By Ben Pindar
Last year I made a series of social media predictions for 2016 and, somewhat surprisingly, I was right! So, here I go again, aiming to predict the social media and digital trends businesses should be watching out for in 2017 and what they can do to target customers, engage audiences, be found online and, most importantly, win business.
Last year I predicted the rise of live video, a shift to more in-depth content across social media channels, a range of new user functions to make it easier to buy and engage, and growing competition in the battle to be found by Google.
We’ve seen all of this come to fruition and we’ll see more of the same in 2017 along with the key trends I’ve listed below. Crucially, I also highlight what businesses need to consider to seize on these latest opportunities.
1.The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) will increase
While the use of AI bots is nothing new – think mobile phone assistants like Siri on the iPhone, Cortana on Microsoft platforms and the omnipotent Google Now – we will see more and more brands and companies using this software as it becomes more accessible.
There has been an explosion in people talking to their phones and computers and then expecting a well-researched and succinct response and companies are already using AI to handle simple customer enquiries. AI can be a valuable resource for businesses wanting insights, it can save valuable resources and customers are expecting to see it.
2. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will continue to grow in popularity
Pokemon Go transformed the way we see the world this year. Granted, many others have had a go at AR like the ill-fated Google Glass, but this was the first time AR was embraced by the masses. Millions of people roamed the landscape hunting Pokemon that would be shown in real-world situations through your mobile device.
Since then, businesses have embraced the concept and are using AR to display adverts in unique locations, share key information as people walk the streets or allow people to see what new products would look like in their home before buying. This is the future and has huge potential for businesses to engage with customers in ways not seen before.
Similarly, virtual reality can allow users to immerse themselves in an experience or explore new venues and locations without leaving their home. Expect virtual shopping stores, leisure and tourism experiences and key things like factory tours and virtual reality sales and board meetings,
3. The days of free social media are done – be prepared to pay or create killer content
As I said last year, competition to be found online is ferocious and it is only getting harder. The social media giants know this and are slowly bringing the halcyon days of free social media targeting to an end. Businesses that now want to identify and engage with target customers now have to pay for the privilege.
Facebook and Twitter first targeted B2C businesses, but expect to see these paid-for promotions becoming a reality for most.
Content is still the most effective way to find and engage key audiences, but millions of pieces of content are being created every day so yours has to work extremely hard to deliver the results you need.
4. Content is still king, but make it focussed
As I say, content is still the best way to get found and speak to your potential customers, but it has to be extremely focussed to battle through the deluge. Niche content is the way forward.
Content has to be personal, highly focussed on the end user and it must be engaging and add real value. Get it wrong and you’ll be buried by a tsunami of spam.
5. Live video will grow in importance
Video has always been hugely important and is the most popular content online. However, Periscope and Meerkat delivered a new way to engage that allowed anybody to broadcast live feeds and engage with their audience.
This format has been hugely popular. Facebook now offers the function and YouTube will also soon launch its own live service. As every social media and search platform loves video, they are also giving a huge amount of search priority to this format, helping to improve search rankings.
It has great potential for driving engagement around events, communicating with your audience, showcasing new services and products and, crucially, sharing a two-way dialogue with customers.
This is nothing new but mobile search overtook desktop search for the first time in 2016 and the internet big boys are responding. Make sure your online profiles are focussed on mobile phones or you will be punished and it will make it hard for people to find your business.
7. Fake news will change the playing field
2016 was the year of fake news – the Oxford Dictionary word of the year was even “post-truth”. Fake news skewed the US election and has a big impact on all online content. Google, Facebook and a wealth of others are all determined to fight this and we’re already seeing changes.
This is an ongoing battle but it will mean search engines make big changes to the way they operate. Businesses need to stay abreast of these issues as it could transform the way you and your content are found.
8. Businesses will need to make better use of private messaging
Private messaging apps like Messenger and Whatsapp now outperform the major social media networks in terms of active users, both boasting more than 1bn people using them regularly. Many businesses are already engaging with customers and target audiences with these apps and most people now expect to be able to communicate direct through these channels.
We’re also seeing a trend for people delivering personal content this way, with businesses sharing newsletters, videos, information and offers.
9. Decline of Twitter and rise of Snap?
Twitter is struggling to maintain its foothold. It’s a long way from collapsing but it is going to have to change the way it operates. The popular phrase is “Twitter Fatigue”, with many finding the barrage of short updates tiresome and hard to focus on key issues. Expect to see more in-depth content available from Twitter in the months to come.
Snapchat has also rebranded as “Snap” and continues to win over an army of fans with its short, fun and disappearing content. It’s still primarily a younger audience but the demographic is expanding and Snap is also promising new features to enable businesses to make use of its features and communicate with customers.
10. Use the power of your employees
Another phrase that has emerged in recent months is “employee advocacy” and, apparently, business interest in this is up 191%. Put simply, it’s about encouraging your employees to talk about the business through their own social networks.
This can instantly ramp up your exposure to a massive new audience and is something we work hard with businesses to encourage as it boosts engagement both inside and outside the business.
Social media firms are also recognising the potential of this and are creating private internal social media networks for businesses to use – Facebook’s Workplace is currently the lead contender.
11. Better insights from social media analytics
Businesses have been analysing their web traffic for years to understand what attracts customers, where they come from and what engages them the most. The social media platforms are now offering some really solid analytics tools and businesses need to make use of these to maximise the potential of these channels.
12. Fully integrated campaigns will be key
We live in a world where people consume information in a massive plethora of formats and that means businesses need to be communicating in multiple ways. Put simply, for businesses to be effective they need to do everything we’ve discussed above.
However, make sure it is strategic and measured. Social media and digital must be factored in to every stage of your decision making in the business. This means the board must consider the opportunities and implications so that those who implement it have a clear and focussed approach – not something that is bolted on as an afterthought.
By having an integrated and strategic approach to your social media channels you will not only make sure that you are seen and found online but you are also heard. Call us 01423 562400 if you would like to know how this would all work for your business. Good luck for 2017!
Featured image courtesy of flickr Christiaan Colen