It’s difficult to wax poetic about the social media trends of today, because, based on social media's very nature, those trends could be irrelevant by tomorrow. Remember the fervent, yet short-lived excitement surrounding Vine?
Given consumers’ consistently fickle behaviors and the frequency with which platforms are introducing updates (daily, it seems!), displaying any kind of certainty about the future of social media seems ill advised.
However, based on an amalgamation of trends and platform shifts in recent months, we can be very certain about at least a few probable changes on social media’s horizon.
As you assess your company’s social performance for Q1 of 2017 and allocate budgets for the remainder of the year, here are a few trends and industry shifts that should be on your radar:
The rise of live video
A common denominator that unites all platforms is the goal of total audience engagement. For as long as they exist, Facebook, Snap (previously Snapchat), YouTube and even Twitter will be locked in an arms race over engagement, because without user engagement each platform risks irrelevancy.
Today, arguably the most engaging tool in each platform’s arsenal is live video. Although Snap’s Stories have been around since 2013, and have become a staple feature of that ephemeral app, Facebook’s massive live-streaming launch in 2016 made both audiences and brands take notice of the potential of going live. Fast forward four months, to when Facebook’s sister-network Instagram introduced its 600 million-plus user base to its own version of live stories. Then, finally, this past February of 2017, YouTube announced its own live-streaming TV service.
From funny viral videos to viral conflicts, the live-streaming of events across networks shaped the culture in 2016, and will likely only grow in prominence as 2017 continues. Live videos are on the minds of every platform, and they should be on the minds of every marketer, as well.
Related: 5 Trends Reshaping Social Media
In fact, live videos are shaping up to be far more than fleeting novelty features for each network; brands and publishers experimenting with the format are seeing record engagement numbers. Consider food publisher Tastemade: It had already experienced success with its pre-produced videos on Facebook, but when the brand experimented with live-streaming, it racked up 3.7 million views.
The lesson here: Audiences like to experience live content because it not only makes them feel more connected to the event, but also eliminates the perfection pressure that had permeated social networks for years. Live-streaming videos are far from perfect -- they’re real, after all -- but today’s audiences crave authenticity in social content.
A few years ago, it was simple to box each major social network into its own category. Facebook was for connecting with friends; Instagram was for sharing artistic curations and life snippets; Snap was for sharing playful, unfiltered moments; and Twitter was for microblogging.
Each platform served a distinct purpose. Last year, 2016, however, blurred those formerly precise boundaries. Platforms now are morphing into versions of one another. Facebook’s recent Stories launch and Snap’s redesign with universal search functionality are recent examples of the ways in which each platform is taking cues from others and expanding its features to offer audiences more holistic experiences.
What does this mean for brands? Perhaps it’s no longer necessary to expend equal amounts of budgeting and resources across platforms. As platforms evolve and take on shared characteristics, brands gain the opportunity to dig into their numbers on each platform and decide which networks are worth their while for scaling up or down.
Perhaps your brand has had a difficult time gaining traction on Snap by utilizing Facebook and Instagram’s live video features and incorporating 360 degree immersive photographs and videos in your content strategy. You need to rethink how your brand can offer engaging experiences that naturally attract young audiences already on Facebook and Instagram.
Integration of virtual reality
Virtual Reality continues to be one of the buzziest topics in marketing. From Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift (LINK) and the recent 360 app launch, to Snap’s Spectacles, platforms are going all in on the potential of a virtual future.
First and foremost, VR technology offers brands the chance to tell completely innovative and interactive stories. As more brands begin to experiment with VR-produced stories and gamified features, audiences' expectations will rise. Soon, the brands that aren't investing in VR projects will lag behind in consumers’ minds.
Also, because VR for so long has been the futuristic topic it has, there’s a danger in marketers thinking that they have plenty of time to adopt VR practices. But the time for VR is here; CNN is one brand that is already exploring the storytelling benefits of VR with its new immersive journalism unit, CNNVR.
As a marketer, it’s your responsibility to set the vision for your company in motion; you have to see trends far off on the horizon and set programs in motion before consumers expect them. However, the dynamic features of the social media landscape make this kind of forecasting difficult. No one can know, with certainty, what 2017 will bring in terms of social.
However, there have been several encouraging signs pointing to live video, platform crossovers and virtual reality as some of the trends that will pave the way for future band success across social networks.