Last year saw continued growth and innovation in social media opportunities for brands with new features, content formats and dynamic creative capabilities designed to bring brands closer to their customers. For social marketers, a successful strategy involves tapping into audiences in compelling ways that can grab attention in passing moments.

Facebook and Snapchat launched new immersive formats, including augmented reality. Pinterest and Instagram ramped up shoppable post capabilities. Machine learning powers an ever-growing slate of platform functions. Here’s the rundown of top features and formats social marketers should explore in 2020.

Facebook

Groups. Over the last few years, Facebook has been pushing hard to beef up its community-driven Groups feature, opening it to brands and publishers in 2017 and with a suite of settings and tools specifically for Groups creators. By July 2018, Facebook rolled out Watch Party for all Groups, a video feature that allows multiple users to watch and comment on the same video in a Facebook Group simultaneously. The following month, Facebook opened up its ads pixel to a limited number of Groups, and said it was planning a broader roll-out in the coming weeks.

It didn’t come as a surprise when, in early 2019, Facebook announced that it would make “Groups” a central focus of its platform. After overhauling the Groups tab with a redesign and a new slate of features, Facebook Groups saw tremendous growth in 2019, with users able to discover more relevant content, more easily. The Groups tab now shows a personalized feed of activity across all of your groups, and the discovery tool touts improved recommendations to let users quickly find groups of interest.

Facebook Groups offer an opportunity for brands willing to put the time and effort into building out a community via the platform. Not only do Facebook Groups provide direct engagement with followers, but they give brands using them more exposure on the app with posts and discussions from Groups visible in News Feed.

Messenger ads. Facebook originally launched Messenger ads in 2016, but the ad product has since undergone a series of upgrades and improvements that will make it a valuable channel in 2020. Messenger ads work like ads across other Facebook platforms to automatically deliver ads to the placement most likely to drive campaign results at the lowest cost. The best part? Advertisers can use the same creative for Messenger that’s already being used for Facebook and Instagram. Audiences will see these ads in the Chats tab in their Messenger app. When they tap on an ad, they’ll be sent to a detailed view within Messenger with a call-to-action that will take them to the destination you chose during ads creation—whether that’s your site, app, or a conversation with your business.

Click to Messenger ads. In October, Facebook released a new feature that allows advertisers to use Stories ads to start conversations in Messenger. Users can swipe up on Stories ads that have a “Send Message” call to action to start a conversation with the business in Messenger without leaving the app they’re in. And for businesses with multiple Facebook apps connected to the Messenger platform, the company is made it easier to select which app they want to use for their Click to Messenger ads. As social platforms and usage patterns trend to a more personalized, messaging experience, brands focused on one-on-one communication with consumers will have an advantage over the competition and a better chance at attracting a loyal following.

Instant Experience ads. Formerly known as Canvas ads, these full-screen takeover ads load instantly and are mobile-optimized, designed to capture the full attention of the audience. Within Instant Experience, users can watch engaging videos and photos, swipe through carousels, tilt to pan, and explore lifestyle images with tagged products all in a single ad experience. Facebook last year also added new metrics for Instant Experiences in Ads Manager: Instant Experiences Clicks to Open, Instant Experiences Clicks to Start and Instant Experiences Outbound Clicks. The new metrics give advertisers more insight into the key “drop-off” points within an ad and are available to campaigns implementing Instant Experiences and Lead Ads.

Dynamic ad formats. Dynamic Ads, launched in 2019, are Facebook’s machine-learning ad unit that delivers a personalized version of the ad to everyone who sees it, based on which ad types they are most likely to respond to. The format is available for any campaign that uses objectives for catalog sales, traffic, and conversions. According to a Facebook test, Dynamic Ads delivered an average of 34% improvement in incremental ROAS, 10% improvement in lift, and 6% lower cost per incremental purchase compared to carousel-only ads.

