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Social Media in 2020: 11 Data-Backed Predictions

2020—it’s a year that, because of its symmetrical numerology, tends to attract a disproportionate share of futurist musings.

Not wanting to be left out (as well as to capitalize on the SEO term “social media in 2020”), I’ve made a list of how social media will evolve in the coming years.

From the rise of social commerce to Gen Z stumbling into an office chair near you, this post will tell you what social trends to expect and prepare for.

In this post, I’ll offer broad strokes. If you’d like a more comprehensive analysis of social media trends, see my 2018 social trends report. In the report, I cover social video, the state of peer-to-peer trust, ROI measurement, and key opportunities for each major social platform.

Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2020.

#1 – Social’s growth continues

We Are Social and Hootsuite recently published our annual global study of internet, social, and mobile adoption across 239 countries.

In our analysis, we found that social media usage will continue to grow. 1 million new people joined social networks every single day in 2017. And nearly a quarter of a billion new users came online for the first time in 2017. This growth will continue—and we’ll see interesting uses of social media come from Africa which currently has the fastest growth rates, with the number of internet users across the continent increasing by more than 20 percent year-over-year.

By 2020, we’ll see the increased dominance of Instagram, especially among older demographics. “Instagram users are a lot more older than people often imagine,” says Simon Kemp. “There are more 45 to 54 year-olds using Instagram than there are 13 to 17 year olds.” As our CEO Ryan Holmes predicts, Instagram will quickly evolve over the next few years and become the new home for brands.

You can take a closer look at this data in our global report (in partnership with We Are Social and Simon Kemp).

#2 – Product discovery becomes more visual (and social)

According to GlobalWebIndex, almost half of internet users follow brands they like or brands they are thinking of buying something from on social media. Search engines, online reviews, and PR are the traditional discovery channels. But by 2020, we’ll see dramatic growth in five areas:

Social for product research

For online product research, search still leads the way. But social is catching up.

In a study of 178,421 global internet users aged 16-64, GlobalWebIndex found that 28 percent of users turned to social networks during their online product research, a number that we’ve seen jump every year.

In fast-growth markets such as Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, social media dramatically beats search engines for product research.

As GlobalWebIndex also found, social media eclipses search engines as a research channel in the Philippines, Kenya and Morocco.

By 2020, we’ll see search’s grip slip further on product research and social’s influence grow, especially among mobile-first consumers and emerging markets.

Visual searches

Andrew Ng, the Chief Scientist at Baidu, predicts that at least 50% of searches by 2020 are going to be through images or speech.

Products like Pinterest Lens use machine learning to aid in brand and product discovery. As Pinterest’s founder and CEO Ben Silbermann puts it, “a lot of the future of search is going to be about pictures instead of keywords.”

Voice control

“Who ever controls voice is going to control a quarter of all computing,” predicts Stern School of Business professor Scott Galloway.

But as Simon Kemp also points out, the transformation that voice technology will bring goes far beyond brands fighting for digital shelf-space on Amazon Echo.

As he explained in a recent podcast, especially for emerging markets, voice will help to make searching (and typing) easier. Voice technology helps consumers who have lower levels of reading literacy, making it a key technology for the next billion consumers about to come online for the first time. This will both change how consumers discover products and how they communicate on social channels—a new set of digital behaviors that marketers will need to adapt to.

Messaging apps

Facebook predicts that by 2020, 80 percent of smartphone users are projected to be using a mobile messaging app. Customer service is one of the most obvious use cases. But many local businesses are using messaging apps as their primary customer communication hub. This opens the door for conversational commerce to extend far beyond messaging, with messaging apps becoming the center of mobile commerce, customer relationship management workflows, and product discovery.


From product galleries on Instagram to product launches on Facebook Live, social content is already used by younger demographics to discover and evaluate products. As more consumers research potential purchases on social networks, it’s a short leap to buying directly on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.

Download the full Social Trends report to get an in-depth analysis of the data you need to inform your social strategy in 2020.Get the full report now!

Chatbots will help consumers transition to social commerce, making it easy and seamless to discover products, ask questions, process digital payments, and see automatic updates on your order’s delivery date.

By 2020, the novelty of chatbots will be gone. But for purchases such as choosing a smartphone package or planning a vacation, they’ll be delightfully helpful shopping social companions.

#3 – Social video saturation—and evolution

“Over the next few years, the much bigger driver of the business and determinant of how we do is going to be video, not Messenger,” says Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s easy to see the growth potential of video. According to GlobalWebIndex’s latest data on social video adoption, audience demand continues to grow.

  • 56% of internet users watch videos on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram each month.
  • 81% of 55 to 64-year-olds are watching videos online each month.
  • One in three social video viewers watch videos made by brands every month.

