So what will 2017 have in store for social media and digital marketing? While you've no doubt seen and read your share of predictions posts already, this week two people from within two of the major social networks have outlined their tips for what they expect to see.
And given they're playing a part in making such changes happen, their insights carry significantly more weight, and are likely a better indicator of what might actually happen.
The predictions come from Facebook's VP of Product Management Andrew Bosworth, and Pinterest's President Tim Kendall. Both Bosworth and Kendall work on very different platforms, of course, but it's interesting to see the crossover in their observations, which could help provide some guidance around what we can expect in the year ahead.
Here's a summary of their combined key observations and predictions.
Bosworth, who spoke to AdWeek recently, noted that while we have access to an incredible array of information at any time via our smartphones, we're not utilizing such insights anywhere near as much as we could be. Really, given the contextual data that apps like Facebook know about each of their users, those insights can be used to power far more interactions and activities - like events, shopping and other day-to-day occurrences.
We're already seeing the next level of this through virtual assistants, tools that can help guide us towards products and events that are likely to be of personal interest. In future, Bosworth says that Facebook will be working to amplify this capacity, using your own social networks as and interactions as guide markers to help predict and supply more personally relevant information, faster.
Facebook's M is an indication of where the platform could be headed
If such processes do take off, that will have significant implications for SEO and consumer discovery, so it's worth keeping tabs on how Facebook looks to implement this and what it means for your audience.
2. Improved Creative and Audience Targeting
Bosworth also predicts that we're going to see a rise in improved audience segmentation and targeting options to help brands reach the audiences of most relevance - not only for their business, but for each specific product and use case.
Kendall supports this view in his predictions, noting that he expects to see "a more balanced approach that tempers the need for clear ROI with the need for storytelling and relationship building".
Bosworth highlights Sony Pictures and their ad targeting on this front - Sony's been using Facebook to target more specific audiences with different creative approaches when promoting their movies.
As noted by AdWeek:
"For last year's survival thriller "The Shallows," Sony created spots for teens, horror enthusiasts, surfing fans and adult audiences."
This may seem somewhat obvious for more experienced social media marketers, but improved audience segmentation, along with more focused creative, can greatly increase response rates.
Bosworth also notes that Facebook's looking to utilize artificial intelligence and customized media buying to help brands better target their content in this way - an element Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also highlighted in his recent predictions update.
Any advancement in focus can only be beneficial for improved social media strategy - keep an eye out for new tools and segmentation options to help advertisers hone their message.
3. High Utility Content
Kendall notes that he expects high-utility, 'how-to' type content to play a bigger role in marketing strategies moving forward.
"In the past year, we've seen an increasing number of videos saved on Pinterest. Pinners are especially likely to save in-depth, high-utility videos. These include product tutorials, project how-to's and other content that teaches people how to do something that's useful to their lives."
While Kendall is coming at this from a different perspective to what Bosworth would be at Facebook ('how to' content is a much bigger deal on Pinterest), it's an interesting consideration, especially when you factor in newer opportunities like live-streaming, which provide the capacity for brands to showcase 'how-to' content in a real-time, interactive format.
Lowe's has seen great response to their 'Fix in Six' how-to videos
It's worth considering how your brand might be able to use such strategies in your social media marketing outreach.
4. Distributed Content
Kendall also highlights distributed content as a key trend, with more brands moving away from driving content back to their sites in favor of looking to meet their audience where they're already active.
"Just a few years ago, content was closely tied to owned channels. Today, discovery can happen anytime, anywhere. Engagement is what matters, regardless of where it happens."
BuzzFeed is the poster child for this movement - rather than posting links back to their owned properties, BuzzFeed has found creative ways to work with the social platforms themselves to monetize their content wherever it may be.
Their increasingly popular Tasty channel is a great example - Tasty's one of the best performing video producers on Facebook, with BuzzFeed generating revenue from sponsored content and brand awareness, as opposed to driving traffic back to their sites.
Such an approach won't work for everyone, most businesses are still structured around a referral traffic model, but the platforms are working on more integrated marketing and purchase options to streamline such connection.
In-stream shopping is a good demonstration of this in practice - Pinterest, for example, has launched a new 'Shopping Bag' feature which enables users to shop across websites via its platform, then check-out with a single transaction.
Instagram, too, is looking to introduce product tags on posts to facilitate the purchase process.
While on-platform shopping didn't work out for Twitter there's still a lot of potential in the distributed content approach, making it easier for potential customers to take desired actions on the platforms which they're already active. It's worth considering how your brand might be able to utilize such options in future.
5. Improved Transparency
Both Bosworth and Kendall also highlight metric transparency as a key to improving the performance of social ads and content.
For Bosworth, the focus is slightly different - Facebook's faced increased scrutiny of late due to various confirmed errors in their reporting metrics, which, Bosworth says, will lead to them being more transparent about their processes in future.
But on top of this, transparency also relates to the wider question of social ROI and how brands are able to track the actual, real-world performance of their social marketing efforts - Likes and engagement are great, but you still need people to 'show you the money' at the end of the day.
Kendall says that Pinterest will be looking to introduce new tools in 2017 which will help brands "better understand the value they're getting" from the network. This will likely include new forms of integrated measurement, similar to Facebook's Conversion Lift metrics - Conversion Lift enables advertisers to upload point of sale (POS) data to Facebook which can then be matched against audiences who were exposed to your Facebook ads to better measure actual response.
Several other platforms also have a form of conversion lift, but the process is not highly integrated - it takes a lot of manual connection between your POS system and the network to accurately track the relevant info. But the data is all there, it all exists. In 2017, you can expect to see such processes streamlined, making it easier than ever for businesses to track not only on-platform performance, like referral traffic and Likes, but also in-store or offline sales, and how your social ads influenced such behaviors.
As you can see, there's quite a bit of crossover in these predictions from two industry leaders, which likely suggests that these are a fair indication of where things are headed. There'll be many other areas of focus, and lots of other new tools to try out, but from a social business perspective, these five notes could become increasingly significant, and are worthy of consideration.