Sometimes, I feel like we're all at the whim of the latest social media trends. Whether you're a marketer using social to distribute your content and engage with audiences or a consumer trying to catch up with friends, family, and current events, social media is part of the conversation.

Love it or hate it, social media is integral to how audiences discover, consume, and engage with content -- which is why it's so critical for marketers and brand leaders to know how to maximize its value.

In the past, sharing a link on each of your platforms might have checked the box on your distribution checklist, but not anymore. Now, it's all about audience engagement. And earning and sustaining that engagement requires you to understand how audiences interact with content on social.

To help you improve your content distribution and deliver more value to your audiences, here are three key trends in social media engagement you need to know:

1. It's all about timing.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You know your audience loves Twitter, so you share your content on Twitter and then wait -- and wait -- for the favorites and retweets to flood your account's notifications. If so, then I've got some news for you. Sharing content where your audience lives is only half the battle; you've also got to get it to those people at the right time.

In "The State of Digital Media 2018," my team analyzed more than 3.5 million pieces of published content (as well as survey responses from editors at online publications) to uncover challenges and opportunities in the world of content. One area we examined was the relationship between when content is published and when audiences engage with it.

Most content was typically published midweek -- however, people tended to engage more with content on the weekends. When we looked at it from a monthly view, we found engagement was higher earlier in the year than it was during the summer and winter months.

If you have control over when your content goes live, consider testing different publication dates to maximize social engagement. And be prepared for engagement dips at certain times of the week and year.

2. New platforms are emerging.

It's hard to make it in this industry (R.I.P. Myspace), and if a platform can't offer something truly compelling or prove its value, then it won't last. Add to that the fact that a lot of us already have our personal favorite platforms, and it can be even tougher for a new one to emerge and successfully take off.

Still, there are some new platforms out there that are trying and at least seem intriguing. For example, Facebook is broadening its horizons by featuring a business chat option called Messenger 2.3. This new feature should help deepen engagement between businesses on Facebook and their consumers, offering a more personalized interaction with quicker communication.

There's also Vero, a new video and photo app that offers up content without the ads. It's also chronological -- something that Instagram and Facebook no longer are, much to everyone's dismay. Plus, Vero is free (for now), but the company and its CEO have received some backlash that may or may not affect the success of the app. Time will tell how it plays out, but if Vero takes off, then it could mean big changes for brands that advertise on social media.

3. Dark social shares are rising.

Dark social shares -- which is the sharing that happens person-to-person instead of publicly on social platforms -- now account for 65 percent of all social shares.

This is largely due to the increase of messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, that are joining the sphere. With apps like these making person-to-person communication easier, people are sharing content differently, and it's causing a dip in social share numbers.

While this may be a bummer for your social share metrics, it's not the end of the world. Audiences are still sharing and engaging with content, even if you can't see the count totals on each of your articles.

Social shares still count for something; just because they're lower than you might want doesn't mean people aren't sharing your content. It just means they're changing the way in which they share it. In return, brands will just have to start adjusting the way they measure their content's success to really understand how it's performing.

It's no secret that audiences everywhere are using social media -- and if your audience is on social, then you should be, too. To make the most of your strategy, you've got to understand the trends that shape it. These three trends are affecting social engagement right now. Start learning from them to effectively adjust your strategy and drive meaningful results.

Published on: Mar 25, 2018