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8 Key Digital Predictions for 2017

WE Communications Blog: Technology

1/13/2017
— Gareth Davies, WE 

After the shock twists and turns of 2016 – both politically (Trump) and digitally (Apple’s removal of the headphone jack) - it’s difficult to feel confident predicting anything for the year ahead. In the digital sphere, the last twelve months has seen influencer marketing become the norm, increasing numbers of brands adopt video advertising and the death of Vine.  

There will certainly be more surprises this year, but here are our top 8 predictions for digital marketing, technology and social media in 2017.

1. CONSOLIDATION OF SOCIAL PLATFORMS AND FEATURES

“Anything you can do I can do better” would best sum up the world of social media platforms throughout 2016. The rise of Snapchat saw the birth of Instagram stories and the hype around Periscope helped Facebook Live to become a reality. 

Platform usage will be a key trend in 2017, with isolated behaviours and actions remaining confined to specific platforms. Snapchat will still be used for the casual and informal sharing of experiences; WhatsApp will continue its growth as the dominant chat platform for all ages; Instagram will still be the number one image-sharing social network and Facebook will remain the platform almost everyone uses but probably won’t admit to.

Changing patterns of behaviour will only happen if or when a new, disruptive platform comes along that is built around a new way of communicating.

2. TWITTER TO THRIVE OR DIE

2017 is a crucial year for Twitter as the platform’s growth has continued to stall. If you are a regular reader of social media press, you will know that it’s failed to bring new features and functionality to market that can lure new or fatigued users. Twitter needs to understand where it fits in the social media eco-system and how it can play a valid role in the overall mix of platforms we use.

What Twitter has on its side is the sheer volume of data it generates daily and that which it has accumulated over the years. If utilised properly, this could be extremely valuable to brands and marketers.

3. RISE OF THE HYPER-NICHE SOCIAL INFLUENCER

There is no doubt that YouTube did an amazing job in commercialising its platform and allowing for content creators to make a substantial living. However, as demand for these influencers continues to rise and costs of engagement rise in parallel, brands will likely start to question the Return on Investment social media can deliver. We expect increasing numbers of brands to move away from the influencers with large, broad followings and instead turn to micro-influencers – those with smaller, more niche networks that still wield considerable influence.

4. PREDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR TOOLS AND INSIGHT

Our Stories in Motion data indicates that we are all creatures of habit. We have trusted sources of content that we always turn to, platforms and devices we use regularly without fail and deeply ingrained habits when it comes to purchasing a new product or service.

For brands and marketers, that’s great news. It puts us all in a situation where we can better predict campaign outcomes by building content and engagement using audience data. However, as both Trump’s win in the US elections and the surprise win of the ‘Leave’ campaign in the ‘Brexit’ referendum displayed, data tools and approaches still have some way to go to ensure they are ‘correct’ 100 per cent of the time.

2017 is going to be the year that tools which can better predict audiences’ behaviours grow. However, demand for these tools will come with a substantial pinch of cynicism and it may be some time until they become a commodity tool for agencies as, for example, social listening tools have.

5. DISCOVERING AND CURATING THE NEW

Data has shown that the majority of UK consumers engaged on social media platforms are not the sorts of audiences that actively and proactively seek out content from new sources and influencers. Therefore, 2017 will see a greater move by brands and platforms to aid discovery of new content as a way of consistently pulling users into their respective eco-systems.

Platforms will need to continue to invest in the development of algorithms to push relevant content to the surface but they must also work more closely with the right influencers to better define the sort of content their own audience wants to hear. This will require brands to act as both curator and publisher.

6. MIXED REALITY CAMPAIGNS WILL LAUNCH TO MIXED SUCCESS

Many talked up 2016 as the year of Virtual Reality (VR). To some degree it was a successful year with many of the leading vendors (particularly Oculus and HTC) finally launching consumer hardware. Samsung continued to see strong growth of its Gear VR mobile headset and Sony drove VR into the mainstream with its moderately priced Playstation VR.

2017 will see VR grow slowly but steadily as more consumers see value in this technology and Augmented Reality (AR) will begin to take a greater share of voice. Thanks to the success of Pokemon Go, consumers already have a sense of what AR can deliver but in order for it to be mainstream, content developers and brands need to better understand how they can create valuable AR experiences. Snap Inc’s purchase of Augmented Technology capabilities suggests that Snapchat will soon support AR, which will bring an interesting spin to the chat platform and make the technology more mainstream. Microsoft is also working hard to push its HoloLens AR glasses into relevant verticals and while consumers may not be the first recipient of this technology, initial feedback from the market has been positive.

So what does this mean for brands and marketers? While the market grows we will start to see more brands use VR and AR technology. To date, campaigns that have used mixed or virtual reality have been single content plays that have little integration with broader integrated communications. Therefore, the challenge for communicators is to better design VR and AR content so that it works seamlessly with all other customer touchpoints and platforms.

7. CONSUMERS WILL LEARN TO LOVE AND HATE BRANDED CONTENT ON NEW PLATFORMS

As brands get more skilled on new and emerging platforms, we will see a continued rise in the sheer volume of branded content pushed in our direction. This will drive a short term spike in engagement as consumers learn what they consider to be valuable content within these sites.

However, as time passes and more brands get involved, this scenario will stretch our attention for branded content to its limit and we may again head towards a-pay-to-play scenario. Even the newer platforms that are currently seeing high levels of engagement require a fee to cut through the noise and get content in front of the right audiences at the right time.

For sites such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, whose single-minded mechanic is more around one-to-one or one-to-a-few conversations, this will be a huge challenge for brands - more so than for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. At least with the latter platforms, sponsored content is part of the feed and can quickly be avoided (and is ironically why Messenger apps have one up over these sites as they inherently don’t have feeds full of irrelevant content). However, when branded content is placed within a one-to-one conversation, there is no place to hide.

8. LESS ABOUT YOU, MORE ABOUT ME

If branded content is to succeed within Messenger apps, there needs to be a greater focus on the customer and not the brand. Brands will stop talking about storytelling and start actually telling stories that aren’t about their product or service.

Our Stories in Motion research shows that once on the path to purchase, consumers know where to go and what to look for. More importantly, is that when on the path to purchase your customers are less likely to be turning to social media to answer their questions.

It is clear that the role of social is storytelling – sharing relevant content that resonates with your audience (not shouting about your product/service) and which, over time, grows brand preference.