2016 was a big year for social media.
From Facebook's big push into live video, to Instagram muscling in on Snapchat's stories format, the tussle between social networks has been fierce as each platform battles for a share of attention. We've also seen social media affect globally significant events like the "Brexit" referendum in the UK and the US Presidential Election, as politicians wise up to the impact social networks can have on public opinion. Overall, we're now spending almost 2 hours a day on social media - or about 15% of our time awake.
So what will 2017 bring and what social media trends do businesses need to be aware of next year? That's the question we posed to some of the biggest names in the social media world including Rand Fishkin, Michael Stelzner, Marsha Collier, Ian Cleary and many more.
Here are 8 trends they expect to see next year.
1. The power of social media giants will increase
It's no secret that the giants of social media world want people to spend more time on their networks and not your own website. As user numbers grow and internet users spend an increasing amount of time on social, it's time for social media marketers to work out how this will affect their strategy in 2017 say Michael Stelzner and Eric T. Tung.
"Algorithms, bots, artificial intelligence and people working for very big companies will destroy the business models of people who produce content by disrupting the free flow of information. In the very near future, information flow will be filtered and measured and censored in the name of "reducing clutter" and revealing "only what's important." Facebook will decide what you see. Google will serve up only that content that complies with its rules and is housed on its servers. Email solutions like Gmail and Yahoo will tighten their own algorithms so even reaching the inbox is at risk.
The information distribution highway will have toll stations that must be paid for by the those who create content. If you want your content seen, you'll need to house it inside the companies that control the toll stations. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and more will incentivize content creators to not link to off-site content. These large businesses will become the equivalent of the 1990s America Online - a type of "Hotel California," where you can enter but never leave. Traffic to websites will decline and blogs will shut down. Gone will be the days of information flow and true information freedom. The future will only be more controlled, more filtered and less open. Are you ready for the change?"
"Social media in 2017 will continue to change and consolidate. We're going to see more acquisitions, as power continues to collect in the hands of a few, and smaller players who can't monetize will be left behind. Devices will be more integrated into marketing and entertainment, augmented reality, virtual reality, and 360 video will become mainstream. Twitter and Yahoo will become shells of their former selves and become acquired.
And companies will need to reformulate social strategy and content strategy to provide more levels of education and entertainment rather than the thinly-veiled marketing collateral it's become. We probably won't see GM or AT&T doing BuzzFeed like video stunts, but people will be less and less tolerant of marketing crap."
2. The fight back against fake news will begin
The issue of "fake news" came to the fore towards the end of 2016 with Facebook in particular feeling the force of public backlash. Rand Fishkin and Gini Dietrich believe the likes of Facebook and Twitter will make a concerted effort to stop this phenomenon from spreading next year.
"I expect social media platforms in the year ahead to at least face and possibly tackle some of the most controversial and challenging aspects of the amplification they provide. Specifically, I think we're going to see Twitter double down on features that limit abusive aspects, and Facebook to address the issues of fake news, false claims, and inaccurate "facts" on their platform.
Google has already worked on this to a degree with their algorithms focused on accuracy (as reported by NPR). My expectation is that amplification of false information will become more difficult, and that abusive and threatening behavior will as well. One might have hoped that this would be addressed earlier in the life of these platforms, but I think the executives at Facebook and Twitter required the powerful catalysts of 2016 to prioritize modifications."
"While this isn't a trend I want to see take hold, if the U.S. presidential election has taught us anything, it's that fake news sells. What does that mean for marketers? Those executives and business owners who are willing to do what it takes - whether it's ethical or not - will undoubtedly apply similar tactics to their marketing plans. The list of potential motives is endless: anti-corporate activism, unsavory union tactics, competitive harassment, dissatisfied shareholders, unethical stock traders, even ethics-challenged, bottom-feeding PR practitioners.
It's up to marketers to do three things - and be vigilant about them: 1) Verify the validity of every piece of news before we share it anywhere; 2) Build an internal discussion around what to do if a competitor spreads fake news about our organizations or executives; and 3) Refuse to do work with anyone who wants us to do this. This isn't a trend just for the United States. Every part of the world will see this affect their marketing plans. Be diligent in making sure, at this time next year, we have beaten this "trend."
