobile revolution. Those of us in online marketing have been talking about mobile for more than 3 years. In 2015, we insist that you pay attention. If you jump on the trend now, you will be well ahead of 94% of other businesses online. Going mobile encompasses all of your communications with customers from making your website easy to view on small screens (aka responsive design) to short and share-able social media posts to mobile optimized email templates.
  • Video: Much like mobile optimized websites, we've all been in denial about attempting video. At VDW, we know how hard it is to overcome the inertia to post videos. The point is to START. Start simple and make it fun. Interview a staff member. Interview a customer. Record the dogs in the office. Or do whatever will take the place of the ice bucket challenge. It gets easier the more that you do it. For everyone's sake, please remember to record in landscape mode (meaning, hold your camera sideways, not up and down).
  • Cross Channels: Here's the best tip that VDW gives our clients: write once, publish often across all of your platforms. What does this mean? Let's use this blog post as an example. Once we post this to our website, we will include an excerpt in an email to our clients. We will post it on all of our social media platforms at least twice over the course of a week. And then, we'll post it the following week with the tag "ICYMI" (In Case You Missed It). One blog post becomes several touches to our followers across all of our channels. And we only had to write it once.
  • Pay Per Click Battle of the Century: Google vs Facebook: With Facebook relaunching Atlas, it will become an even greater online advertising engine. Facebook's ads manager already has powerful customization options. If they can apply those across the web with Atlas, they will make Google sweat.

2015 Social Media Tips

My tips for social media don't change from year to year, though the tools might. The most important tips for all sizes of businesses and non-profits organizations is to recognize social media as tools to achieve your communications goals. They are resources to add your mix of strategies, like direct mail, traditional advertising, in-person networking, and public relations. Yet social media has a distinct difference: they are a means to tell your story to a worldwide audience. While you publish content, keep these basics in mind:
  • Be Authentic: I can't stress this enough. At the heart of it, social media is social. It gives you the opportunity to show your personality and speak in your true voice. Share your thoughts, opinions, what you care about, and what's happening. Keep sales specific posts to 10-20%.
  • Schedule Posts Cautiously: Automation is great but be cautious about it. At VDW, we will schedule posts for the day, but rarely much longer. If you decide to fully automate your social media, remember to learn how the native apps work in case your automation fails or you need to take down posts quickly.
  • Use What's Best for Your Customers/Clients: There are dozens of social media and online communications tools to choose. You don't need them all. Like all other decisions of where to spend your resources, do your research and pick the best options for you.
  • Data: VDW owner Andrew Allen's favorite motto is: without data, you're winking in the dark. Every platform provides you with data that shows you what is working and what isn't. Use it! You'll learn how best to allocate our time and focus on social media.
At the end of 2015, we will discuss how everything changed again. In between, my hope is that more businesses and organizations will embrace these -- and other -- communications tools and recognize the power that they hold. And that we all have some fun and make new connections along the way as the social beings that we are. PS: Seriously, follow the Bangor Maine Police Department's Facebook page for laughs as well as the perfect example of an authentic social media strategy.