The end of the year is fast approaching, which means Christmas jingles, New Year's resolutions and... prediction posts. And while the ever-shifting social landscape eventually renders many such prognostications invalid, it's still worth analyzing what might be on the horizon as a means of trying to understand where we're at, and where we're headed, as we plan for the next 12 months.
Last year, my predictions mostly pointed in the right direction, so again, I've decided to get in early and put down a few of my thoughts on where each platform is going, before the upcoming onslaught of 'looking ahead' posts.
So here are my 24 predictions for each of the major social platforms in 2017, starting with the big one - Mark Zuckerberg's ever-expanding giant.
2016 has been another huge year for Facebook. They've added 197 million more monthly active users and recently crossed a billion mobile only MAU for the first time. The future of the network - as reiterated by Zuckerberg in their most recent earnings call - is video, with more emphasis to be put on live-streaming and 360 content in particular over the next 12 months. And that will cause a significant shift in the platform - here's what you can expect.
Video first - Facebook's been refining their focus on video for some time, and you can expect this to continue into next year. Just recently, Facebook announced a trial of a new camera option which Zuckerberg sees as eventually taking over from the text box as the default status update tool. The new camera will be easily accessible from the home screen and will appear with a Snapchat-style interface, including new visual features like masks and other interactive tools.
This new option - the latest in Facebook's efforts to beat out Snapchat - is currently being trialed in Ireland and will likely be rolled out to all regions early in the new year. And, importantly, as you can see in the above video, it'll include new visual enhancement features that go beyond those that are currently available on Snapchat.
The impetus here is obvious - Facebook sees that the next generation of users are gravitating towards this 'camera-first' style of interaction, and they want to appeal to those users to keep them on Facebook. A big driver in getting new people interested in Snapchat is their cool visual tools like Lenses - if Facebook can provide better, more innovative tools on this front, that might help them keep those users on Facebook instead. After all, most people already have larger established networks of their friends on Facebook, why not just use Facebooks 'lenses' instead?
And while this won't kill Snapchat, it will slow their growth, which will increase the pressure on Evan Spiegel and Co. to innovate faster. And that could be good or bad, depending on how they're able to execute.
You might not personally be that into selfies and broadcasting yourself, but this will become more and more common on Facebook, advancing the platform's shift towards becoming 'mostly video'' by 2020.
NOTE: In mid-December, Facebook announced the global launch of new Snapchat-like camera tools for Messenger, continuing their efforts on this front.
Facebook Live - Live has seen major growth in the past year. According to Facebook, the number of people broadcasting via Facebook Live has increased 4X since May, while live videos are drawing significantly more engagement than other types of posts on the network. That said, the real money in live-streaming is likely to come via established broadcasters, as opposed to everyday users.
Nevertheless, expect Facebook to keep pushing the issue on Live and working to unseat Periscope (if they haven't already) as the key live-streaming platform. Facebook's already launched a new advertising push to get more everyday users broadcasting, and that focus will continue to be a priority into 2017. On top of this, expect Facebook to announce more live-streaming partnerships with major broadcasters and move to screen more exclusive content through Facebook. I've noted before, it wouldn't be a surprise to one day see people tuning into the Facebook breakfast show, as opposed to Good Morning America and the like - in the next 12 months, that's the type of premium content you can expect. Exclusive, Facebook TV broadcasts that draw a larger audience to Live - both in terms of viewers and creators.
But the real win on this front will be reaching people's home TV screens. While more and more people are consuming content online, the TV set remains the primary viewing device - our homes are constructed around the TV being the key entertainment source. In order to really make Facebook a genuine competitor for traditional TV broadcasters, Facebook needs an easy way for people to connect Facebook to their TV set.
They're already making moves on this - last month, Facebook released a new and improved way to stream Facebook content to your TV via Apple TV or Google Chromecast.
And that's a positive first step, but it's still only reaching a small percentage of the TV viewing audience (there are around 25 million Apple TV units in circulation and 30 million Chromecast devices). In order to really make a splash, Facebook will likely need to provide another alternative that makes it easier to everyone to connect their TV to Facebook.
They're already working on this - a patent filed last year shows that Facebook is working on their own TV dongle that would act as a conduit between your phone and the TV set.