As more mobile-first consumers in emerging markets come online, we’ll see even more growth in this area. For countries with low literacy rates, video is a much easier medium than text to learn about products and communicate online.

And with the rise of messaging—a medium where people type less and increasingly use audio snippets, live video messages, and augmented reality filters—the opportunity of social video has only begun.

But by 2020, marketers will face video saturation. As we found in our 2018 Social Trends survey, 46 percent of respondents said they’re already implementing social videos, with another 26 percent planning to implement in 2018. This means that social video is quickly moving from being an algorithmic advantage to a table-stakes tactic.

While most brands use social videos to boost traffic and reclaim a bit of organic reach, the impact of social video will be broad. Here are a few areas to expect to see radical transformation with social video content.

Social ecommerce

Nearly every consumer is primarily using a mobile device. And video is a much easier medium for learning about products. Companies like MikMak are working to figure out what native commerce experiences look like for “the social video generation.”

With fun, short-form product videos, they help brands directly convert viewers on social channels. Expect to see more companies shorten the path between awareness videos and direct purchases on social platforms.

One-to-one communication

Whether chatting with an investment advisor or getting a sales agent to walk you through cell phone plans, there’s a lot of opportunity for one-to-one videos between businesses and consumers.

For example, teens are typing less in messaging apps and using videos and audio snippets more. Over 100 million people use WhatsApp’s in-app video calling to connect with friends and family. Over 200 million people use the video messaging and augmented reality app Snow.

Marketers will need to adapt to these new highly personal uses of video. In other words, social video will need to become social—an experience that builds a customer community rather than broadcast-style content and product teasers.

Passive networking

Globally, online consumers spend one-third of their time on social media. But as people spend more time on social, we’re seeing new behaviors emerge.

People are sharing less personal information on major networks. Instead, they’re watching videos, killing time, and sharing things to connect with friends.

Video’s impact will be broad here.

As GlobalWebIndex puts it in their latest social video report, “video positions social media as the go-to destination for anything from music consumption to online shopping and live sports broadcast and commentary.”

What to do to prepare:

Social videos can boost traffic. But chasing traffic and adapting to the whims of social algorithms isn’t a winning strategy.

“Only two firms can monetize traffic at scale—Facebook and Google,” says Stern School of Business professor Scott Galloway. “Everyone else needs to build a group of loyal followers.”

If you’d like practical tips for using video in 2018, I analyzed the state of social video in Hootsuite’s 2018 Social Trends report.

#4 – Social commerce makes a new push

Social commerce adoption in Europe and North America has been slow. But the next phase of innovation in social won’t come from advanced economies. It’s the emerging economies—consumers that have skipped desktop and traditional search engines—that will lead the way.

From micro businesses to major retailers, social’s role in ecommerce will grow. For example, Instagram already allows businesses to build digital storefronts with visual and video content.

As the analyst firm GlobalWebIndex predicts, “shopping via social channels may be an APAC-based phenomenon for now, but a culmination of trends are laying the groundwork for social commerce to gain traction in the West.”

What you can do to prepare:

Make sure your social video and social commerce strategy are working in lock-step. Mobile-first shoppers look for fun, short-form product videos.

I also found this report by the consulting firm PWC to be valuable. It shows how mobile-first consumers are using social across the complete customer journey in China, a glimpse of the trends that will soon sweep Europe and North America.

#5 – Gen Z drives VR and AR adoption

By 2020, we’ll see more practical uses of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in marketing. Amazon, for example, are exploring how to use AR to help consumers to try on virtual clothes and explore products. Snapchat’s Geofilters and Lens functions have been broadly adopted in marketing campaigns including creating location-specific videos to influence nearby customers such as event attendees or pedestrians near a store location.

Gen Z, of course, will help to push these technologies further. As GlobalWebIndex found, 22 percent of Gen Zers are using geofilters each month. Gen Zers who are watching social videos each month are 40 percent above average for using online sources to research products. They also are influenced by social reviews, admitting that lots of “likes” and positive comments on social media motivates them to make a purchase.”

Social platforms will obviously continue to push mobile AR features, as novelty always boosts user engagement (both for new features and ad campaigns by early adopters). Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Bitmoji, WeChat, and QQ are social messaging platforms that will use AR to boost advertising revenue.

What you can do to prepare:

TechCrunch released a bullish look at how VR and AR technologies will impact businesses. It’s packed with platform revenue data and interesting examples of how the mobile AR user base will push the market forward.

#6 – Social CEOs become the new normal

From the rise of anonymous work apps like Blind to collaborative digital spaces like Facebook Workplace, it’s clear that social is already changing how employees work.