Creator Studio. Facebook originally launched the Creator Studio in 2018 as a centralized hub for publishers and creators managing video content. In 2019, the tool underwent a series of updates and improvements to help support brand and partnered monetization efforts. Enhancements to the Creator Studio included a dedicated Monetization Overview section, new audience and retention insights, and the ability to now manage Instagram posts and IGTV from within the Creator Studio. The tool itself gives marketers a one-stop-shop to post, schedule posts, manage, monetize, and measure content across Facebook Pages and Instagram accounts. Page admins will be able to schedule video content on the Instagram platforms up to six months in advance via the Creator Studio, and Facebook reports it is working on new drafting features for videos published to the Instagram Feed and IGTV. It’s likely that the Creator Studio will continue rolling out updates to support individuals and brands managing content video across Facebook properties.

Instagram

Story ads. It’s been more than two years since Instagram first rolled out Story Ads, and the ad format has been a big win for the company, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claiming that more than three million advertisers were running Story Ads across Instagram, Facebook and Messenger. And, according to a report from Kenshoo, Instagram Story Ads accounted for nearly 20% of ad spend on the platform during the second quarter of 2019. It’s no surprise Story Ads are performing well — Instagram reports 500 million accounts are using Stories on its platform. One-third of the most viewed Stories come from businesses, while 1 in 5 Stories are generated via direct message from viewers. In October 2019, Instagram confirmed it was experimenting with increasing the ad load in Stories, not surprising considering the activity Stories are generating.

Shoppable posts. Instagram first debuted its Checkout feature in March 2019, giving online retailers a more seamless way to connect with customers. The feature allows users to make purchases from in-feed or Story content without leaving the app. It works with Shopping on Instagram, enabling businesses to tag up to five products per image (or twenty products per carousel). The tags contain product details and pricing, giving shoppers a smoother path to purchase, and brands the ability to creatively showcase shoppable products. To create shoppable posts, businesses will need to create a Facebook Shop account to link to Instagram.

IGTV. In 2018, Instagram launched IGTV as a hub for watching and creating long-form video content, with a direct connection to the Instagram platform. Unlike Instagram Stories, which disappear after 24 hours, IGTV content occupies a permanent home on the platform, offering the ability to record videos up to an hour long. IGTV videos are largely vertical – and watching them feels similar to watching a Stories feed, giving video creators more opportunities to capture engaged audiences.

While there is a standalone app for IGTV, the majority of users access it on Instagram through either the IGTV tab or the “Explore” tab, which more than half a billion users visit every month, according to Instagram.

Twitter

Hide replies to tweets. In November, Twitter began testing the ability for users to hide tweet replies – an effort to provide users with more control over managing conversations. Users can opt to hide replies to the tweets they create. However, users can still see and engage with hidden replies by selecting the “View hidden replies” option in the Tweet’s dropdown. For brands, the ability to hide Tweet replies could help give them more control over the context of their engagements – such as weeding out spam replies. On the other hand, hiding all replies could have a negative impact for users who rely on replies to find out more information about the product or topic discussed.

Revival of Lists. The longstanding Twitter feature underwent a series of upgrades in 2019, including a new Lists look (courtesy of the platform’s redesign in July), the option to follow specific topics as Lists, and the addition of a shortcut tab for Lists on the mobile app. Twitter said it plans to continue improving Lists in 2020 – an indication that the feature is becoming a core component of Twitter’s social offering. For marketers, the revamped Lists feature offers the ability to build and engage with a curated feed of content, created from specific topics or interests. Brands on Twitter can use Lists to curate community-driven conversations, keep tabs on competitors and stay up-to-date on industry trends.

Video focus. In April 2018, Twitter attributed more than half of its ad revenue to video ads. In 2019, Twitter reported that video ad formats continue to be its fastest-growing ad format. Twitter rolled out a new video ad bidding option in August, giving advertisers the option to run video ads up to 15-seconds long and only pay for ads viewed for a full six-seconds with pixels at 50% in-view. Twitter calls it a “flexible option for advertisers who care about the completed view metric, but are ready to… develop short-form assets optimized for in-feed viewing.”

