The social media landscape continues to evolve in sometimes predictable, oftentimes surprising ways, as new technologies, platforms and methods of content delivery arise to grab hold of our imagination and continually alter how we communicate.
Savvy brands that stay ahead of these trends hold a huge strategic advantage by being well prepared as these shifts occur.
Here are 10 social media trends for 2017 that brands should be well aware of as they seek to meaningfully reach–and interact with–new and existing customers.
- Facebook is very, very quickly becoming a video-centric platform: While Facebook Live and vertical video ads are relatively new on the scene, the formats are already seeing tremendous user popularly and success. With Facebook forecasting that the platform’s News Feed will be mostly video within a half-decade, it makes sense that brands today should already be sharpening their video capabilities and developing a number of video styles that will drive engagement and maintain visibility as customer expectations on the platform progress.
- Instagram continues to be the most effective platform for brands: Instagram is a (if not the) fixture of the social media landscape for brands, and it will remain so into the next year (and likely well beyond). The numbers tell the story: User engagement with brands on Instagram is currently 10 times higher than on Facebook and 54 times higher than on Twitter. Also, Instagram is the social platform where users are most likely to follow brands, with roughly one-half of them doing so. For brands, this means continuing to make Instagram a priority and taking advantage of the opportunities the platform presents for engaging in visual storytelling that connects with customers.
- GIFs and emojis bring more personality to how customers express themselves: The choices users have for self-expression on social have gone far beyond simple texts and set images; now, customized personal GIFs and bitmojis are becoming commonplace. The platforms already know: iOS 10 functionally supports these new means of expression, and Facebook has embraced GIFs. Many brands would be smart to similarly flock to this trend, both by using GIFs and emojis in their own content, and by appealing to customers’ preferences by offering opportunities to express themselves personally through these images.
- Social storytelling is becoming more informal: It’s increasingly the norm for brands to be active on mediums like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook Live–places where social storytelling is informal and direct. In this environment, brands need to let loose and allow for marketing that is less polished but that will come across as much more genuine. In many cases, this will require brands to rethink existing guidelines.
- Artificial intelligence is coming to social in a big way: AI-powered chat bots are poised to have profound effects on how customers interact with brands on social. Chat bots will be enlisted to deliver human-like conversational interactive experiences and provide capable customer service, offering information or handling purchase orders. AI is also set to improve the content offered to customers through robust data analysis. Brands should really understand the specific opportunities and use cases that AI makes available and act wisely in capitalizing on them.
- Users are gaining control of their own social user experience: Social platforms are providing users with better controls over how their feeds offer content. Users will have increasingly more power to view content related to their interests and the way they use social. To meet these changes, brands should perform usability testing to make sure the UX they provide is truly in line with customer behavior and preferences.
- Niche social platforms will rise in relevancy: Yes, there’s more to the world of social platforms than just the major players like Facebook and Instagram. Smaller platforms built (and built well) around specific interests are growing in importance, and they represent opportunities for brands that understand these audiences. Some examples are Tastebuds (music discovery), Ravelry (knit and crochet) and Fishbrain (fishing). These communities also offer chances to research and better comprehend certain customer bases.
- Sharing isn’t being “shared” with the public as much: Users are tending to use Snapchat or messaging applications to share content, meaning that now, almost 70 percent of online shares are going on within so-called dark social (one-on-one social sharing that is happening where analytics tools cannot track it). As customers gravitate towards one-on-one communication, brands should explore the use of social messaging to interact conversationally with customers, providing customer service or support while building relationships.
- Virtual and augmented reality are about to arrive: VR and AR technology is set to enter in a mainstream way as soon as 2017, and social platforms will embrace the change. For example, Facebook and YouTube have introduced 360-degree videos, paving the way for users to share interactive VR experiences. Brands should certainly prepare for the arrival of this technology, and those that can’t dive into VR/AR in the near term should focus on refining their abilities to produce memorable experiences (both digitally and in-person), which will translate to the technology down the road.
- Finding zen amid the social noise: Perhaps the most surprising trend that is finding traction is that of social media users seeking mindfulness, simplicity and calm as a reaction to our stressful, always-on digital world. For one example, there is a rise in users turning to YouTube videos intended for white noise and relaxation. Given this trend, some brands might want to distinguish themselves by offering fewer but higher-quality experiences, avoiding adding to the clutter and noise of social and being more effective in the process.
By examining these trends and formulating a thoughtful game plan ahead of time, brands can deliver content and experiences that are exciting and fresh to customers, enhancing the brand’s standing as our social media behaviors continue to be renewed and reinvented.
Nicole Teeters is a strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.