We’re coming into the final stretch of 2017, and in the social media marketing world, that can mean only one thing – predictions.
Over the next few months, you’re going to get a raft of experts and commentators offering their thoughts on the key trends and shifts that will dominate 2018. Some of them will be helpful as barometers of what to expect, while others maybe not so much (e.g. the person who calls him/herself and ‘influencer marketing expert’ will predict that influencer marketing will be the key trend to watch).
But either way, love them or hate them, it’s hard to avoid predictions posts – and hard to resist reading over what industry leaders believe is on the horizon.
Getting in early, this week, we'll be publishing our predictions for each of the major social platforms for 2018. Our predictions for 2016 and 2017 were reasonably accurate, so we've got a solid basis to build on.
Today, we start with Facebook, which is always on the move - and always evolving to meet usage shifts.
Facebook in 2017
Facebook had another big year in 2017 – though they may also have had their most challenging, coming under scrutiny for the way in which their platform may have been used to influence the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election.
That investigation has lead to various changes in approach from The Social Network (at least from a PR standpoint), and you can expect to see those effects flow over into their decisions moving forward, with increased transparency likely to be a focus.
AR for the Win
Facebook put augmented reality front and center at their F8 conference earlier this year - and for good reason. With all the major tech players looking to tap into the next evolution of communication - which is layering virtually generated content over your real-world view – Facebook has the scale and capacity to lead the way, while it also provides a great way to bridge the gap between where we are now, and where Facebook sees us headed, which is fully immersive virtual reality.
Facebook is turning your phone into Magic Leap pic.twitter.com/wIIeT3x96U— Tim Peterson (@petersontee) April 18, 2017
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg somewhat outlined their approach during a Q and A session back in 2016, in which he discussed the way the internet has advanced over time as people seek to share more of their experiences with others.
Ten years ago, Zuckerberg said, the internet was all text, then we evolved to photos, and now to video, as these are the mediums which have best enabled us to capture and share our feelings.
"But the question you have to ask is 'is video the end of the line?' And to me, that's what VR is about - that presence, feeling like you're actually there with someone."
Given the focus, and emphasis, on AR and bridging the gap, you can expect to see Facebook invest big in AR experiences in 2018.
What does that mean, exactly? While it seems unlikely, at this stage, that Facebook will be looking to develop their own smart glasses-type product anytime soon (Zuckerberg noted in April that we’re probably still 5 years away from being able to build fully functional smart glasses), what you will see is more AR experiences that blend your online and offline worlds, with virtual overlays triggered by location and expanded interactive options, like video masks, which incorporate additional elements.
Snapchat's already working on similar, with their recently launched art installation project being their biggest step in this direction, but Facebook, as always, is never far behind, developing their own location-triggered virtual art project.
The extension of that will be location-based ads that you can ‘see’ through your phone camera – open up your Facebook camera, for example, and you’ll be able to see info about local businesses, and even access special deals and discounts based on image-recognition triggers.
A likely precursor to this was demonstrated by Google at their I/O developer event in May.
With Google Lens, your smartphone camera won’t just see what you see, but will also understand what you see to help you take action. #io17 pic.twitter.com/viOmWFjqk1— Google (@Google) May 17, 2017
While, as noted, Snapchat’s working towards similar, it’s Google and Facebook’s who’ll likely lead the way - and with Facebook working to provide more discovery tools, this system fits perfectly with their wider plan.
Expect some big announcements from Facebook on this front over the next 12 months.
Emergence of VR Social
And then, of course, there’s the next level – virtual reality.
Facebook’s already taking steps towards social interaction within the VR environment, so it’ll be little surprise to see them advance this even further in 2018.
The biggest limitation with VR is, of course, cost. While Facebook is looking to introduce a new wireless, standalone ‘Oculus Go’ headset – priced at a very competitive $199 – for the full VR experience, you still need a high-powered PC to run the back-end processing, and they currently cost upwards of $800 for the PC alone.