By 2020, we’ll see the greatest impact on two areas: employer branding and the rise of executives who understand—and know how to use—social to listen to customers, communicate their vision, and rally employees.

It’s clear that the floodgates have opened. Employees are vocal. They have immediate social reach. And employees can easily build—or pull down—an employer’s brand. By 2020, large organizations will realize that employee comments and perceptions on social will need to be managed similar to how companies monitor customer complaints and feedback.

Whether tracking employee perceptions of new leaders to prioritizing critical problems in corporate culture, social data will become a new area of advantage. Using publicly available data (such as comments on Instagram or perceptions on LinkedIn), social data will provide a true look into the health of an employer brand.

Key to this transformation will be the ability of CEOs and other leaders to use social to communicate directly with employees. And by 2020, CEOs with tepid professional adoption of social media will become more rare.

As social channels continue to grow as the dominant communication channels both within and outside of company walls, CEOs who ignore these channels will be at a disadvantage.

In this new world, leaders will also need to adapt their communication styles. Be personal, unscripted, and direct. For example, Edelman’s study of consumer trust found that 57 percent of global consumers were more likely to believe a spontaneous speaker, versus 43 percent that would trust a speaker that sounded scripted and rehearsed.

What you can do to prepare:

Our CEO Ryan Holmes wrote a short primer for executives, teaching you how to build an effective social leadership strategy.

In Edelman’s 2018 report, you can track the role that employees have in corporate communications. You’ll also see global data on how CEOs can build more trust with today’s social employees and vocal consumers.  

#7 – Amazon makes a move on the advertising duopoly

By 2020, we’ll see digital dominance of Google and Facebook slightly shrink, while Amazon’s and Snapchat’s influence grows. According to the analyst firm eMarketer, Amazon’s ad business is expected to grow to nearly three percent of the market from two percent in 2017, for a total of $2.9 billion in ad revenue for 2018.

Amazon has built the world’s largest digital storefront. They’ve also studied billions of digital shopping behaviors. And now, they’re working to earn advertiser dollars. Amazon’s key advantage is attribution.

“Amazon’s pitch,” explains the marketing magazine Digiday, “is that it can offer advertisers a ‘total wallet’ perspective—connecting what people are searching for with what they’re buying online—and with its increasing brick-and-mortar retail presences, also what people buy in person.”

Organic social content will play a critical role, helping shoppers to evaluate products, be inspired by curated product collections, and seek advice from like-minded customers.

As the analyst Mary Meeker predicts, “Ads are becoming targeted storefronts. Ads, content, products, transactions … the lines are blurring. The content is becoming the store. The ad is becoming the transaction.”

What you can do to prepare:

Take a look at Amazon’s advertising platform. Explore Snapchat’s self-serve advertising features. And also take a look at Hootsuite Ads—our tool helps you effectively manage organic and paid content together, reaching a bigger audience at a lower cost.

#8 – The machines serve their masters

“Artificial intelligence will be everywhere, like electricity,” says the Lady Gaga of Mathematics, Cédric Villani. At the end of April, Villani will release his highly anticipated report that will help to guide how governments prepare for the AI evolution that is already moving beneath our feet.

Companies like Google, of course, will make sure this dream becomes real.

“In the long run, we’re evolving in computing from a ‘mobile-first’ to an ‘AI-first’ world,” says Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google.

Gartner has been bullish on their AI predictions. They estimate that by 2020, 30 percent of all B2B companies will employ artificial intelligence (AI) to augment at least one of their primary sales processes.

So what does AI mean for the future of marketing? One of the best decks on AI I’ve found comes from the analyst and general-smart human Simon Kemp. In this fantastic deck workshop, you’ll learn how to adapt your marketing to a machine-first world.

In broad strokes, algorithms already influence almost every aspect of our digital lives including what content we read, what products we discover, and even who we marry. The good news is that from chabots to predictive analytics, many AI innovations will help marketers increase their impact while eliminating tedious tasks.

And while understanding how algorithms push our content or products higher in social feeds, Simon Kemp reminds us to keep things simple. As he explains, “many marketers think of algorithms as incomprehensible ‘black boxes’, but they’re actually more predictable than the irrational behaviour of human consumers. Treat algorithms as just another ‘audience’ and many of your fears will dissipate.”

social media 2020

What you can do to prepare:

Take a look at Simon Kemp’s AI workshop. Also start exploring tools that use AI—for example, MarketMuse uses AI to help build smarter SEO and content strategies. Companies like Conversable make it easier for brands who use AI to create automated experiences on messaging and voice channels.

I’ve also found a lot of value in Narrative Science’s Quill, an AI-based app that turns data into written reports. You can sign up for their free version here. The free app analyzes your Google Analytics data including custom segments. It’s a great way to automate monthly KPI reports for leadership.

