socialbakers2018 was a huge year for social media, with many changes to navigate including privacy scandals, a new algorithm at Facebook, the impact of influencer marketing, and the rise of Instagram. Social media marketers found themselves having to aim for targets that were not only moving but morphing into new entities altogether. For brands that need to reach more consumers and raise brand awareness on social media, here are the biggest trends from 2018.

Facebook’s decline of organic content’s engagement

Examining the metrics for engagement on the Facebook app, an undeniable trend is the steady decline of engagement and reach for Facebook organic content. Some believe this may be tied to the introduction of the new algorithm at the beginning of the year. But our numbers show that the decline of engagement with organic Facebook content began months before the new algorithm was introduced. In just over a year, audiences have shifted away from engaging with this type of content.

However, if your audience is still mainly on Facebook, you should keep posting relevant content at high volume. With the decline in engagement, and the new algorithm that punishes spam, the ability to understand which organic content will resonate with your audience on Facebook is key. By posting highly relevant content, brands regain engagement and get love from Facebook users, even with the overall decline.

The dramatic rise of Instagram and Stories

Perhaps the biggest story of 2018 is the rise of Stories. These have helped drive a growing transfer of social media marketing initiatives.

This year, Instagram hit significant milestones, dethroning Snapchat as the most-used social media platform among teens. The volume of brands posting Instagram Stories also increased by 400 per cent in 2018. Instagram began with a feed similar to Facebook but the introduction of Stories to Instagram changed all that, increasing engagement with users and attracting the attention of brand advertisers. Although Instagram posts still garner more impressions than Instagram Stories, the trend is clear. Stories are the new stars of social media, and you can expect to see a continuing uplift in impressions and engagement with them in the year ahead.

Even with all the new attention, brands are still moving slowly to catch up with this trend. We still see many brands investing most heavily in traditional Facebook ads. Instagram may have a smaller audience than Facebook, but their users are much more engaged. As audiences are already on Instagram, Stories offer superior traction for engagement for advertisers.

The golden age of influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a big enabler of revenue, and big brands are getting on board. It’s estimated that influencer marketing ad spending will reach $10 billion by 2020. The reason is that consumers prefer to see authentic content from people who they trust and follow on social media, rather than content they are getting from a brand.

However, in this golden age of influencer marketing, there is also a good deal of fraud. Social media marketers learned they need to do their due diligence before investing in an influencer.

It’s critical that brands gain the capability to sniff out influencer marketing fraud such as fake fans, fake engagement and fake interests. For instance, brands could examine an influencer’s performance over a longer time period and their engagement level per 1,000 fans. Without these data insights, brands may waste time and money on an influencer with no real reach or engagement.

The limited success of chatbots

Chatbots were supposed to be the next big thing for customer relations and brand outreach, being deployed on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate one-on-one with consumers and prospects, solving problems and marketing goods and services. In 2018, the brands who experimented with chatbots began to realize they weren’t going to be the big success they thought they would be.

The truth is that chatbots can have difficulty understanding exactly what a person is asking of them. There isn’t much room for nuance or ambiguity. As such, using a computer to conduct a conversation can still be a barrier to an engaging experience.

However, in process-oriented industries, chatbots are generating a significant return on investment. If you need to book an airline flight or reserve a hotel room, a chatbot is a handy way to walk you through that process. But if you want to complain that your hotel room is not what you expected, a chatbot probably can’t resolve that problem.

Overall, in terms of raising brand awareness and reaching a broader audience of consumers, chatbots were still not ready for prime time this year.

Data is still king

2018 was truly a remarkable year for social media. These are just of a few of the many emerging trends that had a transformative impact on how brands use social channels to reach their target audiences. Of course, there is one aspect of social media that didn’t change in 2018. Solid data is required to drive decision making to successfully leverage platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

In 2019, reliable data will still be a business imperative to help you know precisely where to invest your advertising budget in order to maximize reach, engagement and business impact.

By Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers