Here's a fun and kind of scary fact: There are more people active on social networks today than there were human beings on the entire planet just 40 years ago--that's 3.8 billion people, each interacting with almost 2.5 hours of social content. Every. Single. Day.

The potential of social media to reach and influence people is staggering. While we had plenty of hashtag-fee, unbranded fun on MySpace and Friendster in the earliest days of social (so good while it lasted!), once Facebook and Twitter made their platforms public in 2006, brands couldn't resist jumping in to get free access to millions of fans, followers and future customers. 

Their presence--along with that of celebs, personalities, and thought leaders--has no doubt driven the trends that we're seeing across all of the social.

Brands have even reshaped the user experience itself, as the major social networks constantly modify their algorithms in order to serve up (supposedly) more relevant content and ads. Those changes are critical to brands, as 43 percent of internet users ages 16 to 64 say that they use social networks when researching things to buy.

Successfully growing your brand's equity and revenue through organic and paid social media means staying way ahead of trends and pushing the boundaries of what the medium can do for your brand. As you continue planning and posting, here are the most relevant trends our team at Masthead Media is seeing this year so far--and how you can use them.

Ephemeral Content 

Ephemeral content is marketing speak for images, text and video that live for just a short time on social platforms (e.g., Snapchat, Facebok and Instagram stories).

While the overall growth of social media is leveling off, the number of people who are joining and active on stories is exploding (after launching in 2016, more than 500 million people use Instagram stories every single day). Not only in the audience growing, but people who are active in stories don't seem to mind that brands are also posting their content within the space. In fact, a full 1/3 of the most-watched stories are from brands. 

Users seem to value the content they're seeing from brands in IG stories, and according to parent company Facebook, 80 percent of Instagrammers say they rely on the platform to help them decide whether to buy a product or service. Here's how top brands like Everlane, Bon Appetit and Glossier are leaning into stories.

What You Can Do: If you have a more visual brand that lends itself to imagery, don't wait another second to jump into stories. Even if you create a single story with a few images per week, you'll be reminding your customers why you're relevant to their lives---without overly trying to sell them anything.

Burns, Battles and Weirdness

If you happen to follow Wendy's Twitter account (and with 3 million followers, you just might) you'll see exactly what it means to push boundaries--the right way--on social. For the past couple of years, the social media managers (SMMs) behind the burger chain's feeds have roasted fans, engaged in rap battles, and trolled their competitors about frozen beef and fry filled burgers

Your dignity

-- Wendy's (@Wendys) January 4, 2017

Wendy's is among a rarified group on social who use humor--wacky, weird and creative clap backs--to really make their target demographic (Millenials) laugh and retweet. The SMMs behind Denny's and Arby's, also tap weird humor, imagery and to connect with their audiences within each platform. 

But isn't just massive brands who can use sharp comebacks and questionable one liners to drive huge social media success. A couple years ago, a virtually unknown bakery Nadja Cakes lit Facebook on fire when it innocently posted a cake meant to look like a geode...and followers saw something very, very different. 

The owner's responses are a study in using social media humor to the hilt--and subsequently going viral beyond her wildest expectations. 

What You Can Do: Really know your audience, and don't be afraid to test their appetite for humor. Find the line...and stop just sort of crossing it. Get someone with a genuinely sharp wit and a fast response time to manage your feed. Long lags are never funny.

New Influencer Discovery and Tracking 

You've no doubt heard that Facebook has been testing the idea of hiding/removing "like counts, which to me has always seemed like a precursor to something bigger. Namely, a direct way FB to capture funds from the multi-billion dollar influencer marketing industry. 

That seems to be unfolding now as Facebook is starting to push brands to use its ?Brand Collabs Manager platform. Creators on both FB and IG are now able to add themselves as influencers, brands can use the tool to find those who seem to be a good fit with their audience for a paid partnership. Going forward, the platform will show them how well those "Paid Partnership" posts are really doing--something that may harder impossible to do if like counts go away.

While this news means FB is keeping transactions within their walled garden, the silver lining is that the move may make it easier micro-influencers to be discovered (they can join with a minimum of 1,000 followers, or if they hit any of these other criteria). 

What You Can Do: In the past, I've reported that Facebook tends to reward brands who are early adopters of their tools and tech--so I have no doubt that any brand that taps Brand Collabs manager, in the beginning, will be rewarded with a successful, brag-worthy campaign (after all, FB controls how many people will be seeing those posts). Its definitely worth testing out, particularly as tracking the success of influencer campaigns has always been a bit tricky. If Facebook's metrics can be believed, you'll have a more direct way to see how your campaigns are performing.

Tik Tok Marketing

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are definitely saturated with brand messaging--but TikTiok, the preferred platform of Gen Z which launched in 2018, is still wide open to brands. TikTok is a video sharing social network that showcases people doing daring, funny, or downright ridiculous things, often with some kind of "challenge" element. 

A few early players such as ESPN, e.l.f. and Apple and have already started to make their mark through TikTok, but it's still early in the land grab. 

What You Can Do: Even if you're not ready to launch a video strategy, then download TikTok and start watching--a lot--to get a sense of the tone of TikTok clips (no one takes themselves too seriously). Start thinking about how you can feature your brand as part of a challenge (Chipotle has run some a really successful campaigns, inclduing the lid flip challenge and #guacdance, that are great examples) and plan to execute it low budget style. Superslick clips don't really belong on TikTok.