#9 – Emerging markets innovate with mobile

“The next billion users as they come online are going to change absolutely everything in terms of the way that all of us experience the internet—this is not just a next billion developing economy story but very much about the future of the internet and global connectivity for all of us,” says Simon Kemp.

By 2020, Facebook predicts that more people are predicted to have mobile phones than running water or electricity at home. An estimated 3 billion people will gain access to mobile phones by 2020. For these consumers, mobile will be their only way to get online. According to Facebook, more than one in four internet users measured are already mobile only, with India (70 percent) and Indonesia (67 percent) leading the way.

Messaging apps will play a key role in this mobile-centric world, giving micro businesses new ways to communicate with customers.

“Many emerging markets have leapfrogged past landlines and computers, building their own mobile-centric universes,” says Facebook. “Among people surveyed who are connected in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, fully 40 percent say they’ve been able to generate additional income from being online.”

For example, Facebook found that consumers in India, Mexico and Thailand are 1.25 times more likely to say that the ability to message a business makes them more likely to shop with that business. Kenyans surveyed are 1.57 times more likely than the global average to use mobile payments.”

As I already mentioned, 80 percent of smartphone users are projected to be using a mobile messaging app by 2020. But as Facebook’s research found, people are already using messaging apps to pave new paths to purchase.

Social networks will also play critical roles in the financial lives of mobile-first consumers.

For example, TransferWise allows users to send money internationally via Facebook Messenger chatbots—the latest in a long line of social integrations. Almost two in three messaging app users are currently using mobile banking services according to GlobalWebIndex. And 63 percent of messaging app users are also using mobile banking services.

I also analyzed the key social trends in the financial sector in our yearly report. You can download that report here.

By 2020, we’ll see digital communication dramatically evolve. As Simon Kemp explains, “keyboards will be replaced by voice commands and cameras. Visual content will dominate social and messaging, and new technologies will offer richer digital experiences for people everywhere. To keep up, brands need to rethink their strategies, build new capabilities, and quickly adapt.”

What you can do to prepare:

Brands know that mobile is the default experience. But according to research from the analyst firm L2, few brands have moved beyond basic optimization. L2 found that the average mobile checkout process is three pages long, giving users (especially in lower literacy markets) lots of reasons to click away in frustration. Only 14 percent of consumer brands offer single-page checkouts.

To adapt to mobile-first consumers, begin with the basics. Audit your mobile experience. Begin using social commerce like Instagram’s shopping features. And look to emerging markets to prepare for the next shifts in mobile and social commerce. In our global report, you can drill down into regional countries, seeing how mobile-first economies use social channels.

#10 – Fake news and the rise of regulation

By 2020, the major platforms will be regulated. But the news headlines will also resemble 2018—Trump will be charging towards reelection which means you’ll be seeing a lot of articles about fake news, data privacy, and Russian hackers.

As eMarketer notes, marketers will also face stricter regulation and the market will be filled with tech vendors in order to protect and store first-party data. We’re already seeing the impact of regulation. Facebook, for example, will soon require marketers to confirm they have user consent for Custom Audiences.

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.

What you can do to prepare:

If you’ve never even thought of the implications of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK has released a 12-point guide.

If you love Trump, you’ll be happy in 2020 as I think he will win a second term. If you aren’t a fan, consider moving to Canada. I’m already here. And there are a few empty desks by me.

#11 – Gen Z are the future—unless we stop them

It’s too late to stop millennials. By 2020, they’ll by far be the largest cohort in the workforce. “Millennials have officially overtaken Gen Xers as the most populous generation in the US workforce,” reports Facebook and Deloitte. “By 2020, they will make up half of the global workforce.”

I’m technically a millennial. So I’m not worried about millenials. And by 2020, the avocado toast and snowflake jokes will be forgotten in some internet archives. Instead, we’ll be in the middle of the new generational wave—the socially-wired Gen Z.

But don’t worry—my nephew is a member of Gen Z. Can’t say enough nice things about him.

What you can do to prepare:
There is nothing you can do. They’re already among us.

In the meantime, if you want to understand your future boss, here’s a report with a few things to understand about the media’s new generational scapegoat. Hootsuite has also compiled some helpful statistics about Gen Z.

Not all trends are worth following.

Here are a few resources to help guide your digital strategy in 2018 that I mentioned in this article.

Digital in 2018
Download Hootsuite and We Are Social’s global report on internet, social, and mobile adoption across 239 countries.

Hootsuite’s Social Trends 2018
You can download my yearly trends report filled with global data, visual charts, new tools, and key trends to put into action.

Social Trends for Financial Services
Hootsuite’s financial service report examines key industry trends, tracking how organizations are using social media to grow revenues and decrease operational costs.

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