But that would mean Facebook would need to move into commercial hardware production, something that's a big step to take. If the payoff is there, however, and it can significantly boost their viewing audience, I'd expect Facebook to do it - I actually wouldn't be surprised to see the platform provide such connective devices for free, purely to drive future uptake.
If they can do this, that's the next big threshold for Live, that's what will take live-streaming to the mainstream in a big way, disrupting all aspects of traditional TV as we know it. It's big, it's ambitious, but no one is better placed to pull it off than Zuck and Co. Expect movement on this around the middle of next year.
Virtual Reality - But the next frontier for Facebook is virtual reality, and this will also become the thing everyone's talking about next year. But don't expect VR to have an all-consuming entertainment takeover effect right off the bat.
First off, the cost of a fully operative VR-enabled system is still fairly restrictive. An Oculus Rift headset will set you back $US599, and that's without the Touch controllers - the combo of the two costs $US798, as per the Oculus website. You also need a high-end PC to effectively run Oculus content, so all up you're looking at upwards of $US1,500 for an Oculus VR set-up, putting it out of the reach for most consumers.
The other element to consider is that while virtual reality will be the next big thing, at present, there's not a heap of content out there. Anyone who's ever used a Google Cardboard device knows this - while the experience is great, there's just not enough good content to keep you engaged - and that's not even next-level VR material. Because of this, VR is still a while off becoming an essential component, but momentum will continue to build in 2017, with new use-cases and opportunities showcased by Facebook and other providers (and worth noting, Google's Daydream View headsets go on sale this week).
In order to boost the appeal of VR, however, Facebook will be ramping up those mid-step options, including 360 content. Facebook's been quietly advancing the presence of 360 videos and photos on the platform, providing the ability for all users to upload 360 photos back in June.
In 2017, expect Facebook to provide more tools to help more users get on the 360 bandwagon, while also giving 360 material a reach boost in the News Feed, providing extra incentive for brands to create 360 content.
But the biggest shift next year, I'm predicting, will be the arrival of at least one 360 movie. That'll bring 360/VR into the wider public consciousness in a big way, and will get people buzzing about the next level of communication. And Facebook will be right in the middle of it. After that happens - or a similar, significant 360 release - everyday users will be given more ways to create their own 360 content, and that will usher in the next stage of the evolution towards VR.
Also, expect Facebook to add new augmented reality elements to Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and their new camera option, highlighting the future of interacting in the virtual world.
NOTE: In December, Facebook announced the upcoming release of 360 degree video for Facebook Live, another step towards this next stage
Facebook Search - One lesser discussed aspect of Facebook's evolution has been the growth of on-platform search. As noted by Zuckerberg back in June, Facebook's now facilitating more than 2 billion on-platform searches every day, with search activity rising 33% in just nine months. The platform's now working to actively boost this trend, introducing new recommendation and event tools to help users find more of what they're after, as well as their new marketplace option to facilitate more common on-platform search activities.
This not only helps Facebook boost on-platform engagement, but it also keeps those users away from Google - if Facebook can provide more active options on this front, that'll help boost their position as the only website users ever need to visit.
Facebook has tried to improve their search functionality several times, with Graph Search, then later with their improved, real-time search and discovery tools, which, as evidenced by the above stats, has obviously boosted on-platform search activity, but neither of these options has been able to take optimal advantage of Facebook's full knowledge graph. On one hand, Facebook don't want to provide too much data access, as it's that knowledge graph that fuels their ad targeting system. But on the other, the more traffic they can take from Google the better.
Facebook is no doubt working on new, improved search tools, which will utilize their advanced machine learning to index more content, including images and video, and provide better, automated guidance tools. Expect to see them release something on this in the new year, combining more search capabilities via machine learning, based on what people are typing in their status updates.
You can read more about the potential opportunities of evolving search on Facebook here
Messenger Business - Facebook's been working to build out Messenger as a new platform for direct connection with brands - Zuckerberg says that Messenger is in stage two of their three tiered app development framework. And while more than 33,000 automated bots are now active on the platform, consumer adoption of Messenger bots has been slow. Part of this is likely due to a perceptual shift - people are used to communicating with friends via Messenger, not brands, and they can browse products or find out information easily via other sources, like Google - the definitive use-case for Messenger business hasn't yet been proven to the wider audience.
