Written by Content Manager Siobhan Johansen and Digital Strategist Sydney Steele
Trends can be powerful tools for your brand. They touch all aspects of our lives from fashion, to music, to how we communicate. In social media, trends encompass how you partner with collaborators, how to source and share the most relevant content per channel, and how you engage in dialogue with your audience to create relationships. Trends can shape industries and are strong tools to drive engagement. We’re not suggesting you jump on every trend you see, (who even has time for that?) but that you stay current on the latest trends. This will ensure you create content that resonates with your audience on the right platforms which will, in turn, encourage engagement and increase brand awareness. Throughout this article, we’ll talk about ways to help you be successful in the dynamic social landscape.
To best take advantage of a social trend, you need to know where your audience is spending their time. As of August 2023, reported by eMarketer’s Insider Intelligence, see graph below, the top three social platforms in terms of time spent per day by U.S. adults are led by TikTok with an average time of 53.8 minutes. YouTube follows in second place with 48.7 minutes, then Twitter (now X) with 34.1 minutes. Each of these platforms has a unique superpower in the world of social media. TikTok is mobile-first, short-form video, YouTube tends to feature longer-form landscape video (albeit it does have YouTube Shorts) and X is primarily text-based. Add in the fourth highest used social platform, Instagram, which is primarily image-based, and each of the main content formats has been checked off.
Brand advice to take away from this is that audiences are consuming all kinds of content, spanning from more complex long-form video to simpler and shorter text-based content. This proves that no platform or content format should be discounted in your social media marketing strategy. Brands should have a robust toolkit filled with multiple formats. Don’t live or die by your TikTok videos.
While you should first establish a consistent and engaging brand presence on these household names platforms, you should also be prepared to adapt your social strategy across platforms that are new and growing in popularity. First off, we have to talk about the new kid on the block, Threads, Meta’s response to X. According to eMarketer’s Insider Intelligence, consumers have demonstrated a consistent interest in text-based communication, and we are monitoring how new text-based apps like Threads impact user behavior and time spent on platform.
BeReal is another social platform that, while not a leader in the social landscape, is still popular among its Gen Z audience. This French social media app allows users to share unedited and unfiltered photos with their followers in response to the highly edited and curated photos shared on other platforms. This is popular with Gen Z due to its inherent focus on authenticity and candidness. While there is no paid advertising on this platform, some brands have still experimented with their own organic content.
The social media landscape is incredibly dynamic and changes quickly. Given the huge number of layoffs that tech giants like Meta, Microsoft, and X have seen in the past year, it should be expected that former employees and engineers are currently developing the next It social platform. Ultimately, brands need to be open and flexible to emerging platforms. The X and Threads relationship is a real-time example of this.
Now that we’ve discussed platforms, let’s talk more about the variety of content that can be found across them. Short-form, mobile video is still dominant across social media. Then there is also creator-led content, hashtag campaigns, AMA (ask me anything), polls, quizzes, and temporary content.
Here are some basic tips for creating engaging short-form, mobile video content. Firstly, you need to hook the user in the first few seconds, and even after that, unless the topic is super engaging or educational, they will most likely scroll on. To maximize viewership and video engagement, your content should do at least one of three things: Inspire, educate, or entertain. What mix of these depends on your brand voice and goals. Odds are you have room to fit all three into your strategy.
When it comes to creator-led content, it’s key to align with creators who well represent your brand. Pick who you choose to partner with carefully. Do your research on potential partners and make sure they are a good fit for your brand. These partnerships can be a great way to speak to and find new audiences. Think of it like when a singer collaborates with another artist in a different genre and gets new listeners because of that exposure. When done right, creators build trusting relationships with their audiences. Being able to partner with someone who already has that trusting fan base has the possibility of boosting your brand image as well.
Hashtag campaigns are a way to create participation and engagement with your audience. These kinds of campaigns can increase brand awareness and reach for the following reasons. They leverage other users’ followers for greater visibility, which is a useful way to expand your brand’s viewership. They also create affiliation between the company and consumers by feeling like an authentic relationship between the two. Finally, this kind of campaign can also help your community shift from onlookers to participants and co-creators/collaborators. This shift brings your audience more into the fold, therefore strengthening the connection and loyalty they feel with your brand.
Running interactive content like Ask Me Anything (AMA), polls, and quizzes are also strong engagement tactics. Not only are they a great way to get your audience engaged, but they also provide an opportunity to learn more about your audience and what they want to see from you. AMAs allow them to get to know you better, while polls can help get their opinion on future content. Content is nothing without an audience, so make sure you are testing and tailoring your posts to what your audience wants (and is telling you they want).
