The fireworks have faded, the champagne bottles are lined up for recycling, and those midnight text messages you didn’t mean to send but did anyway are fading into memory – or so you hope.
2016 is here and with it a chance to start the new business year with a bang. Your goals are set, your team is pumped, and you’re already hitting the ground and running.
But what has changed since last year? How will the world of online marketing look in this new year? And what opportunities should you be aiming for in the year ahead?
All this week we’re looking at the most important digital marketing trends for 2016. Whether in the domain of SEO, online video, blogging, or social media, our four-post series will explain what you need to know about the year ahead so you can deploy your marketing resources efficiently, effectively, and hit those goals.
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Back in 2010 ComScore released a report titled, It’s a Social World: Top Ten Need-to-Knows About Social Networking and Where It’s Headed. At a time when businesses and marketers were turning in increasing numbers to social networks for improved traction, increased reach, and amplification of traditional messaging channels, ComScore was able to summarize succinctly the lay of the social land, and offer some guidance as to how that geography would evolve in the years ahead.
Some of the predictions in that report proved to be on-point. ComScore, for example, argued that the importance of Facebook in the world of social networks could not be overstated. If that was true in 2010 it is even more so now, with the blue giant of the social world continuing to dominate all comers.
ComScore’s prediction that local social networks would become and remain important was also prescient. While the report used the Russo-centric VKontakte as their case study, similar social networks and microblogging services in China and East Asia could stand as similarly well-established local networks in 2016.
Yet other predictions about where social networking was headed can only be described as wide of the mark. A prediction that instant messaging would continue to wither in the face of social network-enabled communication seems to have been proved wrong. Both Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and the post-Snowden trend towards encrypted private messaging apps suggest that trading messages on a social network is no longer the space where communication takes place.
Similarly, while ComScore identified microblogging services like Twitter as “a disruptive new force in social networking” and predicted that Twitter’s 1 in 10 internet user reach would continue to grow in the years ahead. As it happened, though, Twitter user growth is now flat and while it maintains a passionate active use base, these active users are only a fraction of the hundreds of millions that Twitter has on its books. A failure to turn a profit despite having the eyeballs of so many and free media promotion that is unrivaled by any other social network only reinforces this far shakier outlook for the Dorsey-led outfit.
But can ComScore really be blamed for getting things wrong? Not at all. Prediction, as the saying goes, is especially difficult when it comes to future events, and this is particularly true when it comes to predicting the next twists and turns in the world of social media.
That said, we here at DOZ are never ones to shirk from a challenge and, having taken stock of where social media found itself at the end of 2015, are pleased to present the following five most important trends in social media for 2016.
Trends in Social Media #1: The Buy Button
Social networks might appear to the casual user as a space for sharing family photos, political opinions, and memes that involve Disney characters in unlikely situations. For the marketer, however, these networks are a ideal channel for reaching out to an audience that is relaxed, keen to browse content, and willing to be marketed to in exchange for the free use of the social network itself.
The networks themselves understand this captive audience is valuable and, as they generally make their money selling advertising space, anything they can do to make their network more attractive to businesses with money to spend is going to be a priority. When such ideas come with the secondary bonus of keeping users on site for longer, it’s almost a no-brainer.
This is why 2016 will be the year that the ‘buy’ button on social networks becomes ubiquitous. Already popping up on Pinterest and on Facebook, Instagram is coming soon and Twitter should soon begin a push towards on-platform shopping globally, too. For marketers it is going to be a chance to target users more precisely and more effectively than ever before, while for users the buying process will be simplified and familiar no matter the vendor. The ‘buy’ button is going to shake up social, traditional ecommerce, and online spending habits more generally – be prepared.
Trends in Social Media #2: Privacy Concerns Remain Key
It’s a little ironic, to be sure: while sharing almost everything about their life on social media the average consumer is simultaneously and increasingly concerned about their privacy online.
The trend towards privacy concerns online is not a new one, but it is gathering steam thanks to events in the last year reinforcing the importance of privacy online. Whether the fallout from the hack at Ashley Madison or hijacked social media accounts causing all sorts of problems for the users concerned, social media fans are seeking ways to lock down their data more effectively, wall off their data from uninvited eyes, or even closing down their social accounts altogether.
For social networks this presents a challenge. The business exists to encourage the sharing of more and more personal information, and the revenue models are founded on this information allowing effective targeting of advertising. How, then, to respond to the privacy concerns of users without undermining the very network itself?
