Social media networks, and the way users interact with them, evolve quickly. In the past few years, users traded glossy, retouched photos for lo-fi videos and photo dumps. They simultaneously hopped on blink-and-you’ll-miss them trends, while championing authenticity. In 2023, we saw new platforms enter the scene and shake ups in platform preferences that changed the face of the industry, while other tried and true networks held consumer attention.
This year, plan for more changing audience preferences and deeper social media fragmentation. Just because a network was the foundation of your strategy in the past, doesn’t mean you won’t need a new cornerstone moving forward. Especially as powerhouse networks become increasingly oversaturated.
When charting a path forward, social media teams must orient their strategy around network white space, following the lead of influencers and creators breaking through on new channels. The dynamic industry landscape demands social media teams adapt fast, remain hyper vigilant to unpredictable user preferences and make room for experimentation.
Every pot has a lid
Today’s social media ecosystem is made up of many networks with unique algorithms, content formats and audiences. Consumers use all of them to meet their needs for connection and consumption.
According to a Sprout Social Q4 2023 Pulse Survey, short-form videos are what people want to see most on social, so it’s no surprise that platforms like TikTok and Instagram have seen such fast and steady growth. However, users are also still largely turning to social media to connect with family and friends, helping Facebook maintain popularity and user engagement on LinkedIn explode.
People are also using social media to learn about and purchase products. We are seeing platforms like TikTok lean into accessible commerce and thrive. On the flip side, our data shows that X (formerly Twitter) has dropped down the list of preferred platforms. With major changes at the company and new platforms like Threads, users are diversifying their time across platforms while remaining loyal to some legacy networks.
Our Pulse Survey data also reveals 42% of people expect to use more social networks in 2024. Though “go where your audience is” remains a closely held social marketing belief, audiences across demographics are using every network (looking at you Boomers on TikTok). Rather than trying to invest in every platform alongside your competition, now is the time for brands to meet their audience in more intentional ways.
Diversifying your network strategy
You know which networks are considered most relevant to your industry. Many B2B companies build their social marketing strategy around LinkedIn. Retailers go all-in on Instagram and TikTok. But if you and your competitors are all vying for consumer attention in the same place, you make it harder to secure a following, engagements and conversions.
Plus, you’re leaving opportunities on the table to connect with your audience. Instead of only joining the masses, learn more about how your audience uses other networks, and create space in your strategy and on your team for experimentation. Ask yourself: Where is your audience most likely to participate in a trend or engage with content? When do they feel most compelled to make a purchase? Which is their preferred channel for customer care?
Determine how each platform’s unique culture informs their behavior. You should also look for the niche between your product and specific subcommunities that exist, like those seen on vertical networks.
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For example, when L.L.Bean took a break from traditional social channels (like Facebook and Instagram), they were able to build and maintain their community on Strava. While the outdoor retailer and some members of their audience unplugged from core social networks, the brand knew their audience would still gamify their time spent outside. To supplement their audience’s habit of tracking exercise, they created the “L.L.Bean Feel Good Challenge” on the physical exercise tracker-turned-subcommunity to foster community engagement “offline.”
Even if it means divesting from certain platforms, you will make a greater impact by doubling down on a smaller number of networks and diversifying which networks you invest in.
Go where your competition isn’t
To be clear, I don’t recommend completely nixing popular platforms and transitioning to an entirely decentralized social strategy (in most cases). Your audience has a seemingly bottomless appetite for content across networks—from legacy networks associated with your industry to emerging platforms—and many brands leave touchpoints untapped. When allocating resources, think beyond the constraints of “best practices” and go where the white space for your brand is.
Stake your claim in the ground by leaning into unexpected platforms and owning your niche there. When you take ownership of a new (or abandoned) network for your industry, you’re most likely to build brand loyalty, increase retention and foster community.
Make 2024 the year of standing out instead of blending in, and become the recognizable brand on social you know you can be. For more actionable tips to breakthrough on emerging networks, read what we learned during our month-long experiment on Threads.
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