The 10 trends that will shake the social media landscape
For months, it looked like 2017 might be the year that Facebook would blunt Snapchat’s encroaching impact. The social media goliath could build clones of anything Snap Inc. brought to the mat – anything except its coveted youth audience.
Snap seemed to be taking serious blows early in the year, but quickly tagged in the help of sparring partners like Apple, new acquisitions in mapping technology, and measurement capabilities to keep advertisers open-minded.
As the copycat wars continue, other platforms are trying to keep pace or find their own banner to wave. Pinterest is trying hard to unlock the keys to visual search patterns – and the purchases they beget. Giants Google and Amazon might seem to have stepped away from the social media ring, but their technologies will be the centerpieces for content marketing and will referee device connectivity moving forward.
All of this shakes out to a race to own the spotlight – in augmented reality, location services, personal assistants, live video or visual search – all while keeping consumers engaged and away from what feels like an imminent saturation point, knowing that connected cars, kitchens and clothes promise even more touchpoints for marketers down the line.
Here are 10 trends that will shake the social media landscape in 2018:
- No Green Light Without Data. Chief among Facebook’s challenges is a coordinated effort by the ad industry to provide transparent and actionable social media metrics. For marketers, Facebook has been something of a black box — they know why it works but not how. But after multiple measurement missteps over the last year, expect third-party firms to help Facebook, Snapchat and other social media players validate reporting from social to cross-channel and even physical conversions. Add visual search analytics to the mix of data, and it could be a very interesting 2018.
- I Want My Brand TV. Facebook and Instagram spent much of 2017 pushing marketers on the discipline of going live everywhere. As more traditional distribution models fail to deliver, branded live video content, in a regular syndicated format or saved for major event announcements, is something everyone will want to master. Platforms are eager too, as they build true “social TV” for the first time. Keep a close eye on Facebook Watch, Snapchat Shows, and that other sleeping giant, YouTube.
- Bots Man the Frontlines. As News Feed fatigue rises, private and group messaging always gains consumer appeal. To avoid losing track of these conversations, brands must be prepared to inject themselves in a seemingly assistive way on Facebook Messenger, Kik, WhatsApp and other one-to-one services. Great use cases for booking travel, ordering food or planning entertainment are already in market, but more brands should find simple ways for bots to become stronger brand ambassadors – either reactively as a customer service solution, or proactively as a way to solve consumer needs when other channels fail to connect.
- Social Continues to Reach Out to Retail, While More Retailers Need to Reach Back. Critics have long contended that social media isn’t conducive to commerce. Despite recent efforts to add transactional features to social media, that’s still the case. Some offerings, like Facebook’s location-based advertising suite and offline conversions API and its latest collection ad units show promise. The trend is likely to continue in 2018, so marketers should continue to forge ahead on cross-channel CRM database matching and focus on creating compelling content to gently push consumers to purchase. Meanwhile, in the physical world, retailers should take a second look at ways to build a digital journey within their stores, taking into account attribution, the impact of visual search, and follow-up with customers who may continue browsing later online. Last, don’t discount what Amazon might do with its nascent social platform, Spark, especially now that it is expanding its brick-and-mortar foothold.
- Advocates are the New Influencers. The strategy of paying a celebrity to syndicate brand content out to millions of followers has left many marketers disenchanted in the last few years. Finding the right partner who can co-create content up to brand standards can be equally difficult. Where brands should invest their time is reengaging customers who already love to talk about their products, developing new ways to build armies that feel less promotional or gamified and more rewarding, focused on building a culture of gratitude within the brand’s social community.
- Tech Does the Work for You. Consumers are increasingly comfortable talking to Siri, Alexa and Google – and, in the not-too-distant future, Facebook will certainly be on that list. Gartner predicts that 30% of our interactions with technology will be conversational by the end of 2018. The voice assistant market will double every year until 2020, when 50% of our searches will be made by voice and, astoundingly, 30% of our web browsing will be screenless. The key to voice search will be offering consumers real value that feels simple, engineering commands and skills that react to what users want to know and how they would ask those questions. The post-remote and post-keyboard world of assistants will integrate everything from our entertainment, scheduling, research, purchasing, and home controls at all stages of the customer journey. Some brands already have a huge head start. Check out how GE has integrated its home services using If This Then That (IFTTT).
- Marketing Targets All Five Senses. The future is about total immersion, which is why brands are testing scent and haptic (touch) marketing with wearable technology and mobile devices. But full-on VR will likely still be a niche market in 2018, gaining some traction in gaming and entertainment. Mainstream marketers will experiment with 360-degree “VR lite” executions. Brands should consider where this type of video fits in their mix and if they have an experience that warrants video creation. Augmented reality, pushed by Apple’s partnership with Snapchat and, you guessed it, Facebook, will begin to move past fun advertising applications to utility, solving how-to problems for consumers like recipes and DIY projects and allowing them to preview digital products across their physical world.
- Need Builds for Connected Personalization. More screens and connected devices mean more captive consumers for even longer periods of time. The rise of such “smart” IoT devices will offer new and extended marketing opportunities, not just in the home, but in the car and outdoors too. Think NFC-enabled bus shelters and screens in ride-sharing vehicles. The future belongs to brands that realize this activity and can trace you, your interest graph and your content history along your device journey.
- Location, Location, Location. One area in which Snap has spent quite a bit of money and effort in 2018 is social mapping, a territory that has been relatively dormant since Foursquare colonized the market before it was ready. Snap’s maps have only scratched the surface of local content discovery, recommendations, and of course, advertising. If the platform can succeed at pushing stories about the immediate world around us in ways that feel walled off or difficult on Facebook or Twitter, it may be onto a new sense of community.
- Everyone Plays by Facebook’s Rules. Give Facebook its due: For the past few years, it has anticipated trends which are just now playing out. In retrospect, its strategic acquisitions of Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus look like money well spent to future-proof the company. While some experiments have gone by the wayside, the majority have positioned Facebook as the heavy hitter in the market, driving the direction in which the rest of the industry follows. It’s ability to stay nimble despite its size continues to be impressive, but Facebook’s major weakness may be success itself: will users stay to play as Facebook takes up more time as the center of our digital lives? And will want to be a part of a community that everyone can access?
And while we often pit one platform against another, don’t expect social to become a winner-takes-all brawl. While Facebook is certainly poised for dominance, only 9% of young millennials would currently call Snapchat a“fad,” according to Fluent. Snapchat has overtaken both the 12-to-17 and 18-to-24 year-old age groups in U.S. users this year, and among those younger users Facebook is still in decline. We’ll find out next year whether that matters to advertisers.