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UM, a division of IPG Mediabrands, has released the findings of its 9th annual global social media tracker, Wave and it certainly makes for interesting reading, writes Simon Geraghty.

Wave 9 surveyed over 52,000 people in 78 countries around the world (including 1,000 in Ireland) and builds on ten years of global social tracking. Wave was established in 2006 to measure the scale and impact of social media across the globe. Today it is the largest and longest-running study of its kind.

Over the course of this project Wave has shown that this is not just a story of unprecedented growth in this space but also one of social evolution.

The always-on presence of mobile devices and the social channels we consume on them provides advertisers today with countless opportunities for engagement. But it is only by identifying meaningful moments that we can connect brands with their audience in a relevant way. Our challenge is to help brands to find and connect in those moments.

What do followers want from brands online?

A key finding from the study is that customer expectations of brands are at an all-time high. With 77% of Irish people using instant messaging to stay in touch with family and friends, this in turn means we expect a response almost instantly from the brands we follow.

It is no longer enough just to hear about a brand’s latest product news (down 13% year on year).

We expect them to help us (up 4%), provide us with escape (up 12%) or give us content worth sharing with our friends (up 15%)!

Seeking content, unleashing creativity

With the continued rise of smart, connected devices, smartphones, smart TVs and wearable technology, brands that understand our need for instant access and help us live in the moment are thriving in this hyper-connected age. Look at MyTaxi, Dropbox, the instant access to content from Netflix and Spotify, and rapid turnaround food deliveries from Deliveroo and JustEat.

What we are doing on our smartphones is evolving, 62% of us are watching videos on our smartphones, but 13% are creating videos. 42% of us upload photos, and 36% are uploading temporary photos to applications such as Snapchat.

35% say the smartphone allows us to express ourselves and 22% say it is unleashing creativity. Brands that tap into these sentiments and allow their customers to create and share content can make better connections.

Shaping world opinion versus shaping our friend’s opinions

There’s no doubt that social media is shaping our opinions, however, not every platform influences people in the same way. Platforms are seen as having different strengths in relation to shaping world opinion versus those among groups of friends.

For instance, Facebook is described as THE platform that gets talked about among groups of friends (70%) – its influence clearly residing amongst existing friendship groups when compared to 43% on Twitter. WhatsApp (at 58%) and Snapchat (at 67%) on Snapchat, while both in growth mode, are also seen as platforms that are talked about among peers.

Twitter, however, is described as a platform that influences world opinion at 62%, but Facebook comes in close second place at 59%.

It is clear that Twitter’s ability to reach diverse opinion groups combined with its sometimes-adversarial style makes it more newsworthy than other channels and thus gives it an impact on global opinion – as we have seen with recent political events in the UK and the US. With Facebook, on the other hand, people are more likely to see their own opinions reflected back at them.

Social Media FOMO

In addition, 37% of us worry about missing out about something on our social network while 30% say it is important to seem active on social media. 1 in 4 of us feel we are checking our devices too often (almost 60% higher in Ireland than global respondents). 48% of us feel overwhelmed by the volume of things available to me online.

Future releases of Wave will be keeping an eye on trends in digital detoxing or the return of so-called “dumb or (un-smart) phones” as users seek to take a break from being always on.

As our attention spans shorten, it is vital that advertisers understand the emotional needs of their consumers in the real-life moments when brands suddenly become relevant. Otherwise, they will fail to make a meaningful connection.

Simon Geraghty is strategic director of IPG Mediabrands.

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ June 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660