Last month I discussed the results of two recently released social media studies: the Pew Research Center’s annual deep dive into demographics and The Infinite Dial, published each year by Edison Research and Triton Digital. These studies show an increasingly fragmented social media landscape and reveal challenges for many of the major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. In addition, the Pew and Infinite Dial studies underscore three trends that will continue to have an impact on businesses of all kinds.

First, social media is becoming more visual. With even a cursory glance at your news feeds, you’ll see that photos and videos are commanding more real estate than ever before. This is one reason for Instagram’s surge in popularity: the site’s focus on visual content is exactly what today’s social media users want. Video is the main driver of this evolution. In a recent study by Wyzowl, for example, 68 percent of consumers said they want to learn about a new product or service by watching a short video — a much greater proportion of the audience than the 15 percent who prefer text articles. And it appears there’s still significant room for growth, with 87 percent of respondents in the same study saying they want brands to share even more video content.

Second, micro influencers are having a greater impact. Influencers have long been attractive to brands because of the large audiences they attract. However, as the influencer trend has matured, many brands are finding that those with very large networks have only a hollow connection to their individual followers--and this has created an opportunity for those with smaller, but more substantive, networks. As posted on the Wamda.com blog, “micro-influencers…have more potential for bringing in business as most of their followers are unique and know them personally … the trust level and engagement in one-to-one contact is considered to be higher.”

Further, while many brands are connecting with external partners to draw attention to their products and services, a new breed of micro influencer is also on the rise: employee advocates. As stated by Cameron Brain on EveryoneSocial.com, “employees are not only more approachable … they are also one of the most trusted sources by your buyers … over your CEO, spokesperson or marketing department to help them with their purchase decisions.” And in today’s competitive employment environment, these employee influencers are also helping connect businesses to prospective new hires.

Third, niche networks are becoming more and more popular. As stated above, the Pew and Infinite Dial studies reveal increasing fragmentation in terms of the platforms we use. But when you look deeper, even more fragmentation is revealed by the increasing popularity of social media sites focused on very specific topics — also known as niche social media sites. A few examples of niche sites include:

• Nextdoor, a site that connects neighbors to discuss everything from the upcoming association yard sale to the lost dog that’s been wandering the streets

• ResearchGate, a niche network where scientists share findings and seek out partners in addressing challenging questions

• Untappd, which brings together beer lovers from around the world to share their thoughts on different brews

Niche social media sites may seem limited in their appeal, but they actually can attract a large following. The three sites above, for example, reach an audience in the millions, from Untappd’s 8 million users to ResearchGate’s 15 million. “Niche,” therefore, doesn’t necessarily equal “small.” Some of their appeal seems to be in their difference from “macro” social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. As Molly McHugh states on TheRinger.com, “the specificity of something like Untappd … translates into more active users and more vibrant online communities. While Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat can feel directionless, smaller apps have purpose. Many of them encourage interaction in real life versus online.”

As you adapt your social media use to the numbers revealed by the latest studies, be sure to keep these trends in mind. Make photos and video more central to your content strategy, identify and partner with micro influencers who can help you reach beyond your existing audience, and have a presence on sites important to your customers and prospects beyond the major social media platforms. Those three small changes will have a lasting impact on your ability to leverage social media for tangible, bottom-line results.

ANTHONY JULIANO is a marketing and social media strategist, teacher, trainer and writer. He is vice president of marketing and social media strategy at Asher Agency in Fort Wayne, and he teaches social media and marketing classes at Indiana Tech and Purdue University Fort Wayne. Connect with him at LinkedIn.com/in/anthonyjuliano or via email at anthonyj@asheragency.com.

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