A really weird thing happened in the world of social in 2016.
At the height of what seemed to us like a pretty big Twitter crisis — complete with executives leaving and a damning BuzzFeed piece about how it doesn’t do enough to keep the cacophony of immoral filth happening on the platform at bay— they decided to shut down Vine, the looping video service. Huh?
Admittedly Twitter is like a boat with a lot of holes that need patching, but Vine hardly seemed like the leakiest one. Vine was full of creators who’d found fame in the 6-second-video-making niche, however random. Meanwhile, on our buses and billboards in London, YouTube was busy advertising its most popular creators for the second year in a row. They had just opened a creator space and made these people into heroes, talking about how valuable they are to businesses.
What a stark contrast that was.
Given that Twitter doesn’t seem to have its priorities straight, it’s no wonder we slipped into a Facebook and Google duopoly.
Where next in social in 2017?
We tried to look beyond the obvious to see what 2017 brings in social and how we might help our clients do more meaningful work with us. We challenged ourselves to think not of ‘snackable trends’ and ‘bite-sized insights’, but of meaty thought-starters for where things could go, and build on that together.
As we kick off the year at Poke towers we wanted to share some of that. Here’s what we’re thinking about social platforms in 2017:
1. We’re reaching the limits of growth and flattening of overall engagement rates
When Instagram rolled out its algorithmic feed it was a disaster for a lot of creators who instructed their followers on what to do to avoid missing out. The company insisted the “average” user was missing 70% of their feed, and rumours were that the “average” person also followed over 400 accounts, which may explain why. Twitter shortly followed suit on the move, though at least you had an option to turn it off and get the full firehose.
Almost a year on, is it really that bad? People now have to engage with your posts to actually see them, so maybe working harder for each post is a good thing.
Soon enough overall engagement rates will go down for everyone pretty fast. That 4–6% engagement rate on a post you got for free? Likely a beautiful, soon-to-be-distant dream.
A lot more things will be ‘pay to play’. Modelling your growth on ‘what the bloggers are doing’ just won’t cut it, because the bloggers are asking themselves the same thing.
An anonymous, disillusioned social strategist called bullshit on the notion of 20-somethings advising big companies on how to work Snapchat but the reality for most people is that without a plan or money, that 20-something will be the only lifeline they have. Don’t be that company.
2. The micro-influencer, the influencer mega-format and mashup of genres
Micro-influencers were hot in 2016, cementing the notion that you’ll have more influence working with people more relatable to everyday life, yet a touch more polished and aspirational in their lifestyles and the way they present them in social media. People and agencies to cater to this new reality popped up all over the place, providing sweet relief for people running out of ideas for what to populate content calendars with.
Midway through the year we hit influencer fatigue: more anonymous confessions called “peak influencer” moment, outraged at what “influencers” were charging and sometimes getting away with. They argued that there had to be more to life and content than people unboxing things, putting on makeup in front of the camera, or rolling their faces on bread for likes and followers.
At Social Media Week in 2016 we made the point that the influencer mega-format is coming. Instead of putting a product into an influencer’s hand and letting them just vlog about it, we created The Wembley Cup, an engaging, serial-like mashup format for football and gaming fans that ran two years in a row.
The branded video series and the data-driven mashup are now here to stay: In 2013 Netflix started by creating House of Cards when it looked at data and realised there’s a venn diagram sweet spot of Kevin Spacey fans, David Fincher fans and British ‘House of Cards’ fans. Last year KFC got together grime fans and gaming fans, who also happen to be big fans of fried chicken and put on a gaming tournament where they battled it out for a lifetime’s supply of KFC. Even L’Oreal launched its ‘Beauty Squad’ of ambassadors (though, thankfully not mashed with anything yet).
So we’re thinking in 2017 we might even see a brand-sponsored semi-reality TV format with all your favourite influencers; whether we like it or not, paying them to do things they might already want to do, but with a central creative organising thought. And if you want your creators relatively ad-free you might consider sponsoring them on rising star Patreon.
3. More adverts everywhere.
When we heard that Instagram would allow ads, we realised that soon they would become just another line item in the media buyer’s plans. The quality of ads we see online now is a bit crap — partly because it’s more profitable to make low quality content and put some money behind it instead of invest time and money into great everyday content.
Facebook currently shows no signs of backing down and continues to push ads on users, blocking the adblockers from cutting their ad revenue because they have precise data to pinpoint the cause. EU law is moving the same way.
Over the Atlantic the FTC wants ads that people can trust, and that respect your privacy. It’s a big ask, but we’re thinking the platform-created ads will at least diversify and be more aesthetically pleasing than the banner-ad-newsletter-subscribe monstrosities people hate. Instagram is toying with ‘shop now’ CTAs on regular posts, which will be interesting news for Pinterest, who is working on making it easier to buy ads and connect with influencers as it grows its 100 million user base.
We’re also thinking you really need to make your ads and videos specifically for the medium they’ll be seen in, if you haven’t already. The narrative arc for social just isn’t the same as TV. (We’ve been saying this for ages, but maybe this year people will actually be penalized for it).
4. Teens are (still) on Snapchat.
According to the latest Ofcom report on British teenagers and their media habits, Snapchat is growing amongst teens, quickly becoming the platform of choice for the new generation. Around 16% of teens between 12 and 15 now call Snapchat their main social media app, up from just 3% two years ago. We don’t have numbers for the percentage of adults still confused by the interface.
Even though over a third of the users it keeps adding are over 25, Snap Inc is determined to keep Snapchat young and fresh by developing for the 14 to 18-year-olds, not their parents or those currently confused by the app design. We really like their strategy of deliberately not giving Spectacles to tech people and instead putting them in random locations, like Tulsa, Oklahoma. What happens there you say? Exactly. Tulsa’s general lack of cool things means it deserves to be front of the line.
So who’s queuing to get us a pair of Spectacles? They might hit Britain this year and/or by their next iteration it may be easier to transfer hours and hours of video and get a better battery, so we’re thinking that it’s not just another experiment that they’ll retract.
Also, at least in the USA, young people are on Tumblr and Vine too. The two platforms have a fair share of 18 to 24-year-olds (28% each). Vine? I hear you say. Vine wasn’t killed off, it’s coming back as a camera app. Sort of.
5. Customer service might actually enter the 21st century and go professional, or dark on social media.
Chatbots! Voice assistants!
People’s favourite use of social media is to fix problems and let other people know how outraged you are at a company not fixing your problems so all your friends know. Occasionally it’s to troll companies or provoke their community managers to a battle of wits.
Most of the prolific brands tweeting are just replying to customer support queries or sometimes creepily stalking your subtweets, scanning for complaints. PR and marketing departments doing customer support through community managers with no professional Zendesk-like tool to manage them will get too expensive and time-consuming. We’re thinking that in 2017 customer support will go ‘dark’ on social through self-serviced messaging via bots, or actual customer support representatives through chat widgets.Look at Expedia and Microsoft (US) partnering up to do a chatbot and calls via Skype.
We’re also thinking that more mediators like GetHuman.com or AirHelp.com will pop up, helping people deal with the hassle of customer support reps for a small price, because who’s got time for 2 hours on the phone with a telecoms company?
Of course we’ll also see a renewed focus on measures of customer satisfaction, with the industry arguing over CSAT, NPS, CES and which ones are the most appropriate, accurate or helpful. The devil is in the details.
Oh and here's one thing we really didn’t see coming because we were hopeful we wouldn't replicate TV but in digital: Facebook introducing ads mid-roll.