2015 in Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Social Media

Social media has been a rapidly altering beast in 2015. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly of this medium, for users and marketers alike.

For users, the number of networks we used expanded and the means of interacting began to change. For marketers like myself, social media is no longer a separate channel, nor is it a channel altogether. It is now a supporting function to all other channels, which cannot be ignored in any area of a business to the detriment of their own brand recognition.

The Good: Snapchat becomes the social star of the show

Snapchat Daily Active Users

You know you've got a good social network on your hands when 11% of drivers admit to using it while driving. Snapchat had a meteoric rise in 2015, breaking the 100 million active user barrier. 

Over the last year, the yellow ghost has become a signature part of popular culture, completed by positioning itself as a social layer to everyday life. This was done through a three key elements:

1. The posting experience is quick and easy. We thought the competitors in this space had a fluid posting experience, but this blows the likes of Twitter and Instagram out of the water with speed. It's what has led to 8,796 photos being posted every second (significantly bigger than its counterparts).

Photos Posted Per Day

2. One-to-one communication, with a hint of one-to-all. Snapchat's USP amongst a sea of social 'broadcast' networks was the emphasis on one-to-one conversations. Showing your friend what you're up to and awaiting their appropriate facial reaction. This has not been sacrificed, but at the end of the day, it wasn't going to make Snapchat money.

That's where the one-to-many communication has come in, to provide a hell of a lot of content for users to consume. This elevated the app beyond a simple messaging tool into a one-stop shop for celeb personalities and behind-the-scenes influential content. This has led to 18-29-year-olds spending an average of 20 minutes per day on a network that only requires seconds of interaction.

3. Stories told through image-based content are the way forward. Text-based content has its place on Facebook and Twitter. But visual engagement has been key for the past few years. The tools for how this is done on the networks mentioned above haven't changed beyond the addition of a few filters to boost the contrast and (excuse the self-made term) "Instagrammability" of the shot. The story will appear out of sync and separated amongst a news feed to your end user. 

However, with a single Snapchat Story per user to present a single dialogue means the whole experience feels succinct. You can tell each user a whole story, and not just bits of it. No needlessly inflated feed of different posts losing your attention. This is a more true definition of a social medium than I have seen from the competition. Look forward to Snapchat rapidly becoming the dominant network in 2016.

The Bad: Twitter still struggles for relevancy

Twitter has a lot going for it, and it will be a strong company that continues to make money but let's not mince words here. In the sea of social networks, it continues to struggle with an identity crisis of sorts.

In terms of media content, Twitter has become a key consumption and connection device between users and the topics/influencers they engage with. With the change from 'favourites' to 'likes,' and the new 'Moments' section to present an aggregated view of any top stories, development continues in two directions. Snapchat succeeds through it's simplicity as a content creation tool, with an additional layer of consumption. However, both of these elements are muddled together on Twitter, and creates a hit-and-miss experience with users.

320 million people have an account, but only 117 million tweet. Twitter has a good consumption platform, but there seems to be no real return for a user to post beyond adding a witty quip to a long list of people doing the same thing during a TV show. On top of this, Twitter continues to be a weak source of income for brands who invest a lot into it. Granted, the ROI of social media is a messy cocktail of engagement and CTR with a small serving of financials, but we do need to make money off what we do.

There's a lot to work out. And with Jack Dorsey back at the helm as CEO of Twitter, I hope this gets worked out.

My prediction for the future of Twitter? It will go through a transition to look a lot like Facebook. I know this isn't what many of you want to hear, but they have the lion share of social media. Investors in Twitter will look to it, and Twitter themselves will listen to where the money comes from over their users.

Percentage sales referrals from social networks

Percentage users who have tweeted in the last year

The Ugly: Brands still fail at social media

Three years ago, I wrote the simple lesson every company needs to take when approaching social media. Amongst an experiment into paid likes, my main insight was to take a step back and ask a simple question: if my brand was a human being, who would they be and what would they stand for? This helps define a brand tone of voice and positions you perfectly to avoid any needlessly salesy organic posts. Three years later, many brands have still not learnt this lesson.

Take Sea World for example. Their practice of keeping animals in captivity have been strongly rallied against this year, making this absolutely THE worst time to run a Twitter Q&A with your fans... Sea World begged to disagree, receiving questions like this:

At this point, when you see a hashtag quickly go south, you begin to apologise and distance yourself. Don't bait your fans on any further...again, Sea World proposed a counter-argument:

Nearly every brand has suffered a blunder like this in 2015, and social networks have responded in turn with further sharp reductions in organic reach. People without knowledge in this area will scratch their heads at the reason why better content is being seen by less, and the answer is simple: people don't want to see brands on their news feed. 

Granted, we're beginning to tolerate paid content more as a necessary evil, which is why 2016 will be a year that social media increasingly becomes a 100% paid broadcast channel. Organic content from pages is already being sectioned off into a separate 'pages' feed on Facebook. We'll inevitably see the same from other networks in an attempt to force businesses into forking over more cash.

But from a user-perspective, this helps too, as your news feed becomes a lot more focussed on what it should be: people.

So has my advice changed? No. Always imagine your brand as a human being and fulfill that role. But that is now becoming a lesson for ALL channels, as social media becomes a crucial touchpoint across every one.

Let's make 2016 a better one, not just for us but for them.