Bloomberg recently reported that Snapchat surpassed Twitter in daily active users. Kudos to Snapchat, which is only half as old as Twitter, but why do we keep comparing Snapchat to Twitter? Or to Instagram? The industry is desperate to neatly categorize Snapchat under social media, but I would argue that Snapchat is equal parts messaging app and social network, putting it in a class of its own.
Let's break it down:
Messaging apps are built on the premise of private conversation: 1 to 1 (yes, group chat exists, but it's contained). You send specific messages tailored to the individual recipient. See: WhatsApp, WeChat, Skype, Viber, LINE, Telegram, Kik. With the exception of Asia's sophisticated app hybrids, today's messaging apps are not intended for blanket broadcast messaging.
Traditional social networks are built on the premise of broadcasting: 1 to many. You build up a network of friends (and, in some cases, the general public) and you blanket spam them with your post. See: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest. While they accommodate private conversation (Facebook Messenger is its own rightful messaging app, Instagram's and Twitter's Direct Message, LinkedIn InMail), it is not their primary foundation.
Instagram announced this week that it is joining Facebook and Twitter and ditching its clean chronological feed in favor of an algorithm-based personalized feed. No one is surprised given Instagram has inched closer and closer to Facebook since its 2012 acquisition.
What does this mean for users? Instagram's initial appeal was its simplicity: mobile only, pictures only, square size only, chronological order, and one-way friendship. In the last year, Instagram has abandoned those simple principles by introducing an inordinate number of ads, varying visual sizes, and auto-play video, seemingly resulting in a40% drop in interaction rate in 2015. The big social networks seem committed to complicating their feeds as their companies mature and financial expectations grow. For purists, replacing an elegant user experience with a bogged down interaction is a turnoff. My own Facebook and Twitter usage nosedived once their feeds became messy; Instagram, currently my #1 social app for time spent, is facing a similar fate.
Language is evolving; the written word is giving way to visual vocabulary.
Interpersonal communications are shifting from being text-based to image-based, and you don't have to look far for the evidence: We spell using the Emoji alphabet; we comment with photographs; we engage through pictures.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that consumer adoption of visual social networks is growing and that social chatter is becoming increasingly pictorial. Forrester's Consumer Technographics® data shows that US online consumers across generations are interacting with content on Instagram and Pinterest more than before:
As consumers become increasingly versed in the language of visual content, curated images become a powerful means of expressing opinions, conveying emotion, and recounting experiences. As a result, pure text analytics no longer suffice to interpret social chatter; instead, insights professionals have an opportunity to mine the wealth of media-rich data that increasingly pervades social networking sites.
An agency head told me how he was on a call between the European head of marketing for a US brand and that brand’s board of directors. The chairman asked the marketing honcho, “How is the European market?” The marketer answered, “There isn’t one.” Awkward silence. “That is, there is no European market. There is a French market. A German market. A British one. And so on. I can tell you about those.”
In no other sphere of marketing are these national differences magnified more than in social media. Social media is, by its nature, participatory and thus takes on the form, tone, and color of its users. Social media in Germany is German social media. In France, French social media.
Then brands enter the picture. That social media strategy hatched in Dallas or Dublin, with a sum earmarked for translations, will not cut it.
Three reasons cookie-cutter strategies will fail in Europe:
Europeans as a broad group are less likely to engage with brands on social media than, say, in the United States or metro Hong Kong.
Europeans’ usage differ significantly country to country; Italians usage is not comparable to German usage.
Each market boasts strong local players that excel at the intricacies of their market’s social media usage.
Young consumers are now almost always connected to media — which would rationally lead you to think that the more times and places they are connected, the more ways there are (and the easier it is) to interact with them. This is where market researchers need to step in and push their companies to dig deeper than just measuring the time spent on a media channel. They need to truly understand these consumers' core motivations for using it.
More than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds who are active on social networks have an account on Facebook, which is their go-to social network, no doubt. But they haven't completely abandoned other networks: almost 40% have an account on both Facebook and Myspace.
With 78% of 12- to 17-year-olds having a social networking account, social networking’s power is undeniable. But it's not enough just to look at these channels to see what type of content or information 12- to 17-year-olds are consuming; it's how, why, and when they're consuming it. Without tapping into these deeper motivations, brands will never fully benefit from this social opportunity.
As we witness truly historic events in the Middle East brought about in part by citizens empowered by social networks, we are also seeing disturbing trends that may yet result in social networks becoming a force for evil.
One of the reasons marketing on social networks is so popular is that the consumers a brand can reach are largely active, vocal and willing to connect -- with each other and with their favorite brands. But did you know that 22% of US online adults with cellphones access their social networks via mobile at least monthly? In my new report, I explore research that shows that these particular social networking users are even more active, vocal and willing to connect than the general population.
Consumers who access social networks via mobile over-index on every rung of the Social Technographics® ladder, except for inactives. More interesting? Mobile social users have specific, focused intentions that differ from desktop mobile users: They're interested in immediacy, entertainment, and in knowing which of their friends and favorite places are physically nearby.
Keeping in mind the specific interests of these extremely socially active consumers, marketers can optimize their already-existing social campaigns to make them even more successful for mobile users. For recommendations on how to optimize your own campaigns with little additional effort or cost, check out the full report.
Have you already optimized your social messaging for mobile users? If so, I'd love to hear what you changed and what the results were. Head to the comments section to share your case studies!