SMT Expert Matt Navarra

Matt Navarra has been working in social media marketing for over a decade in various high-profile roles, including advising the UK Government on social strategy and managing the global social media presence of The Next Web.

These days, Matt works as an independent advisor, providing guidance to top brands to help them refine and improve their social media marketing approach.

Aside from this, Matt has also established himself as one of the leading voices in the social media space, regularly breaking news about upcoming features and updates. He’s a must-follow for social media managers, and a resource we regularly refer to in our research for SMT.

Which makes him a great candidate for our new SMT Experts’ series – we recently got a chance to put a few questions to Matt about where he sees things headed, the latest platform updates, and what marketers should be planning for in future.

Q: What are three key trends that you would suggest social media marketers should be monitoring at present?

MN: Social shopping, and shopping on social in general, is now a significant element in the growth strategies for a lot of the big platforms, and we’ve seen huge steps forward on, for example, Instagram and Facebook with Shops, and features to do with live shopping, tagging of products, branded content, etc. There’s also been a range of similar developments from Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok.

These tools will offer new potential for brands, but the challenge here is a bit like the question we had a few years back in regards to news publishers, and ceding control – or at least, going ‘all-in’ – on things like Instant Articles, and then losing the ability to track and utilize data on what your users are doing when they’re not visiting your site. You’re then stuck within the world of Facebook, and reliant on the platform’s tools.

But generally, for most small businesses, I think this is a great opportunity, and it’s a significant shift in the way that people consume and buy goods, and also the way they use social media, and what they use social apps for, which will be a large-scale change.

The other big one is AR. AR is still seen by many as the precursor to VR, and we’ve only recently started to see any significant utility for AR tools, through integrations with Google Maps and more advanced AR try-on tools on platforms like Snapchat.

But we’ve largely moved past the ‘gimmick’ phase, and now it’s a question of how the brands and platforms leverage AR to actually become a more meaningful and useful thing, and move beyond simply adding dog ears to your selfies.

We’ve seen some platforms taking a lead on this, with Snapchat, in particular, adding new tools to better facilitate shopping and try-on processes, and I think we’ll see more platforms moving in this direction over the next few years. 

Snapchat AR try on tools

A limitation, however, is that the technical expertise required to create these AR experiences is currently beyond the realm of many businesses, but that’s also changing with the development of new tools that make it far easier and quicker, and cheaper, to build these experiences.

The last key trend of note here is around the evolving ‘creator economy’ tools, whether in the form of subscriptions, tipping, improving collaboration tools to facilitate creator/brand partnerships, etc. The platforms have now realized how they can facilitate more opportunities on this front, which has lead to a new battle to retain the best talent, and provide the strongest incentives to keep them posting to your app, which could have a big influence on growth and development moving forward.

The question now is how much people will be willing to pay to subscribe to certain creators, and whether there’ll be a limit to the amount people will tip and donate in order to fund these processes – while for creators, they also need to choose which platforms they think will offer the most sustainable options over the long term. We’ll see, over the next 12 months I suspect, which platforms are going to win out in this race.”

Q. Which social platform do you personally find the most valuable?

MN: Well for me, it’s Twitter. I live and breathe Twitter, it’s a news platform, and I’m very much interested in the latest breaking news. The access that it gives me to information and individuals, and brands, all around the world, at speed, is still a buzz for me, and there are a lot more features now that Twitter has added in the last 12 months that have really started to transform the platform for the first time in a long while.

For a long time, it had been fairly static, but now, we’re seeing a sudden rush of new product features, which is really exciting to see, as a heavy Twitter user. I don’t ever see Twitter being a 2 billion user platform, or seeing some huge amount of usage growth, but I do think that these new features do offer new opportunities for greater expansion moving forward.

I’m also interested to see how its new monetization features for creators develop, and what the conversion rate might be for people using new features like Super Follow. It’s a somewhat risky strategy, but it will have a fundamental impact on what Twitter is for many users, and I suspect it’ll be a successful addition.

Q: What are your thoughts about the audio social trend, and where it might be headed?

MN: I think it will be a thing in a year from now, and several years from now – though I’m not as bullish or convinced that Clubhouse will be the champion of social audio in a way that TikTok is the champion of short video.

Part of the concern here is that Clubhouse has so many issues that are mounting up, including content moderation problems, limitations with discovery, lack of network capacity for growth, and a whole host of other concerns. That places some big barriers before it, which could restrict its growth, while other platforms like Twitter and Facebook seemingly have more scope for success in this respect, given their existing networks and their experience and tech capabilities.

For the format more generally, it largely comes down to the day-to-day use case for social audio, with things like virtual events, news discussion, TV program discussions, etc., all set to see at least some enhanced value through the option. For marketers, I’m not exactly sure how social audio will best be leveraged by brands. There are various options that you could consider, but whether brands will be able to create content that’s as compelling as that from news publishers, celebrities or even individual creators is another consideration.

