Anyone can make predictions about what the future holds. But actually being right about these predictions? Not so easy.

Last year we produced our third annual Social trends report. This labor of love (and research—a lot of research) took a look at five big trends we predicted would take off in 2018, and what these meant for businesses around the globe.

As we start looking towards 2019, we thought it would be a great time to check-in on how our predictions from last year panned out. Continue reading to discover:

  • The trends that made a difference to brands in 2018
  • Social media events and developments even we couldn’t have predicted
  • The big changes top social media platforms made

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Trend 1: The evolution of social ROI

Were we right? Very.

As we looked towards 2018, our research indicated a sharp focus on social ROI. Finding metrics to track wasn’t exactly the problem—it was tying these numbers back to your business outcomes that proved challenging.

This was such a big issue that 56 percent of respondents to our Hootsuite 2018 social trends survey said that “not being able to prove ROI makes it difficult for them to be successful on social.”

To address this discrepancy, we predicted that 2018 would see networks and businesses learning to measure beyond content performance metrics, and start to focus on the metrics connected to the entire customer journey.

On May 1, 2018, Facebook announced the launch of a new product: Journeys by Facebook Analytics. Noting—as we mentioned in our prediction—that businesses were finding it difficult to attribute conversions to particular actions on different websites and apps. Facebook explained: “With Journeys from Facebook Analytics, you see the paths to conversion that were visible to Facebook and made on your websites, apps, Messenger bot, and Facebook Page in a single report. Journeys tells you how long it takes people to convert, and which channels they start on.”

With Journeys by Facebook Analytics, businesses can also see insights such as whether “people who convert on desktop typically browse your mobile app first. Or if the people who interact with your Messenger bot ultimately convert in your mobile app, and spend more.”

While this is just one (major) example of platforms focusing on the customer journey and ROI, a simple Google search shows that there’s no turning back on this trend.

Trend 2: Mobile fuels the growth of social TV

Were we right? Yes.

The percentage of internet users who use social media to watch video has been steadily rising since 2015. With this growth—due to mobile usage, shorter attention spans, and the thrill of novelty—we predicted that in 2018 social networks will encourage brands to become broadcasters.

The biggest development in this space arrived from Instagram on June 20, 2018—IGTV. Instagram’s TV feature differentiates itself from standard social media video.

“First, it’s built for how you actually use your phone, so videos are full screen and vertical,” Instagram explained at launch. “Also, unlike on Instagram, videos aren’t limited to one minute. Instead, each video can be up to an hour long.” IGTV has channels like traditional TV, but the owners of each channel are creators, brands, and other Instagram users.

The increased usage of mobile devices also indicated a boost in digital ad spend compared to television advertising spending. We predicted that in 2018 we’d see internet advertising spend outpace TV, a prognosis that ultimately proved true. On May 1, 2018, AdWeek reported that for the first time ever, digital ad revenue surpassed the combined total of TV, broadcast and cable advertising.

As AdWeek explains, “Much of that growth was driven by mobile, which accounted for $49.9 billion in digital revenue—or around 57 percent of the total for the year. Social media also sped up the pace of its growth, increasing 36 percent to now account for about a quarter of all online ad revenue.”

With mobile use in the United States expected to surpass television use in 2019, there is no doubt that our prediction has proven true. However, it remains to be seen whether mobile users will ever completely abandon their television sets in favor of their phones.

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Get the free guide right now!

Trend 3: Trust declines, while peer influence rises

Were we right? Kind of.

When we looked towards 2018 in late 2017, we predicted that trust in micro-influencers, real customers, and regular “people like you” would increase as trust in institutions such as the mainstream media, CEOs, and government would reach historical lows.

According to Edelman’s 2018 Global Trust Barometer, trust in institutions declined 23 points in the U.S.—meaning we weren’t wrong about this part of the equation. However, media—which includes social networks—is now the least trusted institution. Trust in the social networks themselves declined two points while trust in journalists actually went up five percent.

The survey defines “the media” as social media networks, search platforms, news apps, influencers, journalists, and brands.

The polarization of trust was another thing we didn’t see coming. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton voters were pretty much on par when it came to trust in NGOs, businesses, and the government, only 27 percent of Trump voters had trust in the media, compared to 61 percent of Clinton voters.

Seven out of 10 people globally say they worry about false information and fake news being used as a weapon. Edelman found that 63 percent of respondents feel they do not know how to tell good journalism from rumor and falsehoods.

