Insights: The Future of Social Feeds

The social media landscape is changing at a nearly unprecedented pace. If you've spent time on any one of your favorite platforms lately you've seen more videos, ads, buy buttons, lead generation cards, sponsored content, and click-bait than ever before. What does it mean? Social media platforms are clearly trying to monetize, and therein lies a challenge: Users are more fickle than ever, and companies are afraid of alienating them. Because of this, permanent changes in our social feeds have been intentionally subtle and will continue that way. What will our feeds look like in the next 6 months? Here are a few things to expect:

Mobile First

Mobile is the fastest-growing conduit to social media in the world. Within emerging markets specifically, mobile phones are not just entertainment devices, but lifelines. This mobile-centric world of social media will continue to grow in developing economies that don't yet have access to wireless Internet.

Facebook has been the most vocal advocate about the need to move its user experience to mobile. In March, they streamlined the interface look so that the move from desktop to mobile was much more seamless. They talked about the disruption of mobile in travel marketing and how important mobile is to emerging markets like the Middle East. From a statistical analysis of its own platform, Facebook saw that mobile was how most people in the world were going to view Facebook the majority of the time. This assessment has molded Facebook's future: Mark Zuckerberg has repeated the word 'mobile' over and over again at developer conferences, and Facebook is adjusting its advertising options to specifically target mobile.

What does "mobile first" mean when it comes to user experience? It means that companies will focus on how people use their platform on a mobile device first and foremost, and then have that experience move seamlessly to a desktop. Anything less than a seamless mobile experience will frustrate users and disrupt the consumer journey.

In-Stream Commerce

Because our mobile devices are always with us, inspiration to buy can strike at any moment. This impulse is why we will start to see commerce functionality in our social media feeds.

In-stream commerce has taken a long time to reach native implementation within social media platforms. Third parties such as Chirpify, American Express and Amazon have been at the forefront of experimenting with ways people can purchase things socially. It’s becoming clear that this feature will be a staple of a user’s feed.

Facebook looks set to roll out "Buy" buttons on its ads and promoted posts. It holds the position that it doesn’t want to be a competitor, but rather wants to act as a go between for brands to sell to consumers. Twitter has followed suit and announced that it is now testing buy buttons.

These buy buttons will facilitate our ability to purchase concert tickets, jewelry, music, clothing and just about anything else in-stream. It all comes down to users having the opportunity to purchase at the moment of inspiration.

Subtle Advertising

To foster those moments of inspiration, marketers must approach their ads and promoted content in a new and inspired way.

When McDonalds ran an ad campaign on Instagram, there was intense and unbridled backlash. This response highlighted the challenges that marketers have when introducing promoted content into a new social platform. Facebook has taken this matter very seriously and allows users to hide ads from their feeds.

All of this leads to the simple fact that users do not want to be marketed to irrelevantly. Savvy marketers will create content that feels native in a user’s feed, prompting a better click-through rate and a happier experience. This type of marketing will not be as much about the brand as about the consumer’s perspective at that moment. The brand can sell itself once a click thru has happened, increasing both consumer happiness as well as brand loyalty.

Mobile is the future of our social world, and brands will spend large budgets to be relevant in that space. The consumer will continue to be the judge of how effective news feeds are, and it’s in the best interest of social media platforms to respond with the best experience possible.