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3 Trends That Are Redefining Social Networking Social networking is evolving and providing ways for brands to connect with their target audiences.

By Albizu Garcia

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The appeal of behemoth social networks like Facebook is slowly declining. Many social media users are growing tired of scrolling through feeds only to see what friends and family are eating or to read political debates. Younger social media users, especially, are turning to niche social networks to express their creativity and connect with friends or other people with similar interests. As a result, a number of new social apps are cropping up to fulfill this need for more interest-based social networking. Many of these platforms also allow users to hide their identities, giving users a sense of security and permitting them to share their thoughts or express themselves without judgment.

Related: The Future of Social Media Platforms and Ways in Which Businesses Can Utilize Them

Marketers who are aware of how social networking is evolving and how these new social channels are gaining popularity can discover ways to connect with their target audiences more effectively. Here are some of the emerging social apps to watch in 2019.

1. Virtual avatars turned influencers.

Businesses of all sizes are putting money behind influencer marketing campaigns in an effort to expand their reach and boost brand awareness. According to research from the World Federation of Advertisers, 65 percent of multinational brands are planning to increase their spending on influencer marketing in 2019.

The demand for quality, credible influencers continues to rise and nano influencers (someone with around 5,000 followers), micro influencers (someone with approximately 50,000 followers) and now virtual influencers, are saturating the market. With so many choices, brands can now be more selective in choosing which influencers they want to work with and in which way they want to work with them. As the influencer marketing world continues to develop, some fascinating social networks are emerging around it.

A popular new 3D avatar, or "virtual influencer," app called Zepeto recently shot to the number one spot in the iOS app store. Zepeto allows users to customize their own avatars with virtual outfits, hairstyles and accessories. It became an overnight sensation in China. The app is now picking up steam in the U.S.

Virtual avatars are nothing new, however, upgraded technology such as facial recognition is helping take the concept to the next level. Many brands quickly realized the marketing potential for user-generated content on Zepeto. A quick search for Zepeto-related hashtags on Instagram reveals thousands of Zepeto avatars, many sporting their favorite brands. Social features-- such as private chats, games and virtual selfies with other users -- also make Zepeto an app to watch as social media users increasingly turn to secondary accounts to express other versions of themselves.

Other virtual avatar social apps to watch include:

  • Coey. An avatar-based networking app that allows users to ask questions, share knowledge, meet people and more.
  • Genies. A social app to create highly-customized, lifelike avatars to chat with friends. Soon users will be able to use their avatars in games.

Related: 10 Influencer Marketing Trends to Keep Your Eye On

2. Private messaging.

In 2018, the total number of monthly active users of the top four messaging apps reached 4.1 billion. What's more, users are spending more time on messaging apps, up to 12 minutes per day, and it's estimated that more than 70 percent of all social sharing now takes place on messaging apps.

For marketers who rely heavily on social networking to get in front of their target audiences, messaging apps provide numerous opportunities. A Twilio study revealed that 66 percent of consumers now prefer to reach brands, or be reached by brands, through messaging apps.

Many brands have already introduced chat bots as a way to provide customer support. Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are the undisputed leaders in this space; however, new messaging apps like Kik are presenting brands with more promising features to engage with their audiences more intimately.

With well over 300 million users and 6,000 bots, Kik is now a top 10 app among teenagers and young adults based in the U.S. On Kik, users can access public chats on any topic or interest, or they can search for bots. Kik bots can be educational, funny, games or brand-based. Big brands such as Sephora and H&M are leveraging the private social app to share products, offer personalized styling services and help customers build style profiles.

Other private messaging social apps to watch include:

  • Imo. A private messaging and video app that reached the no. 1 spot in September 2018.
  • Slack. A popular app for workplace communication, Slack is also becoming a place for brands -- primarily B2B -- to help existing customers share feedback, solve issues or participate in research.

3. Hey there, neighbor.

Neighborhood social networking apps are appealing to the $130 billion local advertising industry. These apps offer private feeds for neighbors to share local stories, recommendations and advice.

Arguably the most popular social app in this space is Nextdoor, which currently has a presence in more than 175,000 neighborhoods, or approximately 85 percent of the U.S. Nextdoor users send more than four million private messages a day on the app, and businesses can join the conversation by setting up a Nextdoor business page.

With a Nextdoor business page, businesses can add basic information about their services, contact information, a link to their website and view the number of recommendations received from neighbors. Statistics on how many neighborhoods can view the business page and the ability to thank neighbors for their recommendations are simple but powerful ways to understand and get in front of local audiences. As Nextdoor rises in popularity, more competing neighborhood social apps are likely to emerge. Marketers should watch these networks closely as they can be great places to deliver hyper-local content.

Other hyper-local, neighborhood social apps to watch include:

  • Hoodi. A private neighborhood app that allows users to connect with their neighbors.
  • Neighbourly. Google's latest hyper-local app that allows users to crowdsource answers to their questions from people in their community.

Related: 5 Simple, Science-Backed Ways Entrepreneurs Can Connect With Gen Z

What's next.

The social apps mentioned above should be on every marketer's radar in 2019. Video apps like Tik Tok (short, mobile videos) and Houseparty (group video chats) are also grabbing the attention of younger audiences -- and worth watching. Though these platforms are primarily built for existing friendships or relationships, making it difficult for marketers to squeeze their way in, partnering with influencers on these apps could be a good start. There's no way of knowing what will be the next Facebook or Instagram, but marketers should always be on the lookout for the next big thing.

Albizu Garcia

Co-Founder and CEO of Gain

Albizu Garcia is co-founder and CEO of Gain, a marketing technology company that automates the social media and content approval workflow for marketing teams.

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