Top 10 social media trends for 2017

Article by Danny Whatmough, Head of Social, EMEA at Weber Shandwick

The pace of social media change is perhaps the biggest cliché in our industry. As with many clichés, it’s also true. But as well as paying attention to the new tools arriving at speed, we must also regularly step back and assess the broader trends that social media innovations point towards.

So here are my top ten key trends in social media. Some are more macro, some less obvious. But they all give a sense of what we as marketers, and the businesses we work for, should be focusing on in 2017.

The social media identity crisis

In the early days of social, it was all about engagement. Then networks realised they also needed to make money, and paid social/social as a direct response channel took off. As brands now find themselves juggling both, this year we need to look afresh at the way we approach social to better manage the two aspects.

The death of the silo

Social is no longer responsibility of the marketing team: it impacts every part of a business, from HR and product development to customer service and employee engagement. The role of the social media team therefore needs to pivot from being seen as a marketing function, to one that prioritises innovation across the business and acts as a collaborator and integrator.

Immersive social experiences

A trend that just keeps on giving. As the race for attention intensifies, the need to provide social experiences that grab an audience is at its peak. The year of video has come and gone and pure video alone is now not even enough: see the rise of formats such as Facebook Canvas, Live 360 video and Stories (on every channel!).

Messaging apps at tipping point

Monthly active users for messaging apps have surpassed that of social networks. Facebook in particular is going all-in on developing Messenger. But if you really want to see where all this is headed, take a look at the sort of features and functionality that Asian audiences enjoy on platforms such as WeChat. While Europe’s social ecosystem is much more fragmented, it’s still clear that messaging has plenty of scope for evolution.

The battle for live

Facebook and Twitter are both going all-out to be seen as platforms for real-time content. The question for brands to ask is whether something really justifies being live versus pre-recorded. And there are still plenty of reasons why the latter is often the more sensible option.

Transparency in metrics and measurement

Last year, questions were raised around accurate metrics from third-party sites on the average view times of videos. As more money pours into social media marketing, scrutiny around metrics – from viewability and bot traffic to ad blockers and attribution – will only intensify.

Automation and AI

Social media is no stranger to automation; algorithms and analytics have featured automated processes for many years. But as automation intensifies – from driverless cars to drone deliveries and innovative retail concepts like Amazon Go – the question for brands and businesses will be where to draw the line between automation and human interaction.

Data-driven social

Adobe estimates that 72% of the US display market is likely to be programmatic during 2017. Data has the potential to transform social from a “spray and pray” tactic into a highly-targeted vehicle for reaching the right audience with the right message. And yet, too many brands are still relying on broad targeting based solely on data held by the social networks. I’d encourage brands to begin experimenting with how they can use their owned data as well as data from third party sources to improve their social media activity and impact.

Authenticity of social voice

Authentic opportunities to engage audiences will become important this year. Influencer marketing is one option and will certainly continue to see growth, and I also think we’ll see an increased focus on employee advocacy as a channel.

The slow death of always-on

Always-on has been the bedrock of social media marketing for years. But the power of this approach is diminishing. The need for paid support, combined with the need for high-quality content, means that less is definitely more.

This, along with the other nine trends, challenges businesses to really think about the value that social media can add to their business and the value they can bring to their audiences through social.

Then we’ll really see the power of social media.