Facebook will continue to push Messenger bots, but in 2017, expect them to start providing more compelling use-cases from the business perspective - i.e. the use of Messenger bots to automate these simple interactions will save you money in labor costs. That may also mean Facebook needs to simplify the bot creation process to appeal to smaller brands who would see the most benefit from such cost reductions. If they can get businesses promoting Messenger and bots on their behalf, that'll take a lot of pressure off Facebook to do all the pitching, and will lead to more people adopting Messenger for direct engagement with brands, boosting the the platform. The hard part, of course, is simplifying the bot creation process. Expect Facebook to provide a means for businesses to create their own Bot workflow, or provide a cheaper, easier way for smaller brands to work with Facebook and their development partners to do so.
Some of the current use case for bots are interesting - the platform's recently added eBay and Shopify integrations, adding to what's on offer via message. But in order to get people using bots, they need to get the businesses themselves advocating as to why people would want to connect in this way. That'll be the next big push for Messenger bots.
Also, another interesting bot application - diagnosing medical conditions based on users inputting their symptoms. Technical processes like this may also provide compelling examples to drive increased adoption.
Reactions - There's an interesting question around what becomes of Facebook's Like alternatives - their expressive 'Reactions' emoji-set. Made available to all users back in February, the intention was to provide Facebook with more ways to express their responses more easily, but research has shown that adoption of Reactions thus far has been poor. A recent report found that Likes still make up almost 93% of all such responses on the platform, showing that most users haven't changed their behaviors despite the new options being present.
Does this mean Reactions is a failure? Facebook has found other ways to spice them up, releasing custom, event-themed Reactions, including one to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and more recently, a Halloween set.
The problem is that those fun characters also found themselves in some less than ideal placements on topical stories.
So while it does seem that Facebook could potentially use Reactions as an advertising tool, and boost interest in the option at the same time, there are additional considerations like this to keep in mind. Given this, it may be better for Facebook to just remove them - but then again, they do provide additional value within Facebook Live broadcasts, giving viewers a wider range of ways to express their appreciation as they watch.
Given this, I'd expect Reactions to remain, and I do expect to see more themed Reactions, including possibly a few promotional tie-ins - you can imagine movie studios would be keen to get in on this. But at the same time, I don't think Reactions are going to become a significant part of the Facebook experience, nor would I expect them to be providing a new wealth of audience data, as originally expected. Facebook's got other priorities, and the user response has been pretty clear.
No platform's future has been more discussed that Twitter in 2016. The micro-blog giant has faced all sorts of challenges and problems, and none of them, as yet, have been resolved. So what does Twitter do next? There are a few areas in which we'll see Twitter increase their focus.
Live-streaming - It's no secret that Twitter's placing big bets on live-streaming. The platform recently reiterated this at their "#WhatsNext" event, with COO Adam Bain saying that live is the "purest embodiment" of what the platform is all about, enabling users to be part of what's happening right now, at any given time.
As such, Twitter's concentrating on making live content a centrepiece of the Twitter experience - and with research showing that one in two Twitter users are active on the platform while watching TV, that focus makes sense. But with Facebook also working to appeal to that same audience, the challenge is significant.
Twitter's hoping to use their live event coverage as the next stage of the platform's growth, integrating Twitter and TV together so we're no longer talking about 'second-screening', it'll just be the screen. And it might just work - definitely, Twitter, as a platform, is more conducive to live event discussion than Facebook, but the trick, as with Zuck and Co, lies in getting Twitter's live content onto people's TV screens. Twitter's working on this, but Facebook has more resources - expect both to announce new home TV set integrations in the next year, along with more programming. Each will resonate with some audiences, but the actual content is what will ultimately drive their success. On this front, Twitter has deals with several major sports, putting them in a good position to at least compete for those eyeballs.
In terms of live-streaming for individuals, Periscope's reportedly already struggling to keep up with Facebook Live, as per data from Socialbakers.
You can see why it would be hard for Periscope to compete on this front, Facebook is just so much bigger - yet at the same time, Twitter wants to be the home of what's happening now, and when major events happen, like this year's House of Reps #NoBillNoBreak protest and the Dallas police shooting, it's Periscope content that gets the focus, providing unique, live perspective beyond the realm of traditional broadcasts.
