Our social media marketing predictions for 2016

As 2015 comes to a close, many of us will spend the next few weeks reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next. In the spirit of the latter, our Editor-in-Chief Jenn Deering Davis wrote up some of her predictions for social media marketing in 2016.

More original content on owned channels

In 2015, we saw a ton of brands and media companies publishing original content directly on individual platforms, like with Facebook Instant Articles and on Medium. That will slow down in 2016, as brands find that they want more control over their content and the traffic (and ad revenue) it brings. Google recently launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to capture more of this activity, but so far, Facebook seems more willing to work with publishers than Google is. Either way, now that brands have seen more of how these tools impact their metrics – both in terms of page views and revenue – they are likely to demand more control over these tools or stop using them all together.

Social video slows down

2015 was definitely the year of video on social media. In 2016, we’ll see a cooling off period for video. Video will still be important to an overall social content strategy, but the video land grab we saw in 2015 will slow in 2016. It’s incredibly time-consuming to create customized video for each individual social channel, especially as channels like Facebook and Tumblr encourage natively uploaded video separate from the video content brands are already posting on YouTube or Vimeo. Related, streaming video won’t take off in a wider way in 2016. It’s simply too difficult for most marketers to find relevant content to stream on a regular basis. We’ll see some brands – celebrities, sports and entertainment figures, and a few others – who do live streaming well, but it won’t go much further than that. Even with Facebook’s recent push in live streaming video, this just won’t take off in 2016.

Virtual and augmented reality aren’t ready yet

At social media and marketing conferences this year, a lot of people were buzzing about virtual and augmented reality technologies. While there have been a number of advances in both AR and VR in 2015, I don’t think 2016 will be the year of virtual reality. That’s going to take a little longer and will likely happen in 2017 when the hardware is more affordable and more prevalent, and more brands can participate. But in 2016, we’ll start the transition to more VR-ish content. For example, Facebook has been rolling out 360-degree videos from brands like GoPro and Disney. These videos are easily consumed on regular smartphones and don’t require a special VR headset or device, but start to mimic some of the functionality we see in virtual reality spaces. We’ll see more of this kind of transitional VR content in 2016.

Messaging moves up

Typically, the phrase “social media” conjures visions of large-scale public channels, where an individual can broadcast her thoughts to many others, while connecting with friends new and old. It’s networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, platforms built on the social graph that enable one-to-many communication. But more recently, we’ve seen a big increase in one-to-one and one-to-few messaging. It’s really a resurgence in a relatively old concept; instant messaging applications were widely popular years before today’s social media platforms existed. Now, Facebook has a separate messaging app (well, two of them if you count WhatsApp), Instagram and Twitter have either enhanced or shared plans to enhance their direct messaging capabilities, Tumblr has beefed up its messaging, and we’ve seen a number of new messaging apps enter the fray. We’ll continue to see this focus on more personal and directed messaging in 2016, as users demand more individualized experiences and ways to connect directly to their friends.

Social ads get smarter and creepier

With increased integration across platforms alongside deeper and more intelligent data, social advertising is getting smarter and smarter. 2016 will bring a lot of advances in the type of paid media we can access, along with increased sophistication in ad targeting. Using better social data, we’ll move closer to being able to predict what a consumer actually needs without just relying on intent, allowing us to deliver more timely and more relevant messages. But this starts to border on creepy, so as marketers we have to be careful in how we collect and use user data to make smarter advertisements. Not to just protect a user’s privacy, which is obviously incredibly important, but to also avoid making users uncomfortable.

Slack will become a social medium

We use Slack internally at Union Metrics, as do many of you reading this. For us, it’s more than just group chat – it’s a record of our company culture. 2015 was a huge year for Slack; among other impressive milestones, they just reached 2 million users. At first glance, Slack doesn’t seem like a social medium in the same way Twitter or Facebook does, but that’s where the 2016 prediction comes in. Slack will be one of the driving forces in social media in 2016. This year, we’ve seen all kinds of innovative uses of Slack; my favorite one so far is at conferences. Conference attendees join a shared Slack account before the event begins, and set up channels around conferences tracks and interests, meet each other before they ever get together in person, and keep the conversation going long after the event ends. It’s targeted and relevant, and so so useful. Slack allows for both semi-public and private communication, creating a best-of-both-worlds kind of space where users can talk to the people they really want to without distraction from those they don’t. We’ll see a lot more of this in 2016.

2016 is the year of…

So what will dominate the social landscape in 2016? What do all these predictions have in common? One big theme in 2016 will be control. And by “control”, I mean something more than privacy settings and customization. As social media consumers, we’re looking for control over who we talk to and how. Social media has forced us into a lot of small boxes over the years – 140 character messages, square images, the public or private binary – and we’re finally starting to see the kinds of options we really want. New features and channels will provide more individual control over the entire social experience in 2016.

Will there be a breakout new social network in 2016? Sure, maybe. A lot of things could happen in 2016! But I think we’re all suffering from social fatigue right now, and don’t have a lot of room for something totally new. We’ll certainly see new uses of existing media like Slack or Snapchat. And of course, there will be continued evolution of existing legacy platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But is there one new channel I’m really excited about right now that will become the thing in 2016? No. Of course, 2016 will be a long year, so a lot can happen between now and next December. But I’m not betting on the new Instagram to pop up and surprise anyone anytime soon.