In 2016 we can expect to see social networks continue to change their privacy policies in an attempt to placate the fears of their user base while continuing to find ways to chop that private data into the targetable chunks that advertisers demand. The delicate balancing act will continue to make headlines and any social network that can make it work while keeping both groups of stakeholders happy will see not only increased revenues, but increased trust ratings, too.
Trends in Social Media #3: We’re Gonna Do It Live
Three trends combine to make this the year of live streamed social.
First there is bandwidth. It’s getting cheaper, faster, and available everywhere. Second are mobile devices, the increasingly first choice for users to both produce and consume social content. And third, there’s a settling in the market when it comes to competing live-stream apps. Periscope owns the big-brand market, and Meerkat is now one of those apps you wonder why you downloaded just nine months after it was ‘the next big thing’.
Social Bakers reports that of the top 383 largest brand profiles on Twitter 15% have posted content via Periscope in the past month, a figure that surpasses Vine and Meerkat combined. While not yet as prevalent as ‘googled’ or ‘skyped’, the verb ‘scoped’ is entering the technology vernacular and 2016 will likely be the year it jumps into the mainstream.
Livestream video offers brands the chance to explore their authentic side, offering viewers a glimpse of their business and brand that is unfiltered and raw. Viewers have shown, time and again, that these sorts of glimpses into the ‘real’ brand make them more likely to identify with the brand, and eventually to buy from the brand, too.
Social media marketers already know that images and graphical content are far more successful than text in reaching out to their communities and potential customers on social networks. With the rise of live streaming social video in 2016, another arrow is going to be added to the quiver of tools that marketers will need to deploy for their clients.
Trends in Social Media #4: Network Consolidation
Visit Wikipedia and check out the list of social networking websites. There are dozens, most of which you’ll have heard mentioned in conversation once or twice, but most of which you’ve never even opened in a browser, let alone tried for yourself.
In 2016 expect to see some major consolidation in the market as social networks that cannot find a reason for being other than just promoting themselves as ‘Facebook for X’ or ‘Twitter for Y’ fail. Social networks need to find a better hook than this to still be in operation by the end of a year where the biggest players are going to take a bigger piece of the pie, leaving nothing but crumbs for the rest.
Who’ll end the year strong? Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Who’ll continue more or less where they are now and, in practice, shrink their market penetration? Twitter and Google +. And the rest? Don’t bother.
Or at least don’t bother unless the network has a real and valuable niche to exploit. An example? Strava, a social network for athletes, offers the sorts of social networking functions that people who run, cycle, swim, and enjoy the outdoors want. There are strict limits on what can be shared, and while the network is integrated with Facebook and Twitter, it is not a true competitor. Strava doesn’t want to be your primary social network of choice, but it has carved out a place for itself as the social network of choice for endurance athletes.
In 2016 look for less Facebooks, Twitters, and Instagrams, and more Stravas, but overall look for consolidation: the market just isn’t big enough for everyone anymore.
Trends in Social Media #5: Pay to Play
It’s well known that social networks make their money selling the user to advertisers. As it has been said, if you are not paying for it then you aren’t a customer, you are the product.
When it comes to businesses, however, it’s a slightly different story. If you are not paying for it then you aren’t going to have access to the pool of clients, or at least not the whole pool. This year is going to be the year where the existing trend of ‘pay to play’ on social networks is going to hit home as never before. Businesses hoping to ride the wave of social power without investing in social media messaging are increasingly going to find themselves standing on the beach as the sets role in no matter how many fans, likes, and followers they have.
For brands and for marketers, then, social media marketing spends are going to be increasingly important elements of any social media marketing strategy. Save for the rare piece of truly viral content that spreads without a significant spend on the part of the content creator and the promotions team, brands will find themselves spending more – perhaps even double – the amount of money they spend creating the content to promote it on the networks. Marketers will become as adept with Facebook Business Manager as they are with Facebook as a platform, and brands that invest in reaching the right audiences will see big returns.
But they can no longer get by assuming that being present on a network and publishing content to that network is enough to stay in the good graces of the networks themselves. This year it truly will be pay to play.
These five trends – some entirely new, others extensions and reinforcements of existing trends – will define the social map for the year to come. While others will no doubt impact the social space in a significant way, too, none will be as important in driving the changes to the social domain to come than these five – and the impacts are already being felt on by users, by businesses, and by the networks, too.
What predictions do you have for the world of social media in 2016? Let us know on Twitter!
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