Because of this, I can't see Twitter shutting down Periscope, as such, but I do believe Periscope will be wholly integrated into the Twitter app, and that Periscope, as a separate app, will cease to exist.
The logic of such a move would make sense - there's just no point having another side app for people to go to when you really want all the conversation on Twitter itself. Such a move obviously comes with challenges - integrating full Periscope functionality into Twitter will come with technical difficulties. But as Twitter works to streamline and refine their focus, such a move makes sense.
NOTE: In December, Twitter announced that users will now be able to live-stream direct from Twitter without a Periscope account.
Data value - Over the past few years, Twitter's been working to claw back control of their data to build a more sustainable source of revenue from their available insights. The problem with having an open network - the "global town square" as Twitter like to refer to it - is that all those conversations are out in the open for anyone to analyze, and subsequently profit from.
This is exactly what's happened with Twitter - in large part, the whole social media monitoring industry has been built on the back of tweet mentions, and most of the money raised by these third party providers completely bypasses Twitter itself. Facebook have been able to build a multi-billion dollar ad network on the back of their data targeting, LinkedIn too is now looking to capitalize on their vast, protected, data set. Over time, Twitter too has been working to get more control of this element - and you can see the results in their revenue figures. In 2016 alone, Twitter's data revenue has increased 26%.
Twitter will look to emphasize this further in 2017 as they work to improve their revenue position - but to do this, Twitter needs to work on showcasing the value of their data not only to businesses, but also to everyday users.
For example, no platform is better placed than Twitter to highlight wide scale behavioral trends and shifts - yet via Twitter's data blog, we normally just get light-hearted insights like this.
That's entertaining, sure, but expect Twitter to focus on showcasing why and how their data is valuable, what important insights can be gleaned via tweet beyond just basic trends. For instance, what if instead of the above, Twitter provided stats which showed how shopping trends have evolved over time via Twitter conversation, and how those discussions have impacted on real-world sales results. What about if Twitter highlighted growing trends, based on tweet mentions, similar to how Facebook does, but more advanced, with regional breakdowns and heat maps. Twitter will be working to highlight such data uses, and provide better data tools, including improved search and discovery capacity, in the next year.
360 Tweets - With 360 and VR content becoming the next big thing, Twitter too will be looking to get on board. This is less a prediction than a known shift - Twitter recently noted that they're looking to release something on this front early in the new year. What form 360 video in tweets will take? I don't know, but Twtter's VP of Ad Development John McFarland has noted that it'll be better than the types of 360 content we're seeing today.
For sale? - There will also be ongoing speculation about a possible sale, and/or a leadership change at Twitter. Will Twitter be sold? I expect it will, though it depends on how they're streamlining and refining efforts go from here on out. Twitter has a lot of cost overheads that they need to restructure and fix before any company will be willing to pay Twitter's asking price, and if they can slim down and hone in their efforts on the key points that generate the most interest, and ultimately, revenue, that'll make the platform a far more appealing proposition. But in doing so, they may also find that they can go it alone, especially if live-streaming picks up the way they hope.
By mid-2017, we'll know where the platform is at and if their efforts are working. If they're not, Twitter will be sold, and likely for a fair bit less than they're currently asking.
That said, I do think we'll see a leadership change in 2017 either way. Jack Dorsey isn't necessarily doing a bad job, but as Twitter looks to really zone in on the key elements that matter, they could do with a more experienced, and less emotionally attached, CEO who can take the platform to that next stage, whatever that may be. Dorsey is currently the CEO of two companies, and he looks to have given all he can in ideas and changes. I do think, one way or another, we'll see a new Twitter CEO.
Edit Tweets - I can't see them adding this anytime soon. I did predict last year that they'd trial this option, but the fact that they've now held out on it so long seems to suggest it's just not going to happen. For one, it only appeals to existing users who probably aren't going to stop using the platform anyway. In addition, it takes away resources from other elements that are critical concern - like tackling on-platform trolls and bullying.
That said, you never know.
On-Platform Abuse - Twitter will need to take some big, bold steps on this, even if only to show just how seriously they're taking the issue. They've introduced new tools and options this year, and have more coming, but they'll need to announce something significant on this front early in the new year to really underline their efforts. Twitter's been improving their machine learning capacity, I'd expect this is what they'll use to detect and eliminate more hate speech and abuse.
