Anyone who has ever designed content for a brand on social media knows how challenging it can be. If we completely ignore the content strategy side of social media management and focus entirely on creative development, we’re still left with a dizzying list of considerations. For my first blog of 2023, I thought we’d take a look back at how far the evolution of content design for social media has come. From sharing a photo all the way to elaborate targeted video campaigns, social media continues to raise the bar for creators everywhere.
Looking Back on Social Media Design
We opened the doors on Nuera in early 2016 and while social media management was certainly not a brand new industry, it’s genuinely astonishing how much has changed in these seven short years. Though most smartphones were already capable of filming video, the bandwidth and storage requirements were so great that most social platforms didn’t even allow video at the time. This meant that design for most social platforms was entirely relegated to still graphics. If that wasn’t restrictive enough, Facebook (already the largest social network in the world) imposed a strict 20% limit to the text within a boostable post or ad. This meant that advertisers’ hands were tied in what they could convey in terms of messaging in their designs. By any standard, creative development in those days could only be described as simple.
The Current State of Social Media Design
Fast forward half a dozen years and not only has every single detail about social media design changed, but we’re now swimming in a sea of platforms–each with its own set of media standards. Gone are the days of posting a simple still graphic across all your accounts and hoping it grabs the attention of your target audience. The way social media content is created in the future is being shaped right now by new and, in some cases, unexpected technologies.
It’s All About Video
These days, users require a lot more to get their attention, namely video. Whether you’re creating motion graphics in After Effects or filming content directly on your phone, video has become the new media standard for advertising on social media. On its own, this might not present such a big challenge except many of the most popular social platforms exist exclusively in portrait now, (as opposed to the traditional landscape orientation in which video has historically been presented.) Where does this leave us as content creators? We’re either shooting video with such large margins that we can crop it vertically and horizontally, or we’re simply shooting everything twice.
Don’t Forget the Audio
Another critical element of time-based media is, of course, the audio. Whether it’s syncing a song on an Instagram reel or creating a commercial with narration, audio is now a critical element within your marketing. Your choices here should not only support the video but also be aimed at resonating with your target audience(s).
Mastering the Platforms
Another less obvious side effect of creating unique content for each platform is understanding those platforms’ preferences and algorithms. These details create an ever-moving constellation of standards that dictates how successful your posts can be. At Nuera, we test and observe these standards constantly by researching and playing with video length, experimenting with the platforms’ built-in design features, and even designing our content for each platform’s safe zones. Designing around these platforms’ ever-shifting preferences can be incredibly taxing but keeping your finger on the pulse ensures your content continues to garner attention and engagement.
Our team has developed a love/hate relationship with the word ‘verisimilitude’, which is essentially a big word for “the appearance of authenticity.” In other words, what we create on social media needs to resonate as genuine. From a design perspective, this might mean making your content feel less produced and more organic. We’ve noticed time and again that our clients benefit from a healthy mix of the two approaches. Certain campaigns require a more polished aesthetic while others benefit from an almost amateur look. As creative developers, it’s our job to keep a foot planted firmly in both worlds.
What’s Next in Social Media Design?
Though we should never expect the pace of change to slow down, one thing is for sure: video is here to stay. We recommend social media content creators invest in not only the right equipment but the understanding of the tools needed to create compelling content in this direction.
Like many other creative agencies, we also have our design hats in the AI ring. Though we are only at the foothills of this exciting new design frontier, we are eager to harness the incredible power of these systems in order to create even more compelling content. We consider ourselves “operators” while creating through prompts, but once we have the raw content in hand, we put our designer hats back on and treat this content the same way we always have.
As mentioned earlier, we should also expect to see a widening of the differences between the media requirements from the platforms. For a few years now, we’ve seen users abandon the idea of being present on every platform in favor of investing more time in only their favorites. These users become accustomed to seeing content that is curated specifically for their viewing patterns which only makes the gaps between the platforms grow wider.
What’s Constant in the Evolution of Social Media Design?
While it can sometimes feel like trying to stand on shifting sands, there are many things that will never go out of style for content designers. We should always lean on impactful design. The tone of your creative must always match the brand’s voice and intention. Be sure to regularly refresh your campaigns and create new campaigns to prevent your content from becoming stale. Continue to make your calls to action clear because clicks and conversions will always be the best measure of design efficacy. And of course, always step into your audience’s shoes and be prepared to simply show them what they want to see.
About the Author
As our creative director, Grant is responsible not only for the form but also the function of Nuera’s marketing materials and products. He has been a professional designer since 2002 and remains a leading voice in the creative chorus of Northeast Florida.