The issue around false news is one we didn’t expect at this scale. Following the discovery that foreign organizations used social networks to spread misinformation during the United States presidential election in 2016, Facebook has “promised to eradicate the issue over time.”

According to Techspot, “Facebook has already taken the first steps towards accomplishing their goal by partnering with several third-party fact-checkers. These individuals review and rate the accuracy of various pieces of content, including captioned images, and videos.”

Businesses need to be prepared for the declining trust in the media—and the stricter regulations that come along with the effort combat misinformation.

As we explain in our blog post Social media in 2020: 10 data-backed predictions, “It’s the end of the wild west. Social platforms will be regulated. Governments and consumers will look to better guard personal data. And rather than being impressed by data journalism or clever personalization, tech companies will be seen in a darker light by the public.”

Trend 4: Humans, meet AI

Were we right? Yes

From chatbots and social media ads optimization to self-driving cars and drones, the rise of artificial intelligence is one trend that brand’s (still) can’t ignore. We predicted that by 2020, more than 85 percent of all customer service interactions will be powered by AI bots.

In 2018, the growth of AI has been undeniable. According to the International Data Centre, worldwide spending on robotics and AI solutions will reach $103 billion in 2018—an increase of more than 22.1 percent compared to 2017. And, according to CB Insights, funding for AI startups reached $15.2-billion—growth of 141 percent in just one year.

While our 2018 report briefly addressed the potential issue of businesses losing focus on their customers in the face of AI, organizations need to be wary of the negative impact poorly-executed technological developments could have. In her talk at the 2018 Artificial Intelligence Conference, New York University research scientist Meredith Whittaker spoke about the prevalent biases in the AI world, and how the focus on the human is more important than ever.

“AI systems are currently designed by a very small, very privileged subset of the population. In the western context these are mainly white, mainly men, mainly affluent and mostly located in the Bay Area. Many of them care about these issues, but this doesn’t mean their worldviews and assumptions aren’t encoded into the technologies they make, which leads to facial recognition systems that are over 30 percent less accurate for dark skinned women than white men. To machine translation systems that encode gender bias, changing ‘doctor’ to ‘him’—even when translating from a language with gender-neutral pronouns, to a voice recognition system that doesn’t hear women, and on and on and on.”

While these are big issues any business needs to be aware of as they implement AI into their organization, when it comes to immediate next steps things are a bit simpler.

As we’ve said previously, a great place to start is Simon Kemp’s AI workshop. It’s also a good idea to explore tools that use AI, such as MarketMuse and Conversable.

Trend 5: The promise (and reality) of social data

Were we right? Kind of.

In our 2018 report, we predicted that while collecting data might be easy, a big focus for businesses will be trying to “extract usable insights from mountains of data.”

While we knew social media data would be a big story in 2018, we couldn’t have predicted just how big.

In March 2018, news broke that data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica allegedly “used personal information harvested from more than 50 million Facebook profiles [later increased to 87 million] without permission to build a system that could target US voters with personalised political advertisements based on their psychological profile.”

We can’t talk about Cambridge Analytica without also mentioning Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR.) Along with numerous other rights enacted to citizens, the introduction of a revised GDPR in 2018 meant that “individuals will find themselves with more power to demand companies reveal or delete the personal data they hold.”

In other words, citizens must consent to their data being used by companies—or see these companies face substantial fines and repercussions

If the Cambridge Analytica scandal had happened post-GDPR, Facebook’s fine could have been up to €1.4 billion (or USD $1.63-billion.)

One of the other top data-related stories of 2018 was Facebook’s algorithm changes. The metrics that marketing managers used to measure their success by were put in jeopardy when Facebook announced that their algorithm will prioritize “meaningful interactions” from users’ friends and family over branded content.

“As we make these updates, [Business] Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease,” Facebook explained. However, many are still wondering exactly how to measure “meaningful interactions.”

When asked about this, Facebook’s Adam Mosseri explained, “Conversations between friends tend to be more meaningful than conversations between strangers. Facebook is still looking at key metrics it has always looked at — things like “Likes,” comments and shares — to shape its definition of “meaningful,” but it’s not black and white.”

As we can see, there isn’t much that actually is “black and white” when it comes to the prediction of social media trends. There are so many global and cultural pieces to the puzzle, that it would be impossible to defiantly declare the future. As we look towards 2019, we’re sure there will be some surprises. However, our proven research methods and expert data mean your business will never be completely caught off guard.

Stay tuned for our 2019 social trends report, where we break down the most important changes your brand should be prepared for in the near future. Meanwhile, make sure you’re up to date by reviewing last year’s report.