Temporary content like Instagram Stories is a fun, low stakes way to experiment. Not only are there options like tagging partners and locations, joining in on #challenges, and using the different stickers like polls and quizzes, you can also use the in-app gifs, fonts, and drawing tools to add extra flair. Plus if your feed is more curated, it’s a great place to share things that might not fit there. Play around and see what content works best in that space. One of our favorite ways to use stories is sharing our staff’s weekend adventures!
Let’s talk more about incorporating or vetting trends, as applicable, for your brand and how to evaluate them. Trends should align with your brand identity. Jumping on the bandwagon just for the sake of the bandwagon isn’t needed and honestly, should be discouraged. It’s easy to think that just because everyone is talking about it or doing it, you should too, to stay relevant. But the really successful trend followers don’t just follow the trend. They tweak it. They do something new. They advance it and make it their own. Setting themselves apart from the rest of the trending noise. Instead of churning out trending content, take an extra minute to evaluate and check yourself with these questions:
- Is this relevant to my brand?
- Does this align with my audience?
- Is this unique enough to stand out amongst the other trending noise?
- Am I posting this because everyone else is? Or because I have a unique take?
If the answers are yes, then hit that post button! If not, maybe take another look at what you want to share and decide if there’s a different angle you can approach it from. All while finding a way to stay true to your brand that will also stand out more.
Ensuring brand transparency and voice authenticity is key to having a successful social media presence. Building a relationship with your audience is one of the most important things you can do for your brand. You can achieve this through the things we lined out in the above paragraphs like vetting the trends you take part of and the creators you partner with.
Consider the balance of timelessness vs. timeliness. Real-time, of-the-moment trends, a.k.a. media that resonates with a cultural phenomenon, are great things to fit into your brand strategy because they help keep your brand relevant and part of social conversations. Plus it helps keep you nimble because you never know what will be trending next. Who would have guessed Barbenheimer would be the meme of the summer? Just make sure the trends you’re participating in are a good fit with your brand.
Here at Spawn, we have an in-house example of media that resonates with a cultural phenomenon. When the Barbie movie was about to come out, we wrote a blog about the truly amazing marketing plan it had implemented. We’re marketers, so this topic fits our brand and audience, and it’s one way we chose to interact with an of-the-moment trend.
As for long-term, evergreen branding strategies, this is the content that will have a longer shelf life. Some of these long-term strategies to consider include posts that encourage audience co-creation with polls, quizzes, viral challenges, live AMA/QAs, etc., as well as establishing parasocial relationships with an audience. Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest, and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence. This happens mainly with celebrities, but is now seen with content creators, gamers, and even some brands. Really anyone who has a life they share via social media has the opportunity to create parasocial relationships with their audience. Brand spokespersons and influencers are another long-term strategy. By having these partners, it’s possible to engage with new audiences who might not have visibility on your brand otherwise.
Adapting and innovating, along with experimentation and measurement are the final pieces to the puzzle that is social media success. It’s hard (impossible?) to predict a trend, like what sound on TikTok or Reels is going to go viral next. So it’s important to adapt, innovate and experiment. Testing format types, like static vs. video, temporary vs. permanent, and short-form vs. long-form, is a key way to keep your content moving forward. Just because something is currently working doesn’t mean it will always work and it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to test and explore new things. Brands can’t get complacent with their content if they want to continue to see their platforms grow. Use A/B tests to your advantage and continue to test so your content stays fresh and nimble in the dynamic social landscape.
And of course, measure, measure, measure! If you’re experimenting with no measurement, you won’t be learning and won’t have the insights needed to improve your content and social media presence. A perk of the ever changing social media landscape is that there is always something new to experiment with whether it’s a sound, a song, or a viral meme.
So, what have we learned? Short-form, mobile video content is still king, but that doesn’t mean you should put all your eggs in that basket. We are still seeing users on a variety of platforms, from text based X, image heavy Instagram, and of course, video led TikTok. Also, while trends are fun, incorporating applicable trends that align with your brand identity will get you further than jumping on every viral moment. We encourage brands to adapt their social media strategies to win. The importance of continuous learning and innovation within the ever-changing and evolving landscape of social media is key to any brands’ success. In a realm that is as fluid as this, you gotta stay on your toes and not be afraid to jump in. Happy posting!