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Social engagement for the average U.S. brand increased 5% in 2019, fueled by double-digit growth on Instagram and Twitter, and once again, brand-sponsored video content continued to lead in both volume of posts and total user actions.

Those are some of the top-line findings in a new report from audience intelligence platform Shareablee, which measures social activity across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Among the biggest headlines:

  •  Total actions (likes, shares, comments) on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter increased 5% year-over-year, from 71.8 billion to 75.2 billion, with Instagram increasing its share of total engagement from 67% to 70% and Facebook declining from 27% to 24%.
  • Video engagement across those three platforms grew 8%, from 23.9 billion actions in 2018 to 25.9 billion in 2019. Once again, Instagram led the way, growing its share of total video engagement from 62% to 73%, largely at the expense of Facebook.
  • User sharing of content via reposts and retweets on Facebook and Twitter declined 18%, from 6.2 billion to 5.1 billion
  • In most industry segments tracked by Shareablee, brands posted less content but got more actions and actions per post in 2019

I had a chance to talk to Shareablee founder and CEO Tania Yuki to get some insights behind the data in this report. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Rob Salkowitz: In terms of total engagement, Twitter and Instagram saw fairly big gains, but Facebook decreased. On the video side, they really fell off a cliff relative to the others. What’s going on with Facebook relative to the other platforms?

Tania Yuki, Shareablee: There were two factors in play. First, even though it wasn’t proportionate, the volume of video on Facebook dropped 11% as brands shifted video to Instagram, which saw a big uptick in post volume. Brand were doing less, so engagement declined.

Second, the short, viral, meme-type videos that drove activity has moved to Instagram and is being replaced by longer form content as you’d find on Facebook Watch. Anecdotally, across client stats, the duration of video viewing on Facebook is growing, so brands are looking to create more sustainable content there instead of just quick hits.

RS: You measured a big year-over-year decline in shares and amplification. What do you think is going on with that, and what does it mean in terms of brands’ social strategy that they can’t rely on that echo effect as much?

TY: In general, any social activity that commits you to content is getting harder. What you don’t see in that number is the sharing equivalent activities on Instagram. You can’t do a straight share, but you can tag friends in comments or share stories directly with others. Some of the sharing on Instagram is going to personal tagging. People are more selective.

RS: Do you think this reflects people becoming more concerned about sharing “fake news?”

TY: I hope people are getting more conscientious and mindful about what they share, especially sensational stuff. I don’t have data to back that up, but I hope it means people are examining their choices.

RS: Overall, across most the major categories you measure, brands were putting out less content but getting more actions. Is that a function of brands getting better at understanding what their audiences want and being more strategic about the kind of content they produce? Do you think we’ll see this trend of efficiency increase as brands get better at understanding data around content performance?

TY: I think every year, brands and publishers are getting better about the content they publish. Brands especially. Publishers know already. Brands have made a concerted effort to add enjoyable, relevant content, not just stuff that functions as ads. A more content-centric approach by advertisers.

The other thing the stat says is that people are doing more relative to the slightly larger volume. There’s still elasticity. People aren’t tapped out and trying to avoid content. If you give them 5% more, they’ll do 10% more with it. But if you look at the margin across multiple years, then you’ll start to see declines, and sooner or later, we may hit that point of oversaturation and diminishing returns.

RS: Segment by segment, a couple of industries are doing a great job at driving more engagement around their content year over year, while a few are lagging. What do you think are the big differences between the strong performers and the laggards, and what can the segments that are not getting the social pop they want do better?

TY: The biggest difference within different verticals is, who is thinking like a content brand? Are you coming to social with a publishers’ mentality of creating valuable content that people want to receive, or are you viewing social as an opportunity to stuff more ads down a distribution pipe?? A lot of brands struggle to break the mold of the promotional 30 second spot, the product showcase. The industries that are not letting that go are struggling to get earned media attention.

RS: Overall, sports brands are extremely well-represented at the top of your top 100 social brands list. In terms of cross-platform actions, ESPN just wipes the floor with everyone else with 2.5 Billion. What is it about sports that makes it so buzzworthy on social? Is it just because sporting events are live and immediate, or is there something other brands and segments could learn from them?

TY: Sports is basically religion. It’s content people are passionate about to begin with. They also have natural advantages on their side in that athletes are tall, good looking and so on. But the other thing is that sports is by nature competitive. People who work in sports, even in their social departments, track stats looking for an edge. They’re always thinking about how to win. There’s a culture of using data to compete and win in sports that other verticals haven’t adopted.

Sports has also done incredibly well at increasing their addressable audience, becoming more inclusive about fans, creating a lot of interesting content not centered on the players and the game. Some publishers are really leveraging the sports fan. It’s not just sports highlights or inside the game. It’s also moments outside the stadium.

RS: Many of the top brands on Facebook are news and politics-oriented. What do you think we’ll see on Facebook and the other social platforms in terms of social engagement trends as the presidential campaign heats up?

TY: Facebook is a place for communities, including ideologically aligned communities around politics. A big news cycle with respect to candidates, debates will definitely fuel that engagement. People go to Twitter for real time comments, but will turn to Facebook to see what their tribe is thinking and believing. It’s definitely going to be a big year for FB.

RS: Does this explain FB’s decision to leave political content alone?

TY: It’s hard to say how to tackle issues of veracity. If you look across news and politics, that’s big on Facebook, but so are influencers and sports and other content. It’s tough to be too hard line about what does and doesn’t constitute content. At what point does a platform step in to say you can’t publish? That’s a larger ideological debate.

RS: Finally, any warning signs or big hidden opportunities that jump out at you in this data in terms of where we’re going in 2020?

TY: The big opportunity – we’ve been covering this for a while – is how brands are showing up on social. A couple of years ago, all the focus was on how to create their own video series, be focused content creators. Everyone wanted to be Red Bull, and that’s just not realistic.

Now you’re seeing a balance – brands willing to partners with influencers and celebrities. Partnering with experts [on content and engagement] is more sustainable. It’s a better way for brands to be social without losing focus on their core business.

Finally, there’s a lot of exciting trends within the Big 4, but also lots happening on emerging platforms. We’re starting to spend a lot of time thinking about incorporating Twitch and TikTok and other places to provide an even broader measurement of audience engagement.

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