3. From social networks to social messaging
While the ever increasing usage of social networks is a regular feature of online news, user numbers pale in comparison to social messaging apps. As French social media influencer Isabelle Mathieu points out, the biggest social messaging apps now have a larger community than the biggest social networks with market leader WhatsApp hitting the 1 billion user mark in February 2016.
"Until recently, companies had focused their efforts on social networks but in 2017, they will start investing massively in social messaging applications. These apps have a wide audience and offer several attractive features to brands for e-commerce and client support, for example, which allows for economies of scale and the creation of new types of user experience. Let's not forget that the four main messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber) together have a wider community than the four main social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram)."
4. More targeting and more integration
With ever growing numbers of people using social networks, the level of noise on social media is also increasing, making it harder and harder for brand messages to be heard. Dave Chaffey and Neal Schaffer predict that this will lead to a greater need for targeting messages using smart technological integrations and better social media tactics.
"Social media doesn't exist in a vacuum, although it is sometimes managed in such a way that it's with limited integration with other parts of marketing. In 2017, I'm expecting to see more use of services and APIs to integrate social media with CRM, Marketing Automation and and social media prospecting and retargeting ad platforms. For example, we use Clearbit to understand and interact with our B2B audiences on social media.
Connections between social media and CRM or retargeting apps to give opportunities for 'hypertargeted' personal messaging are possible via API services like Zapier, Piesync or Automate.io. A consumer example of hypertargeting is when Vauxhall Motors partnered with Twitter to send personalised videos to football fans via DMs from players in the Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales national teams, thanking them for their ongoing support. The individual targeting of the personalised content will be sent out on the platform over a two-week period."
"2017 will continue to see an evolution of the many things we saw in 2016, so rather than it being a revolutionary year, it will be an evolutionary one. That being said, my advice for businesses who want to maximize their social in 2017 to adapt to this evolution would be the following.
Influencer Marketing: Brands need to graduate from throwing $$ at people with large networks and instead focus on influencers that truly help them meet their objectives. If it's SEO you're looking for, you don't need to be targeting Instagrammers and instead might want to focus on bloggers who may or may not be an "influencer" in social media. On the other hand, if brands would celebrate their fans more often in social media, these brand advocates can become influencers in their own right, and this is the approach that I recommend to brands before investing in transactional influencer relationships versus long-term mutually beneficial brand advocacy relationships.
Paid Social: The days of organic social media success are over. It's not a question of paying for playing but of how much you pay to play. In order to do so, you need to create your own revenue attribution model algorithm, measure, and optimize. Failing to create rational attribution models keeps many brands from underinvesting in social and missing out on opportunities to leverage the communities and data (custom audiences, et. al.) they already own.
Visual Content: In 2016, content is already a commodity. That is, the written type of content is a commodity. Brands should focus less on quantity of written content (blogs, et. al.) and instead have a "less is more" approach by focusing on quality. However, visual content is not a commodity, and this is where brands should be investing more of their budgets, whether in user-generated campaigns to source photographic content, creating more and more videos, or doing more and more live streams, this visual content area will help you truly cut through the noise and be heard."
5. The social storytelling evolution
Good storytelling has always been a key component of effective marketing, long before social networks even existed. But social media innovations are changing the way audiences consume stories and Andrew Hutchinson and Pratik Dholakiya both predict that brands will need to keep up with the evolution of social storytelling if they want to remain relevant.
"In 2017, we're going to see more emphasis on 'social storytelling' to help better engage audiences on social platforms. Now, storytelling is nothing new of course - it's been a key part of how we interact since the dawn of time - but new uses of social, like Snapchat Stories, which add more context and immediacy to what we share, are changing audience expectations on how we communicate our messages. The trend is best exemplified by Instagram copying the Stories format - Instagram says 100 million users are already using their Stories feature every day, while more than 50 million use the same function on Snapchat. In addition to this, Facebook's testing out 'Messenger Day', a similar social storytelling tool within Messenger, while Twitter recently opened 'Moments' to all users.
Right now, this might not seem like a big deal, but cumulatively, that's a lot of younger users engaging with this format, and younger users are the ones who drive future trends. Given this, it would be beneficial for brands to start investigating and putting into action steps to add more storytelling elements into their social marketing plans - more immediate, multi-scene narratives that help better connect users to their brand story and purpose, which really works to enhance the 'social' element."
