Just a few months ago, I set out to create my annual social media trends presentation, which I’ve now given to a handful of audiences. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I’d be giving that presentation to other groups in the weeks ahead.

Instead, I’m re-evaluating that list and thinking about how wildly things have changed in the last four weeks on the social media marketing front. To recap the biggest shifts:

  • Social media usage rates are through the roof–almost across platforms (with the sad exception of podcasts, which are suffering without commutes)
  • Social media ad inventory and ROI is up–with everyone seemingly cutting or pausing their social media ad spend, this was inevitable.
  • Layoffs are coming–we’re already starting to see them, but my guess is we’ll see a lot more in the creative industry and at the corporate level in the next 2-3 weeks.

Those three things alone change a lot. A LOT. You’re starting to see things shift already. In big ways (social media advertising inventory and ROI) and in smaller ways (is Zoom now a social media network?).

We’re only 3+ weeks into our “social distancing” experiment, but I’m already seeing a handful of trends emerge that could have long-lasting impacts:

Brands ratchet (way) back on content

Right now, this may be due to the crisis-level situation our country is facing. Brands want to stay quiet and, as a result, they’re pulling back on content. But, a fast-forward a few weeks, and I still see a situation where brands are ratcheting back on content. Partly because many teams may be resource-starved. Layoffs are coming. You don’t have a Great Depression-like recession and not have layoffs. When that happens, agencies and brands won’t have the manpower (or budgets) to develop content at the pace they’re used to. Content production will wane–for a while.

The community comeback

With many brands cutting, or at the very least pausing, social media ad campaigns for Q2 (and maybe Q3, according to what I’ve seen), community is poised to make a big comeback. After all, social media ad development and management takes up quite a bit of time. You take that off your social team’s plate and all of the sudden you have some free time. I think brands will devote more of that to community. Actively responding to more comments. Maybe even going back to active social listening and jumping into conversations around relevant topics and issues–conversations they were almost ignoring before.

Executive ramp up social media profiles (once and for all)

One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 outbreak may be that it finally forces (ahem, encourages) execs to start and build those personal social profiles. Largely, I’m talking about LinkedIn. I’ve been on this topic for years. But, #coronavirus has given us a moment in time to leverage, in a way. Just look at the companies with active CEOs on LinkedIn–Ed Bastian with Delta. Mike Roman with 3M. Beth Ford with Land O Lakes. All are leveraging those profiles to help distribute and share meaningful, human messages. And, it’s working. In many instances, these personal profiles are outperforming the brand profiles. And, keep in mind we’re talking about companies like 3M, Medtronic and Delta!

The social network of the future might not be a social network at all

Two of the hottest “social” platforms right now are certainly not traditional social media networks. The first–Zoom–probably isn’t a social platform at all. Except, it gets at the essence of everything social media was at one time. It’s real. Honest. Human. And, you’re already seeing brands trying to leverage it as a platform (see Chipotle’s “Chipotle Together” Zoom chats). The second–Twitch–is the real up-and-comer. And, if you think this is all about reaching teen gamer boys, you’re probably the same people who think tween girls are the only ones that use TikTok. The next big social networks may not be traditional social networks–at least not the way we know them now. But, we need to keep our eyes open because these shifts are happening–right now.

User-generated content takes center stage

You’re seeing big-time brands like Walmart, Lowe’s, and UPS leverage user- and employee-generated content during one of the most critical moments in our lives. Now, partly that’s because they can’t generate the kind of visual content they want to because everyone is stuck at home. But, I do think part of this is because people are getting tired of “branded content.” They want more human, realistic visual content. They want unfiltered content. And, I don’t think that goes away when the virus goes away.

Those are just a few of the early trends I’m seeing during the outbreak. I’m sure I’ll have more to share as the weeks go along. What are you seeing out there in terms of shifts in the social media landscape?