But they are getting more affordable, it is becoming a more tangible option for more consumers - and as the technology evolves, and more people look to connect in VR, the adoption rates will increase.
It may not be the trend of 2018, but VR will be significant – and those businesses that can start to cater to the increase in demand by providing immersive 360 video, if not full VR, experiences will be at the forefront.
It might be restrictive for smaller organizations, but worth considering, and keeping tabs on.
Messenger as an eCommerce Option
Even Zuckerberg himself has admitted that the monetization of Messenger is going slower than they’d hoped.
The introduction of Bots was supposed to herald a new era of messaging, which, following the trend of Asian users, who now use platforms like WeChat for virtually everything, would see Messenger become the key platform, the connective element which facilitates almost every interaction in our day-to-day lives.
But the Bot revolution hasn’t happened yet?
Why? Part of the problem appears to be in perception, that maybe users only really want to use Messenger for messaging.
But another hold up has been the inability to make payments quickly and easily in-stream. Through WeChat, it’s very easy to make payments, which you can also do within Messenger, but it’s not as all-encompassing, it generally requires a little more effort than one-click purchasing.
But that may be about to change.
Just this month, Facebook announced a new peer-to-peer payment process, via PayPal, for US users, while they’re working with financial institutions in other regions to provide similar, easy payment tools.
Expect Facebook to advance their efforts on this front in 2018, and for people to users to be able to quickly and easily complete transactions within Messenger - which could take Bot interactions to the next level of functionality.
Of course, such processes will come with increased privacy concerns – and as mentioned in the opening notes, Facebook does have some security concerns at present (though not related to personal data, the misuse of the platform for unintended purposes still heightens worries). But still, functionality trumps privacy every time – as is clearly evident by Facebook itself.
If they can provide a better payment system, that could have significant impacts – and not just for Messenger, but for Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp too.
Facebook will also be looking to introduce more ways to link online ads to offline purchases.
This may actually become a much bigger focus overall – with Facebook coming under such intense scrutiny over the election ads probe, the platform will be looking to provide more transparency to not only reassure users, but to prove that their ad options actually do generate results.
Facebook already has various options on this front, with Conversion Lift and their more recently added ‘Store Visits’ ad options, but they may also look to revise their Facebook Beacons offering to help better track such data, while also utilizing their QR codes ‘Rewards’ option to better incentivize such tracking.
In addition, Facebook may also be forced to provide increased oversight into how their News Feed actually works.
Many questions have been raised in the wake of the election investigation, and the decline in organic reach for Pages is pushing more brands to look at alternative solutions, rather than relying on The Social Network.
While Facebook needs to prioritize regular users over brands, they still need brands to use the platform in order to encourage further ad buys – as reach declines further, Facebook may be forced to better explain exactly why Pages are losing ground, and what they can do about it.
Of course, they don’t have to do this at all, they could just let Page reach dwindle and never explain a thing, but a more workable solution would likely be to help brands better serve their – and Facebook’s – audience in order to keep them investing in their Facebook presence, rather than just giving up.
Facebook will also continue to expand in international markets – particularly India and South East Asia – which will increase its market presence, while it’ll also look to develop new technologies through its other platforms.
For example, Facebook’s been doing a lot of work on visual search, which will likely, eventually, have more benefit on Instagram.
Expect to see more cross-over development like this, which will stem from Facebook and permeate throughout their various platforms. There’ll also be developments in other regions that will deliver big boosts for Facebook, but be less relevant in western markets.
Traditionally, the US has lead the way for all the major platforms, and been where we see major updates come up first, but we may soon see that shift, with Facebook being used differently in other areas.
There's always something new happening at Facebook, be it the development of their Aquila drones, their Watch platform (Watch will see steady growth and be rolled out to more regions, but won’t become an essential option, at least not in 2018) or their next-level 'mind-reading' efforts. Given this, it's not possible to cover all the potential updates coming, but these five look set to be some of the most transformative for social media marketers in the coming 12 months.
As noted, we'll be posting predictions for all of the major platforms this week - with Twitter getting the focus tomorrow.