Social media is always evolving, so what’s next?
That’s the question I was asked in an interview recently. This kind of question can be really easy since there are so many easy candidates – IoT, VR, and just about anything to do with Facebook.
But if you don’t want to rely on the cliches of future social technology, it can be a challenge to pick out what will matter and why. I suppose this post is somewhere in the middle and I hope it helps you think about where the substance breaks away from the shiny social media objects.
The most important thing about social media marketing isn’t always the tech. It’s the people.
A lot of what draws marketers’ attention to social media is technology: new apps, networks and the latest features on major platforms. But the most important thing about social media marketing isn’t always the technology. It’s the people and how they use that technology to create, publish, share, interact and transact.
Social media is a dynamic of consumer behaviors driving new social technology development while at the same time, new technologies that affect consumer behaviors. It’s important for brands looking at what’s next in social media to understand this dynamic amongst their own customers and broader community.
With that dynamic cycle of people and technology in mind, here are a few directions for social media evolution I think are worth paying attention to:
1. The Facebook Internet
Facebook is dominating social media usage, video and advertising and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Along with WhatsApp messaging and predictions that Instagram will soon become the second biggest social network, many Facebook users don’t really need to leave, do they? Think about that customer expectation when developing your Facebook marketing strategy and how much you can accomplish with customer engagement before they ever even think of visiting your boring corporate website.
2. Converged Social
The combination of Microsoft and LinkedIn will create innovations that will benefit marketers in some interesting ways, especially if professional social profiles become accessible and integrated within Microsoft 365 apps. There’s more convergence to come and guesses are hot as to whether Facebook, Google or Apple will buy Twitter or if Twitter will go the way of Friendster and MySpace.
Imagine what it could mean to your content co-creation and influencer marketing efforts with the integration of the LinkedIn network to Office 365. Need an expert quote for a blog post, ebook or article? Right click.
3. Hot Video
Real-time video is the hot shot on the block right now with Snapchat, Facebook Live and Periscope leading the way towards social engagement with customers in ways many brands haven’t explored before. Facebook’s own Nicola Mendelsohn says in five years, Facebook will “probably” be “all video”.
Like live TV, live video presents brands some opportunities for things to go differently than planned, like Mark Zuckerberg’s inevitably comedic Q/A with Jerry Seinfeld on Facebook live that has reached over 9 million views. On the other hand, who wouldn’t trade some awkward for the reach and exposure (159m views) of a Chewbacca Mom event?
If real-time video isn’t in your comfort zone, find someone who is comfortable with that kind of exposure and media creation. Then train them to be your social champion.
4. Paying to Play Social
Social Advertising will continue to rise with even more options for advertisers. Social media advertising is projected to generate $11 billion in revenue by 2017, up from just $6.1 billion in 2013. More social networks and apps will expand their advertising offerings, just look at Snapchat now inserting ads in between users’ “Stories” and Snapchat Partners, API access that will provide access to creating custom buying and management tools.
There’s no getting around the requirement for paid amplification with content on social networks. More importantly, with Facebook’s continued efforts at putting the focus on individuals over brands, companies need to think about the collective social wisdom of their employees and community for distribution vs. simply publishing on the brand social home base.
5. Dark Social
With 84% of global social shares dark to social media analytics, there’s a growing importance, but brands are challenged to measure its effectiveness in ways that synch with other social media measurement. There’s no shortage of recommendations on how to measure dark social, but we all need more concrete direction on this and collaboration between apps, networks and platforms to make it meaningful.
6. Social Chat Bots
Again, Facebook has opened doors for a new kind of engagement and with customers’ expectation of real-time engagement, bots may be able to satisfy basic customer service and information needs for brands. Will bots be a service or communications solution for your brand? Maybe.
At a minimum, brands will need to invest in more interactive social experiences for their community and what better what to that than an neural network and some AI?
7. Mobile First
Mobile traffic now exceeds desktop traffic and 2 billion consumers worldwide are expected to own a smartphone in 2016. There’s nothing new about the importance of mobile friendliness or having apps, but the cost of ignoring mobile social media experiences for brands dragging their feet will rise dramatically. At a minimum, make sure Google thinks your site is mobile friendly and maybe, most of your customers will too.
8. Social Media Automation
“Martech Shock” extends to social media as brands look to automate and scale. The use of social media automation tools and platform features will grow to help brands with prospecting, delivering content to the right customers at the right time and engagement – all integrated with a marketing dashboard for end to end reporting of the impact social media has across the customer journey. Just don’t think this kind of solution is “plug and play”. As with CRM, analytics and marketing automation, you will need human expertise and a strategy to make the most out of your automation software investment.
9. Social Content Participation
People are empowered and motivated more than ever to co-create social content with brands. If a brand makes that possible, I think consumers will be incredibly interested in partnering with companies in ways that serve mutual interests.
In a way, this kind of consumer and brand collaboration is tapping into the whole user-generated content phenomenon. There are so many ways to do it, especially because of mobile devices allowing people to participate at all times with brands on topics they’re passionate about. Content can easily become an outcome of this type of participation, whether it’s a video, image or even text.
Activating passionate people within a social network environment where they can co-create and participate is an exciting opportunity to scale reach, content quantity and connect with social influencers.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes social media marketing often seems doomed to become nothing more than another advertising channel, with artificial automation schemes for brands to scale the illusion of customer engagement.
While that seems a bit cynical, I also think the collective power of individuals on social networks has never been greater – for content, engagement and influence. When brands and marketers can marry the wisdom and action of the crowd with technology that actually solves a real problem, I think the future of social media is brighter than ever.
A version of this post was originally published on LinkedIn.