It's the most wonderful time of year.
No, I'm not talking about the holiday season - we're coming into prediction season, where tastemakers and experts trot out their forecasts for what's ahead for social media and digital marketing more broadly.
So in the vein of Hobby Lobby and Michael's putting their holiday décor on display in the summer, I'm jumping into prediction season early. Below you'll find predictions from social media leaders from five different organizations, each representing different industries, geographies, and perspectives.
Here's what they see on the horizon for the future of the digital marketing sector.
Anita Veszeli, Head of Social Media & Employee Advocacy at Ericsson (@anitaveszeli)
"I think that one of the big moves in 2018 will be for brands to adopt and use all the data - from improved analytics to enhanced content personalization - and for improved targeting across the social platforms. B2B brands have an even harder time than consumer brands to get personal along customer journeys, but we must tackle this challenge.
As social media matures, one of the key challenges for major brands is integrating social insights into company culture. Many have well-established corporate social accounts, and they might have even launched employee advocacy and/or social selling programs within their organization. Perhaps they have CRM and marketing automation in place, but they're not integrated.
The integration of data, across channels and departments, will provide a 360-view of customers, and employee advocacy makes this personal. This data-driven plus human approach will vastly improve creating personalized content, will support both classical lead generation and ABM tactics and improve the overall digital customer experience."
Joe Schaeffer, Paychex (@dubelclique)
"It's as much a hope as a trend, but I'm keeping an eye on feature overlap across platforms. Live-streaming, stories, the proliferation of video in general - all of these present opportunities for brands to uniquely connect, but these newer formats have more overhead when it comes to production, and with similar formats and features supported across social platforms, brands need to decide which formats and platforms make the most sense.
Influencer marketing and brand advocacy have been huge over the past two years, and there's no sign of a slowdown and platforms continue to add features and functionality to support these efforts. As brands continue to distribute content and cultivate these relationships, I'm looking for increased guidance from the FTC on appropriate disclosures and endorsement guidelines.
As companies continue to invest, I'd expect further clarification, oversight, and maybe even action when appropriate, from regulating authorities."
Matt Wolpin, Social Media Lead at Juniper Networks (@mwolpin)
"Certainly, video will continue to be one the top trends, but I think the lessons learned by the major social media platforms during the 2016 US Presidential Election will have a bigger impact on social media managers in 2018.
We saw how social platforms were used to spread "fake news" and misinformation, both from domestic and foreign entities, in a viral manner. Since then, Facebook has already changed how brands share content on their platform in an effort to reduce the spread of misinformation. With the 2018 election season on the horizon and recent revelations of foreign states using social adverts to spread misinformation, I would expect to see the platforms rolling out further restrictions.
Unfortunately, these pending updates and restrictions will likely have a big impact on how social media managers execute day-to-day and the extended campaign activities for brands."
Tom Buchheim, American Family Insurance (@tombuchheim)
"Social media platforms have long tried to homogenize features, becoming a one-stop shop for users and brands. Of course, we all know each is different, but similarities and overlap abound. That's often confusing for users, and a challenge for social media pros.
In 2018, look for more winners and losers among social platforms, as users (and brands) pick one site's features over another (see Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat). For brand social media managers with tight content, media and staff budgets, it's imperative to stay on top of those trends, and lean on your research or analytics teams to ensure you're choosing wisely. You can't be everywhere, and more than likely, your customers and potential customers aren't anyway.
Know your audience, and choose the platforms - and features - they prefer."
And, finally, my point of view:
I think one of the more obvious trends for 2018 will be increased social media ad spend. Of the major digital advertising options out there, social media continues to offer generally better performance against other ad units, however while brands will likely continue to spend more, they'll be increasingly selective in where and how they spend their ad dollars.
Social media leaders are laser-focused on ad performance - not only typical ad metrics like click-through rates, but also on reputational analysis. Look no further than this year's YouTube ad scandal, in which major advertisers pulled their ads off the platform because YouTube was unable to guarantee an ad wouldn't run with controversial and offensive content. This has also had an effect on how brands are (or aren't) engaging agencies, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported. YouTube announced changes to its monetization policies in August, angering some of its content creators, but expect to see more changes in this same vein by major social networks.
The bottom line: Social platforms (and agencies) will have to increasingly provide better ad placement tools and assurances for advertisers. Brands have money to spend, but they'll do so with brand safety very much top of mind.