By guest blogger Molly Dugan of Social Road Map

In 2014, we saw Facebook lose a third of its U.S. teen users then bounce back to add more than 100 million monthly active users in the last year. We witnessed image platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, take the lead in popularity and we saw social media advertising skyrocket on various platforms. This goes to show you how difficult it can be to predict the future of social media. With that in mind, here’s a look at the trends to be on the lookout for in 2015:

1. Growth in Niche Social Networks

Heavy-hitting social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn will face challenges from lesser-known upstarts in 2015. One example is Ello, an ad-free social platform still in the beta phase that has received a great deal of attention among those that follow social media developments.  Who wouldn’t want to get rid of all those ads?  Whether Ello makes a dent in the social media world remains to be seen, but its creation points to a greater concern for the major players: niche social networks, such as Snapchat and Path, that are exclusively mobile.

Providing further evidence to this social media shift are interest-based social networks, such as Foodie, a niche social network for food lovers, and Fitocracy, a site devoted to fitness. Polyvore and Kaboodle are two up-and-coming networks that deal specifically with social shopping. These exclusively mobile networks should be on the radar for larger networks; now that consumers can find their own niche network, these could blossom in the future.

2. Google+ Use Will Decline (Thank God!)

While it still has a number of advocates, Google+ will not become significant factor in social media marketing; its number of users will likely decline, which many of us saw coming. The departure of Google+ chief evangelist Vic Gundotra earlier this year, coupled with the failure of Google Authorship, indicates that the social network has lost its moorings and may suffer the same fate as the search giant’s other attempts to leverage social media.

3. Social Network Advertising Efforts Will Evolve

Practically every social network around has thrown its hat into the advertising ring. This is especially true for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat are also beginning to experiment with their own advertising options.

Facebook’s use of retargeting ads, combined with merchants’ option to upload customer databases through Custom and Lookalike Audiences, speaks to Facebook’s intent to make advertising a more integral part of the platform.  They are leading the charge in user-friendly advertising that attains real results.

Twitter’s Tailored Audiences, which promotes relevant content to users who have shown interest, reflects a similar priority for that platform.  Finding interested audiences and customizing content to them is becoming the mantra for social network advertising, and it seems to be working.

4. Shopping ON Social Media (FINALLY!)

This past year, both Twitter and Facebook experimented with ways to integrate commerce into their respective platforms, which has been a long time coming.  With online shopping becoming bigger and bigger, it only makes sense to integrate it into the social networks we use every day.  Twitter recently introduced Product Cards, which are designed to showcase products via an image, a description, and other key details about the product.

Earlier this year, both Twitter and Facebook began beta-testing “Buy” buttons, which appear alongside certain tweets and posts and allows users to make purchases with just a click or two, without ever leaving the network. Expect e-commerce and social media integrations to deepen in 2015. In fact, it’s a little surprising it’s taken so long.

For starters, this approach eliminates one key dilemma all merchants face – how to get customers in the door (or to your website). On Facebook and Twitter, you already have a receptive audience, happily chatting with friends, browsing the latest trends, and sharing photos and videos. Once their payment details are on file, purchases are a tap or two away. (Which could mean impulse-control trouble for some frequent online shoppers.) Then it’s back to cat GIFs and updates on weekend plans.

In addition, since Facebook and especially Twitter are real-time media, they’re perfect for short-term deals tied in with fleeting trends. With time-sensitive offers literally streaming by, consumers may well be inclined to act quickly and seal the deal, foregoing the obsessive comparison shopping that plagues many Internet transactions.  Social streams could add the pressure of one-night-only sales, encouraging customers to buy sooner rather than later.

Finally, there are major benefits to advertisers. Connecting individual Tweets and Facebook posts with actual purchases has thus far proved a huge analytical challenge. But with the advent of buy buttons, concrete revenue figures can be attached to specific social media messages in a way that hasn’t been possible until now.

 

5. Use of Image-based Social Networks Will Progress

Pictures really are worth a thousand words.  Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine have experienced rapid growth, a trend that should continue into 2015. Thanks to the filtering Facebook’s News Feed, which limits the amount of exposure businesses can reach, retailers have been forced to expand their horizons. Options could be Instagram and Pinterest, neither of which uses an algorithm to gauge what people see. Marketers will likely crown Instagram as the default visual network, as its growth over the last year has been astronomical. According to one industry report, marketers who invest 40 or more hours per week in social media are much more focused on Instagram than in the past and plan to increase their use of the platform by as much as 49% in 2015, likely causing it to grow even more rapidly.

6. LinkedIn Will Dominate B2B Marketing

Self-proclaimed professional social network LinkedIn is already the leading business-to-business platform, and that dominance will continue in 2015. By some accounts, as many as 88% of B2B marketers already use the site, and the introduction of a publishing platform that allows users to create long-form content distinguishes it from other social networks, none of which primarily appeal to business users.  Linkedin would be wise to continue evolving alongside other platforms, keeping things fresh and professional.

 

Key Take-Aways

  • The social media evolution will continue, specifically for visual platforms and business use.
  • Social network algorithms are constantly changing so while you need to create a comprehensive strategy for business social media, you’ll need to always be ready to adapt it.
  • Niche networks are growing. Know your specific industry and target that audience with content they want to see.
  • E-commerce could likely make its way into social networks, making online shopping just a click away.

 

Molly Dugan owns Social Road Map, a social media management and consulting agency in Denver. Learn more at www.social-roadmap.com.