The platform has also made sure creators and publishers are able to maximize video efforts with new tools and offerings to help drive performance. The “Timing is Everything” tool, launched in March, shows an aggregate view of when users are watching an account’s videos. In April, Twitter announced exclusive media partnerships with a handful of news and entertainment organizations (Univision, MTV, Wall Street Journal – among others) to bring more video content to the platform and attract video advertisers. The media partners were hard at work on Twitter in 2019, creating video content for news, tech, politics, music and sports – all aimed at appealing to a wide spectrum of brands.

Snapchat

Augmented reality (AR). Snap has been an AR leader among social platforms, getting marketers to consider AR in their strategies. At its annual partner summit in April, Snapchat rolled out significant creative updates to support new AR experiences. The company introduced enhanced AR capabilities, including dynamic scanning, improved movement tracking, interactive templates via Lens Studio, landmark manipulation, and object scanning. By October 2019, the company reported that its daily active users (DAU) interact with AR features nearly 30 times every day, on average.

If that isn’t enough to pique your interest in the platform’s AR capabilities, Snapchat has acquired AI Factory – the computer vision startup that Snapchat collaborated with on its recently launched ‘Cameos’ video mode. It’s likely AI Factory technology will be used in developing more interactive features and creative tools for Snapchat users and marketers.

Paramount Picture recently created an AR-driven UGC campaign with Snapchat’s Cameos feature. As AR becomes more established, first-mover brands will be a step ahead in driving deeper engagements with audiences.

Dynamic ads. As with the dynamic ad capabilities of Facebook, Google, and Pinterest, Snapchat’s Dynamic Ads option reduces the amount of time and effort it takes to create and maintain product ads. In October 2019, Snapchat began testing the dynamic format, which automatically creates and updates product ads to run on the app. Dynamic ads are available in a wide array of templates for retail, e-commerce and DTC brands to upload their product catalogs to the platform. As product details such as price or availability are updated, Dynamic Ads adjust accordingly. Snapchat’s Dynamic Ads give the platform room to elbow its way into social commerce ad budgets that are largely allocated to Facebook and Instagram. For commerce advertisers targeting younger audiences, Snapchat’s dynamic ads are particularly appealing, as Gen Z and Millennials account for more than 75% of users aged 13 to 34.

YouTube

Original content. YouTube lifted its Premium paywall on original content in May, making YouTube Original series, movies, and live events free with ads to all viewers. Soon after, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) reported that more than half of digital video ad spend in 2019 would come from video ads featuring original content. While video is, without question, a highly effective format, advertisers should also embrace the idea of creating original video content that caters to the varied interests of their brand’s audience. YouTube aside, the industry’s continued investment in original content proves that it can do what stock or mass-produced content can’t – which is deliver deeper value for engaged consumers interested in the brand’s offering.

15-second non-skippable ads. YouTube made its 15-second non-skippable video ads available to all advertisers at the beginning of 2019. Before that, the ad unit was only open to advertisers buying through the YouTube reservation process and its premium Google Preferred network. In addition to the classic TruView ad unit, the option to buy traditional, non-skippable ads can be valuable for branding and reach and for advertisers who want to re-purpose existing creative designed for television and other non-skippable environments. With more viewers turning to the big screen TV to stream content through YouTube and other services, the non-skippable ad unit gives advertisers a simple path to target eyeballs at home from the living room.

Intelligent ad tools. In an effort to make advertising easier and more accessible to a broader range of advertisers, YouTube last year rolled out a range of machine learning-powered tools to do just that. Google made Discovery ad inventory (the native ads that appear in Google feed environments) available to advertisers on YouTube. With the Discovery ad unit, advertisers can upload individual creative assets, which Google then uses to churn out ad combinations based on the desired outcome.