But yes, I do think that audio social will be around for some time, and much like Stories, for some platforms, it will fit and make sense, and for others, it won’t.

Q: Do you think that TikTok can become a major challenger to Facebook?

MN: Yes and no. I think in some areas of social that Facebook and TikTok compete in, definitely, but Facebook is such a bigger beast in terms of what it can do for you as a user, that TikTok, by comparison, is very narrow in its toolset.

In terms of what TikTok does, which is short-form video, it’s definitely the leader over alternative options like Instagram Reels, and I suspect it will continue to dominate that space for some time, and its newer experiments like live shopping and eCommerce fit into this.    

Whether TikTok can expand beyond this is central to the question as to whether it can become a true challenger for Facebook, and I’m not sure it will look to branch out, but already, in terms of time spent and engagement, TikTok is a competitor in what it does, and it still has a lot of scope to grow and become a bigger player in the space.

Q: Which social platform do you think is underrated in terms of social media marketing opportunities?

MN: The obvious one here would be TikTok, which may seem odd to note, but I think that if you’re talking about a platform that’s earlier in its life cycle and growth curve, and a platform that’s got real potential to take something from zero to a million miles an hour, really quickly, then TikTok has a lot of potential, and the fact that it’s less understood by the average social media manager or brand means that people are using it less because they’re not quite sure how best to exploit it.

TikTok is also still developing its ad tools and options, which will open up even more opportunity, while it also benefits, in some ways, from being not Facebook, given the reduced sentiment around the Facebook brand in some respects.

I also think that LinkedIn and Pinterest provide great opportunities that are also underrated. The value of Pinterest’s shopping tools is huge, and it’s lesser-used because marketers are often less familiar with it, while LinkedIn offers a different type of audience reach, with new developments within its company pages and events tools also expanding on its potential.

Q: What do you think about Twitter Blue and Twitter’s broader moves into alternate revenue models?

MN: I’m loving it, because my main platform for what I do is geared around Twitter, and up till now, Twitter hasn’t provided any real opportunity for people like me who are content creators or doing things that could be monetized, so to see these new tools arrive is great news for people in my position.

In terms of Twitter Blue, and the platform’s own subscription model for add-on features, I think that for heavy platform users and certain other Twitter user types, including journalists and creators, Twitter Blue is a nice little extra. 

Twitter Blue

For me personally, I think the initial Twitter Blue offering is not particularly enticing or exciting – it doesn’t really add enough useful utility for the money you’re paying. I suspect that they’ll add to the subscription feature set at some point, but till then, I think it’ll only be taken up by that hardcore user base. But do I think the pricing is about right, and some people will find value in it.

For Twitter, it’s also good to have alternative revenue sources, and it could give them the ability to fund, or at least feel more confident in experimenting with other elements. I think there’s a lot of scope for the platform to generate revenue from other aspects too, like, for example, improvements to TweetDeck, but it makes sense for Twitter to start moving into these types of features, and Twitter Blue is a good first step.

Q: Will Donald Trump ever be allowed back on Twitter or Facebook?

MN: I don’t think that he will – and if he is, it will be some time.

Twitter has been very clear with its stance that Trump is totally banned, and they’re not backing down, so I don’t see that changing. Facebook has left itself some wiggle room, but my suspicion would be that we’ll get to the date when he’s potentially allowed to return, and they’ll find another thing to justify his continued suspension.

I think that Trump will always remain a controversial figure, and you’ll never be able to trust his ability to be moderate or tempered, or rational and reasonable, at least in the way that the platforms would expect from the average user. There’s also a level of legacy and history behind Trump’s behavior online now, and I just don’t think that controversy will ever disappear. So I don’t expect to see him allowed back.

Q: What trend do you personally find most interesting in the evolving social space?

MN: Virtual reality. I’m always interested in the most-geeky, ultra-tech end of social, and this is really a very early stage development we’re seeing in virtual reality, and Facebook and Oculus are seemingly leading the charge, with potentially Snapchat snapping at their heels on AR, and Apple also doing things, while Google may also jump into the race. So I think it’s fun because of the competitive nature of it, given the dominance of one platform is still not established, so it’s largely still up for grabs, which always makes things more interesting in terms of innovation.

It’ll also be interesting to see how social media engagement trends translate to VR, and what the new considerations will be in a whole new environment. It’s quite a dramatic shift, and it’ll take some time to evolve, especially if you subscribe to the idea that the smartphone has a limited shelf-life before we move to the next generation of a core device that sits at the center of our connected life.

So for me, VR is the most exciting and interesting prospect over the next few years of development.

You can subscribe to Matt’s ‘Social Media Geekout’ newsletter for a weekly rundown of all that’s going on in the social media world (which regularly includes many Social Media Today links), while you can also follow Matt on Twitter, join his social media marketing Facebook group and check out his website for further contact info and insight.

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