December 19, 2019

Transformative and Troubling – a Look at the Year Ahead

TDG’s Lauren Kozak on Social Trends for 2020

2020 will be a transformative and troubling year for social media. For the past three years or so, we’ve seen social media extend its reach into our choices—from shopping to mental health to the president. 2020 will be a year of reckoning; a year in which we will debate and regulate this question: When you hold captive the world’s attention, to what responsibilities are you beholden?

No single answer will be sufficient for consensus. Instead, 2020 will see social networks, individuals, and the government grappling with this ethical quandary, producing reverberating outcomes.

Users Limit and Diversify Social Media Behavior
Social network users are beginning to intentionally limit their activity, and for many reasons: among these being first, to mitigate its impact on mental health; second, as a response to incessant, significant privacy violations; and third, to navigate the difficulty of finding a digital-analog life balance.

In 2020, social network users will take more and longer breaks, and log in less often. A growing number will quit some (in rare cases, all) social networks altogether. Usage will fragment, with more networks serving more specific purposes. This, in turn, will create new opportunities for social networks with under one billion users, like Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok (which has one billion users internationally, but only 27 million in the U.S.).

Diversification will continue as more boomers move from Facebook to Instagram, a transition which is happening quickly. Saturation is all but complete among social network users under 35, so growth (if any) will occur among 35+ social network users. The impact? First, younger users hate hanging out with their parents on social media, so Instagram use will decline as younger users increasingly turn to Snapchat, TikTok, and other popular messaging apps. Second, Instagram will replace Facebook as the go-to social network for all brands, not just millennial-focused or lifestyle brands.

Social Nets Experiment with Morals
Social networks will respond to usage shifts by “going moral.” Twitter made the celebrated choice to ban political advertising—an effective marketing move with positive moral connotation (the ordering here is important). Twitter will not be the last social network to do this, but don’t expect FACEBOOK to join the list.

Instagram is taking a step toward another 2020 trend: demetrification. In this case, by hiding public-facing likes, claiming that it makes users feel happier and less competitive when using the app. This is the equivalent of tinting one window of your car and expecting privacy; it does not hide or lessen your ability to see your likes, or public-facing follower/comment/video view counts. There are still plenty of metrics left to crush your self-esteem. FACEBOOK (the corporation, not the social network) is adding its new meta-brand and moniker to Instagram, WhatsApp, and its other properties in an effort to be more transparent and ethical. Well, it is by definition an effort, but little more. We’re talking about FACEBOOK, so it is highly likely an ulterior motive is at work.

Whether genuine or self-serving, 2020 will have social networks and their users more concerned with mental health, demetrification, and situational ethics.

Social Media & the 2020 Election
As we prepare for the 2020 election, you should harbor no doubts that social media will have unprecedented influence over the process and outcome—much more so than in 2016. 2020 will prove to be a particularly ugly year for social media and politics, defined by:

  • The continued spread of fake news, especially among vulnerable demographics—older adults with less education or low digital literacy;
  • The rise of deepfakes: videos where someone’s face has been replaced by AI (e.g., a candidate for public office);
  • Continued privacy violations and misuses of user data, a la Cambridge Analytica;
  • Controversy over political ads on social media (e.g., Twitter stands against them, FACEBOOK refuses to do so);
  • Campaign discussion of regulating, even breaking up social networks, and attempts to that effect, both from the FTC and Congress, with many more hearings (about FACEBOOK, in particular); though
  • No major regulations will come into effect, due to a combination of legislative stagnation and FACEBOOK thumbing its nose at $5 billion fines.

Ecommerce Starts to Decentralize
In 2020, ecommerce and social media will further merge. While, in the past, social media’s purpose was to drive traffic to external ecommerce sites, these transactions are now starting to take place more and more within the social networking environment itself. Social media never before brought a package to your door. We anticipate deeper integrations where users can browse and shop within the social network app environment. Expect to see payment processing and even customer service all handled within social media. Chat is already growing in popularity for customer service, both on a company’s own site and via social network. This interaction could include talking to a customer service rep on a social network app like Twitter, or by messaging a Facebook Page. It could also be conversing on WhatsApp or Messenger with a company representative. In China, WeChat business tools allow entire businesses to be run end-to-end as part of its messaging app functionality. We expect U.S. ecommerce to trend in this direction, but not yet be as fully contained as WeChat.

On the upside, the distance between marketing and conversion will be shorter than ever. However, anytime a company is dependent on social media for an audience, they cede control to the social network. Facebook famously cut off organic reach to Business Pages in 2017-2018, leading to a crisis and the closure of many businesses, especially publishers dependent on Facebook traffic.

Stories and Video Chat Brings Us Closer Together
Over the past few years, Story-style content has taken social media by storm. As of 2019, TDG’s proprietary research found that Instagram Stories have overtaken the feed as the more popular half of Instagram. Stories-style content, which is largely comprised of video, dominates on Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and TikTok. The rapid growth of this format will not slow anytime soon.

In our recent report, User Adoption and Trends in Social Streaming, IGTV, and Facebook Watch, we reported that 75% of US adults who stream video online have used video chat at least once. Close to half use Facebook Messenger, 39% use Skype, and 34% use Apple Facetime to do so, followed by WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Google Hangouts. We expect video chat to grow in popularity and frequency of use throughout 2020. The scope of video chat will also expand to include more integrations, such as games, and more AR (Augmented Reality) filters. We may also start to see the first forays into co-watching, likely livestreams on Twitter or Facebook Watch shows in Messenger.

FACEBOOK has also hinted at eventually merging its three messaging apps: Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram direct messaging. While these are not likely to fully merge in 2020, expect more cross-compatibility and shared features. In a world where social media is dominated by news articles, brands, and influencers, this return to interpersonal relationships is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Lauren Kozak, the author of the report and this article, is our Senior Advisor on Social Media, Analytics, and User Behavior. She has previously held positions for the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing, and Britney Spears.

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