Social trends - why they are important... and why they are not

This blog, written from my IDM presentation at ad:tech 2014, highlights some notable trends in the digital and social space, but also some of those essential and unchanging basics.

From dialogue to data

In the beginning, social was all about people and culture. Now that businesses have adopted the medium, there’s a shift in emphasis.

I didn’t get to Social Media Week this year (too busy doing rather than coming up for air and listening to how others have been doing), but I read lots about it. One thing that struck me was that SMW 2014 was less about say, the Croydon riot effect and how social brought people together, or even how the ALS ice-bucket challenge galvanised people around the world. This year, the emphasis shifted more towards business. And the focus here was less on likes and RTs and more on hardnosed metrics, as organisations really try to get to grips with how social affects every aspect of business.

But whilst it’s crucial for all of us to understand the effectiveness of social for the business, it’s just as important to remember (and enjoy) the sociological and psychological aspects of social media. For these are the ones that will help us improve our social media business activity.

Google +

Not convinced about Google+ yet? You have a Google+ page but you’re not doing much with it? You’re not alone. You’d be forgiven for being of the opinion that Google+ hasn’t lived up to all the hype that accompanied its launch.

But it does have some great tools – including Google Hangouts – and is slowly upping its game with an ad platform. I think it’s worth sticking with it - if for nothing else at the moment but its importance for SEO.

The visual web

50% of the human brain is involved in visual processing. 70% of your sensory perceptors are in your eyes. Researchers found that colour visuals increase the willingness to read by 80%. So whether it’s photography, diagrams or even clever use of text, the message is simply, create more visual content and you’ll get far greater levels of engagement, far more quickly.


Increasingly, if your content isn’t mobile-ready, then it just won’t be seen. Gartner reports that tablets will soon outsell PCs and laptops combined, while the Wall St Journal reveals that mobile interaction on most social platforms far outstrips interaction via desktop (see image). Finally (if more proof is needed), according to a B2B content preference survey, only 21% of people never view B2B content on a tablet device – and only 3% never view B2B content on mobile.

Micro video

The ultra short-form film currently accounts for 66% of global internet traffic . If this rise of the micro video wasn’t astonishing enough already, that figure is projected to reach 79% by 2018. The original channel in this space was Vine, which allows users to post and share six-second looping micro videos. Vine has been closely followed by the likes of Instagram video (15 second videos), MixBit (16 seconds), Tumblr GIFs and more.

It may be difficult to imagine what a brand can say to an audience in a few seconds of video, but some (take Oreo for example) have been able to embrace it, work with it and take it to an art form! If you can make it work for you, it will pay. Here’s some stats: the average internet user watches 206 micro videos a month; videos in Instagram produce twice the engagement of photos; Vine currently has 40 million users ; while an enormous 5 tweets per second contain a Vine link.

The algorithm

Twitter’s new content algorithm for example. This is a means by which relevant content is served to the user’s feed in preference over the solely chronological order of tweets as is currently the case. Its developers say it makes for a better, more relevant user experience, but detractors point out that sometimes (with breaking news, for example) nothing is more relevant than chronology, and that sometimes we want human (our own) judgment of what’s relevant, rather than simply being fed what the algorithms dictate…

Real time

If you can react quickly and creatively to news or events that are capturing people’s imagination then you could be on to a real winner. Don’t think this can work in B2B? Then look at this.


A lookalike audience is an algorithmically-assembled group of social network members who resemble, in some way, another group of members. This means, for example, that you can use facebook’s ability to draw on the profile data of users in your existing audience and create a new audience of users who share similar demographics and interests.

Growth hacking

Where technological innovation meets creative marketing to achieve fast growth – born from technology start-ups when budget is tight but targets are high. Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to “traditional” marketing. It’s about agility and creativity, data and testing, and development and automation.

A Dropbox offer of free space when a friend signs up for the service took registered users from one hundred thousand to four million in just 15 months. That’s fast.

What hasn’t changed?

In 20,000 years of evolution our DNA is nearly the same. It’s our unconscious thought, not our conscious, rationalised thought, that still governs our behaviour – and that’s why we need to truly understand our audiences. So that we can communicate and connect with them more effectively.

What makes people share, for example? Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott discovered that our first emotional action in life is to respond to our mother’s smile with a smile of our own. Joy and happiness are obviously hard-wired into us all. No surprise then, that happiness is the main driver for social media sharing. In fact, emotions layered with and related to happiness make up the majority of the top drivers of viral content as studied by Fractl.

Top 10 emotions that drive sharing:

  1. Amusement
  2. Interest
  3. Surprise
  4. Happiness
  5. Delight
  6. Pleasure
  7. Joy
  8. Hope
  9. Affection
  10. Excitement

But emotions aren’t just desirable in marketing, they’re critical. Research by the IPA that compared 880 global advertising case studies found that emotional messages were almost twice as likely to generate large profit gains than rational messages (31% vs. 16%) and also outperformed campaigns that contained both emotional and rational content.

The power of the story

According to psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, stories are more persuasive and more trustworthy than statistics because individual examples lodge in our minds, but statistics and averages do not. Our ancestors learned from specific examples, not by compiling data from huge groups of people across a range of different situations.

Stories work because our brains are primed to heed their advice and because they can slip in under our radar and “transport” us to the tale being told. And since we also make ourselves the main character of every story we hear, we identify more readily with a situation.

Surprise your audience. But be relevant

The unexpected can be delivered by great storytelling using emotional triggers. It gets your attention. But for maximum impact and the desired response, it must also have relevance. So when you’re creating marketing content, strive for the relevant and unexpected – not any of the following.

Relevant and expected – messages that are repetitive. I’ll soon tune out.

Irrelevant and expected – messages that are repetitive that I don’t even need. I tuned out a long time ago

Irrelevant and unexpected – why are you even messaging me at all?

So by all means, play with marketing’s shiny new tools. Experiment, be creative, innovate. But remember, the audiences you are trying to reach, engage with and convert are made up of people. And the fundamental needs and motivators of people are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. Don’t forget them.

Did you find this blog useful?

At the IDM we are passionate about educating marketers and providing resources to help advance your career.

If you are interested in enhancing your CV and upskilling, browse through our wider range of marketing courses and qualifications; from one-day short courses to post-graduate diplomas.

Our learning and development team will be happy to advise based on your needs and requirements.

Back to blogs
Contact Us