Stabilization - Instagram has seen some pretty big changes in 2016, including the expansion of ads on the platform, the introduction of a feed algorithm and the arrival of Stories. Given this, and the cumulative effect they've had on the user experience, I'd expect Instagram to have a period of stabilization in 2017 as they let these new features settle and grow amongst the audience.
That's not to say Instagram will be resting - both of these features will continue to evolve, but I wouldn't expect any more wide-scale changes of this magnitude for some time.
eCommerce - In terms of their ad options, Instagram has already flagged the next level of product ads on the platform, in the form of shopping tags.
In itself, this is a significant shift - it'll take Instagram well beyond a platform focused on images and art, and well towards becoming a fully fledged shopping network. But the user numbers back up such implementation - research shows that 60% of Instagrammers learn about products and services on the app, while 75% take actions like visiting sites, searching, or telling a friend after being influenced by a post on Instagram. The introduction of shopping tags will eventually change the perception of the platform, and as such, Instagram will likely roll them out slowly. As interesting as the new option is, I wouldn't expect them to be made widely available for some time yet.
Stories - Facebook's boldest challenge to Snapchat yet, Stories is already being used by 100 million Instagrammers daily. The thing is, Instagram announced that number back in August and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated the exact same usage stat last week. Does that mean usage of Stories hasn't grown?
It's hard to know if there's anything to be gleaned from that, but it does suggest that Instagram still has a way to go to fully capitalize on Stories. Expect Instagram to add improved visual features like MSQRD video masks and Facebook's own new reactive filters to enhance Stories and make it a more viable option. Instagram will also look to improve the speed and lag issues reported by some users, while working to better emphasize Stories creators in Explore in order to boost the appeal of the offering to creators - particularly those who may be cast-offs from the closure of Vine (if Vine does, in fact, get shut down).
Insta Live? - Reports have suggested that Instagram's looking to introduce its own variation of live-streaming - speculation which Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom amplified when he noted that they were considering adding a live option back in August.
And while I have no doubt they'll trial this, I don't see it adding anything significant to the Instagram experience. Live-streaming is the function of the moment, all platforms are looking at how they might be able to use live to facilitate better connection, but it's hard to imagine, at this stage, that Instagram's audience will warm to live-streaming within the app, especially when it's available in Facebook and on Twitter already.
There may be a unique use case for Instagram Live that enhances Stories, but not sure it'll gain significant momentum. Initial tests are reportedly underway now.
NOTE: Instagram announced in late November that live-streaming is being made available to all users.
Visual Search - And another area where Instagram could gain significant momentum is in visual search. Facebook's already working on visual search elements - if Instagram could add such functionality to their platform, that would provide a significant boost in data collection and ad targeting capacity. Expect an announcement on this in the first half of 2017.
Trying Times - Last year I predicted that Snapchat would have a tougher time in 2016, and that a new challenger would likely emerge to steal their audience. I expected that challenger to be a new app, not Instagram and Facebook more broadly, but the impetus remains - Snapchat has become a victim of its own momentum, with the bigger players now paying more attention and looking to beat the app at its own game.
2017 is already looking like a more challenging one for Snap Inc. Though the platform is reportedly planning on an IPO early in the new year. Facebook's been accelerating its efforts to slow Snapchat's momentum, introducing Snapchat-like features into all of their apps and aiming to bring those tools into regions where Snapchat adoption is low - effectively beating them out before they even have a chance to compete.
Those efforts will be more significant than many might expect - if Facebook can stop Snapchat expanding its footprint, that'll significantly slow their progress, which could have big ramifications for a publicly listed Snap Inc. (exhibit A: Twitter). Facebook's also looking to introduce better, more innovative tools and features, and when combined with their scale and resources, it's hard to see Facebook losing, long term, if they want to carry out the fight with the yellow ghost.
Thus far, Snapchat has succeeded by being faster to innovate, by being cooler than these older networks. But that may not hold out in 2017 - Snapchat has a strong audience base and will continue on, but growth will be harder, and that could become a more significant problem over time.