"Just like curiosity killed the cat, over-sharing can mar all your content marketing efforts. People tend to sway towards bite-sized pieces of information that catches their fancy. So something on the lines of micro-blogging, short and succinct posts or Snapchat stories for that matter, can become a huge trend in the time to come. Similarly, the expertise of social media influencers is all set to expand in the travel and tourism sector. They may be invited to go on junkets and share their experiences using the latest features on social media viz 360-degree videos, live streaming, vlogs etc.
Additionally, social media reaction buttons are the 'next big thing' for various channels. We have already seen them on Facebook and how marketers can use them to increase user engagements on a page or a post. In the near future, we can definitely expect something similar. Short-lived content such as self-destructing content on Snapchat (and now on Instagram) is another trend that we can watch out for in 2017. The posts may be conditioned to expire in say, an hour, a day or in a couple of days. Another trend that I think we would see is use of Chatbots. With the latest technologies in tow, they are becoming more impressive and I wouldn't be surprised if we have a LinkedIn chatbot in place soon."
6. Virtual Reality meets social media
In 2016 virtual, augmented and mixed reality took the world by storm. With the giants of tech all investing heavily in this new area 2017 could be the year that VR adoption becomes widespread and enters the realm of social networks say Martin Shervington.
"In 2017 we will see the next phase of platform adoption in VR, including Facebook's Oculus. We know this is 10 year plan for Facebook, and having been diving deep I think people will be surprised at the existing level of sophistication.) Add in HTC and Google to the mix, and we will have increased understanding of the potential of virtual spaces - including what it will mean for social and business.
Add in consumer 360 content to the mix, with a push from YouTube and Facebook too, there will be fun for consumers and producers alike. (It's time to get creative and ready to explore what we all know will be a big wave of change."
7. Trust is the next frontier
The growth of fake news has had a major impact on people's trust of information on social networks. Not just news and political statements but even brand messages. With so much competition for digital space, David Amerland and Tim Fargo predict that next year, it will be brands that can foster genuine trust with their audience on social that will be successful.
"In just about every digital vertical we are seeing the same trend: technology is producing incremental improvements in the user experience and the flow of data captured is producing an ever increasing granularity in the way we connect with people, companies and brands to create working relationships, form impressions of them and understand the values that drive them. This produces the interesting paradox of the importance of human qualities in a domain that is increasingly controlled by machines. When the traditional barriers to connectivity that were posed by the technical challenge of overcoming lack of proximity, access to content, an interactive digital presence and a high-quality connection, are removed what truly remains is the perception of whether we can trust who we are dealing with or not.
Trust in a digital environment where every step we take is a studied one and where everything can be controlled, altered and manipulated presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge lies in understanding the myriad ways through which trust is experienced and formed. The opportunity lies in establishing connections with our audience that have lasting value because they appeal to the core identity of who we are and what we consider to be important. Neither of these can be undertaken lightly, nor can it be said to be easy but it is how companies, brands and individuals will now differentiate themselves from the crowd, form networks of contacts that give them influence and establish their dominance in a crowded marketplace."
"People will continue to be enamored with hacks and with vanity metrics. While being able to draw people to your content is important, having content that converts people to paying fans is the key. When you can get attention AND engender trust, you're on your way to getting paying fans. Money spent is the ultimate metric. Therein lies the danger of click bait. If the content doesn't match up to the headline or visual, you've violated a person's trust.
It may seem a small thing but, when people are making millisecond decisions and evaluations, it may be the last time you get their attention. In social media , the desire to get attention should always be governed by the requirement of deserving it. When you make a difference in your audience's life, they'll start making one in yours. That's the real "hack"."
8. Businesses will need to learn to sell on social
In the end it comes down to the bottom line. Can we trace revenues back to social media activity? Getting better at selling on social will be key for both social networks and the businesses that use social media in 2017 say Marsha Collier and Ian Cleary.
"In 2017, business will have to figure out what works for them in Social Media. There's been a lot of new platforms distracting from the end goal - of selling. Rather than chasing shiny objects everywhere, center on the psychographics (what your customer cares about) versus their demographics. These days passions are more powerful than statistical data."
"In 2017 we'll see a major push from Facebook for selling through Facebook and other providers will follow. There is no reason why people won't buy on social media channels if the social media channels create an environment for sales."