YouTube also put machine learning to the test with an intelligent video ad editing tool dubbed the Bumper Machine. The tool automatically creates six-second bumper ads from existing video ads that run 90-seconds or less. It identifies well-structured clips in longer videos and converts them into multiple six-second video ads. For advertisers with limited resources, YouTube’s continued investment in intuitive, self-serve ad tools makes it easier to create and deploy visual campaigns across the platform.

Pinterest

Visual search. Pinterest has been on a slow journey to bring more e-commerce capabilities to its platform, but its new deep learning-powered visual search tool, launched in June, gives brands a major opportunity to be seen by consumers on their discovery journey. Dubbed “Complete The Look,” the tool makes it possible for the platform to recommend fashion and home decor products based on the context and attributes of all objects within an image a user searches for or saves. As a result, retail brands can gain more exposure on Pinterest as users browse for looks to aesthetically complement their initial search.

Catalogs. In March, Pinterest announced a new way to showcase products with the launch of Catalogs, allowing brands to upload multiple product images, organize the products by category and turn the images into dynamic Product Pins. ‘Catalogs’ makes it possible for merchants to create a full product catalog on the site as long as they have claimed a domain on Pinterest. Catalogs can then be used to generate product Pins in bulk and organize the Pins by product groups. After the launch of Catalogs, Pinterest added dedicated sections for products from specific retailers, giving shoppers the opportunity to see more from certain brands.

Self-serve shopping ads. Pinterest made Shopping Ads available via Ads Manager in August, giving advertisers the ability to launch Shopping campaigns via the self-serve interface. With shopping ads, marketers are also able to tag products from ‘Shop the Look‘ posts to create shoppable Product Pins. The company said the ad format was inspired by its organic Shop the Look pins, which rolled out in 2018 to give businesses the ability to tag up to 25 items in a single image.

TikTok

E-commerce capabilities. The short-form video app started testing shoppable video posts in 2019, making it possible for influencers on the platform to place social commerce URLs within posts. TikTok officially confirmed the test to Adweek in November, but did not disclose details on when it would receive a wider roll-out. In 2020, advertisers should be aware that e-commerce opportunities will be coming to TikTok, and should consider if the platform’s short-lived content model could be valuable to the brand’s retail consumers. TikTok entering the social commerce space proves the platform is entertaining more ways to appeal to the commercial interests of creators and potential advertisers. With more than 500 million global users, TikTok is still largely an untapped e-commerce market of Gen Z shoppers – but likely won’t be for long.

Ephemeral video content. On the note of TikTok’s content model: Creating snackable, short-form content doesn’t mean recycling campaign video assets and uploading them to the platform. Where traditional video content uses a heavy production hand, ephemeral forms of video don’t have that requirement – meaning brands can readily create low-budget, high-value content with an entertainment angle for younger audiences. While TikTok isn’t the first app to make a successful business model from short-lived video creations, the app has seen enormous growth over the last year – exceeding more than 1.5 billion downloads globally. That makes TikTok the third most downloaded non-gaming app of the year, behind WhatsApp (707 million installs) and Messenger (636 million). It ranks just above Facebook, which claims 587 million downloads, and Instagram, with 376 million. As TikTok continues to grow its presence in the U.S. market, social media marketers should be prepared for the next wave of ephemeral content.

More ways to share video. TikTok released its first software development kit (SDK) in November, allowing users to upload video content to the TikTok platform through third-party apps. The “Share to TikTok” SDK i’s the first kit the company introduced in its TikTok for Developers program. The SDK includes tools to help third-party apps and developers integrate with TikTok, allowing users to simply “Share to TikTok” from the editing panel of their favorite apps. TikTok named Adobe Premiere Rush as an initial integration partner, giving users the ability to edit using Adobe’s rich features and share instantly to TikTok. For marketers, the SDK brings more engagement to the video-sharing platform with a more accessible, one-click posting experience.

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