New Options - That said, Snapchat is working on new ad types and formats, and they're looking to improve their analytics to boost the platform's credibility and appeal to big business. If Snapchat can continue to introduce innovative ad tools and offer better targeting, the platform will remain a desirable one for brands looking to reach that younger audience.
Really, Snapchat don't need to compete with Facebook's scale, so long as they can highlight the strength of their hold on the Millennial market. That position will becoming increasingly hard for them to hold if Facebook can come out with better options, but Snapchat does have a good record, thus far, on this front.
Spectacles - Spectacles will no doubt prove popular, largely because of their 115 degree angle lens.
The question, really, is how popular they'll be. Snapchat has the cool cache that comes with being such a popular app amongst younger users, and Spectacles will be the thing to have after they launch, but their ongoing success and impact will be tied to what else Snapchat can offer to enhance the experience. Snap Inc. is talking about "enhancing real life experiences" rather than simply capturing them, and on that front, it seems logical to expect that, eventually, they'll be looking to add some sort of augmented reality overlays via Spectacles, even if that's not part of the initial launch.
Tech investor Jason Calacanis predicted earlier this year that Snapchat would use Spectacles to show Snapcodes above people's heads - that's the sort of next level integration Snapchat seems to be working towards, given their recent hires and work in VR/AR tech. If they're able to do this, and offer more than what initially seems available with Spectacles, that'll help the platform maintain their momentum and their appeal among younger users.
Search Evolution - Pinterest has made significant advances in their on-platform search functionality over the last year, particularly in regards to image recognition within Pins.
The next level of that will be the introduction of augmented reality shopping - essentially, this will enable users to place virtual objects within their homes to see how they fit. So if you see a new chair you think would look great in your house, you'll be able to overlay that object within a photo of your house to see it in place.
This is still a way off, but Pinterest has already flagged functionality which will merge their image search capacity into the real world:
"Pinners will soon be able to snap a photo of a single object like sneakers - and get recommendations on Pinterest, or even take a photo of an entire room and get results for multiple items."
In itself, being able to take a photo of any real-world object and find it on the platform will be a significant step forward if Pinterest can perfect it. But the extension of that, where you can overlay objects into your real world setting, will change how people use the platform significantly.
Pinterest Video - Pinterest's newly introduced video ads will prove to be a big winner. That's not exactly a big prediction - there's been a 60% increase in videos on the platform in the last year - but these new video units will cause a significant shift in Pinterest best practices. As more brands use more video, it'll become the thing to get maximum attention on the site, which will force all Pinterest marketers to up their game and make the switch to more engaging, moving, Pins.
Data Evolution - With the backing of Microsoft, LinkedIn is in an excellent position to build out their key platform offerings and transform HR as we know it. Thus far, LinkedIn has never really utilized their vast professional data set in any meaningful way. But latest signs show that's changing, and with that shift towards more data-driven functionality will come enhanced use cases for LinkedIn, both as a recruitment and advertising platform.
For recruiters, LinkedIn's data banks will enable them to make smarter hiring decisions, and eventually even automate the selection process to a large degree, based on platform-defined best matches. This same process will also help job-seekers and graduates improve their standing, as LinkedIn's data resources will be able to spell out the courses they should take, the jobs that best fit and the career that will be most fulfilling for them, individually, based on insights from their 467 million user database.
Expect LinkedIn to make some big, transformative announcements on this in 2017.
More content - LinkedIn has seen major growth in on-platform content creation and consumption, and they're working to advance this with improved content recommendations and on-platform search tools. In addition to this, LinkedIn's also looking to add native video in an effort to become the hub for professional news and information.
Expect to see LinkedIn work to emphasize their on-platform content options, and improve their targeting to provide each user with more relevant content matches, with specific focus on LinkedIn Publisher originated posts. By providing a defined path for each user to follow to get more information on any given subject, or build their standing as an industry thought leader, LinkedIn can also better guide people towards their own resources, like LinkedIn learning. As such, your on-platform activity is not only important for your own engagement, but for LinkedIn's wider data-tracking purposes.
It's safe to say that there's a lot going on in social media circles - and I haven't even mentioned things like Instant Articles/Google AMP, Facebook's Trending News debacle and image recognition-triggered ads on Twitter.
As always, we'll be working to keep you updated on each and every element throughout 2017 and beyond.