The Evolving Social Landscape: New Research Reveals Shifting Trends in Usage, Sentiment and Strategy

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The shift from stills to short-form video. The rise of in-app shopping. Growing concerns about privacy and data ownership.
As anyone who has ever used Instagram or TikTok (or any of the dozens of other social media platforms worldwide) knows, the social landscape is in a state of constant evolution. Dynamic changes are reshaping the way users interact and brands engage with their audiences, and it’s essential for marketers to understand the latest shifts to stay ahead of the curve.
In the recent research and insights report from Material and our partners at NewtonX, The Digital Lead: 2024 Advertising Insights & Tech Trends we turned to leading industry professionals to uncover key trends in the evolving social landscape, revealing shifts in perceptions, strategy, usage and more. Here are some of our key takeaways.

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Meta’s Dominance and Emerging Contenders

When it comes to marketers’ usage and spending patterns, Meta brands Facebook and Instagram continue to reign supreme. They are also the most highly recommended and typically lead the competition on key perception metrics, like strength of performance monitoring features, ROI and ability to effectively target key audiences.
However, our research suggests that Meta’s grip on the market may not be as ironclad as it once seemed. Although Facebook and Instagram score highly on perception metrics relative to competitors, the numbers themselves show room for improvement – only a third of respondents, for example, agree these platforms drive strong conversion or behavioral outcomes, and less than half say they reach enough of their target audiences.
And competitors are on the ascent. TikTok, in particular, has emerged as a strong contender, earning loyal users with its short-form video content and innovative features. TikTok is the most likely platform to show increased usage year-over-year (64%) from our respondents, followed by Instagram & LinkedIn. Despite its strong performance, though, questions persist about TikTok’s future, with regulatory challenges and competition threatening its rise.

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Channel Preferences and Evolving Strategies

Marketers are fine-tuning and recalibrating their social media strategies, doubling down on some channels while reevaluating others.
X, formerly known as Twitter, is on the decline in both sentiment and usage patterns. About a third of advertising professionals (32%) report having walked away from X – more than any other social platform. Negative brand association is the primary factor, followed by poor ROI and platform changes. X is also the most likely platform with reported usage having declined from last year (64%), followed by Snapchat (49%) and Pinterest (24%). Snapchat and Pinterest are also the brands likeliest to have never been used (34% and 32%, respectively) or even considered (29% and 25%) by marketing pros.
However, these discrepancies suggest untapped opportunities for savvy marketers willing to explore alternative platforms. Snapchat, known for its ephemeral content and engaged user base, offers a unique avenue for brands to connect with younger audiences. Likewise, Pinterest’s visual discovery platform provides fertile ground for brands in lifestyle, fashion and home decor to showcase their products and inspire users.

 

AI: Untapped Opportunity for Social Media Brands?

Our research shows that AI is the key topic on marketers’ minds this year, from its growing role in optimizing campaigns to its utility as a productivity enhancer. But social media is one area where marketers seem to think the AI revolution isn’t happening as quickly or effectively as it could be. Only 13% of respondents agree Instagram and Facebook are using AI effectively, while X (5%) and Pinterest (1%) score even lower. While Snapchat lags behind other platforms in terms of usage and sentiment, it leads the pack in this category, with 16% of respondents on board with its AI strategy.
AI has been used by social media platforms for years as a tool for content moderation and curated recommendations, but the recent growth of generative AI and other advanced use cases suggest there is vast untapped potential. Will the next social media powerhouse be the one that most effectively harnesses the power of AI to deliver transformative experiences for its users?

 

Looking Ahead: The Future of Social Media

As social media brands adapt to shifting user needs, habits and preferences, one thing is clear: change is inevitable. While platforms like Meta and TikTok dominate the current landscape, new challengers will emerge, and existing players may fall by the wayside. The key for marketers is to remain agile, adaptable and informed, ready to pivot their strategies in response to evolving trends and consumer behaviors.
For more insights on the evolving social landscape and other issues that matter to marketers in 2024 and beyond, read the full report.