The world changes at a rapid pace and social media is no different. After building solid user bases the race is on to monetise or die. Advertisers seem to have become the key driver for current innovation and development of the core social networks.
Bloomberg recently reported that Facebook has seen a decline in the amount of personal content being posted by users; whilst the number of shares has remained constant, people are now less likely to post about themselves and more likely to share points of interest such as news, articles and information.
While this may partly be due to promoted content being more prominent in newsfeeds across the ‘traditional’ social networks, people are also creating smaller, private and more relevant communication groups. Apps such as WhatsApp or Snapchat are now more relevant for these personal communications which were previously plastered all over your friends’ wall!
In short, users are demanding something different from the main social sites…
Traditional social networks are no more…
Brands need to put past social experiences behind them and fully embrace the new and rapidly advancing opportunities to reach their customers.
The shift towards Social Hubs will see an arms race of innovation as platforms vie for the position of the ‘one stop shop’. Advertisers need to make sure they are in touch with these changes to take advantage.
Challenges for platform owners
- Platforms will look to increase profitability and grow their user base: The quest for new users will drive an increasingly fragmented eco system. Platforms will need to manage change carefully while continuing to engage core user groups.
- Any successful innovations from competitor platforms will need to be quickly assimilated to maintain competitiveness. Of course being the same is not enough, especially in this ever-evolving market, so the platforms will need to dig deep into R&D pockets as further research and development will be required to maintain market leadership.
- There will be a continuing juggling act between balancing advertiser needs and maintaining relevance to individuals and promoting sharing.
Most importantly platforms will need to be relevant, easy to navigate and instant in order to maintain the interest of the increasingly demanding user.
This is of course no simple task but platforms are already taking massive steps to make it happen.
Building Social Hubs in 2016
So what are the things happening right now that advertisers need to have on their radar?
Artificial Intelligence and advanced algorithms
Advances in AI will drive personalised experiences which otherwise would be impossible.
Chat bots are beginning to make appearances across platforms aimed at improving brand/user interactions.
Image courtesy of Facebook
Social feeds undergo constant testing and algorithmic adjustments, with sponsored content becoming increasingly visible to the benefit of advertisers, while also trying to create a more relevant user experience.
Advancements in auto tagging and visual recognition will also drive the automation of content sharing: Posts, pictures and videos will be automatically reviewed with suggested friends and captions added to help streamline the sharing experience. The Facebooks
DeepFace recognition feature continues to roll out in 2016 and Microsoft have invested heavily in auto captioning via the ‘captionbot’ AI.
Broadcasting and live streaming
The success of ‘cord cutting’ services such as Netflix has changed the traditional broadcast market forever.
Barriers to entry have been eroded through advances in mobile and internet technology, meaning people can view as they wish – anywhere and at any time.
The opportunity to bring traditional television viewing in-platform is massive, with the potential to bring in and reach a casual audience on top of those who are actively looking to view specific content.
Twitter has recently won rights to stream 10 Thursday night National Football League games; a package that has been estimated to cost around $10 million. While not the highest bid, the NFL saw an opportunity to reach new audiences via the platform, whilst engaging their existing audience and providing another viewing outlet.
In the future it is highly likely that platforms will build their own content, and develop programming and licencing deals across sports and entertainment; a concept already put into practice by Youtube, Amazon and Netflix.
Live broadcast is also in the sights of major players through services such as Youtube ‘live’ and Facebook live video.
Brands are already exploring this space. For example Waitrose have recently launched a
live from the farm broadcast which is being used across multiple media assets to push their quality food message.
Online retail and instant purchase
Allowing in-platform purchase is a logical next step to avoid user leakage and tie activity to conversion.
Following on from Twitter ‘Buy’ button testing, Facebook continues to evolve its dedicated shopping section with a raft of developments, including messenger pay (a topic that stimulated discussion at our recent ‘digital futures’ events)
Instagram have launched direct response ad formats, and Snapchat are planning to roll out social commerce functionality shortly, in the form of its
annoyingly catchy ‘snapcash’ product.
Social platforms are offering brands new routes to drive purchases outside of their own online assets. Ticketmaster are soon to start selling directly on Facebook, with other brands likely to follow.
Alongside payment functionality to aid conversion in-platform, research and awareness opportunities are also likely to grow.
Features such as Facebook canvas offer retailers the ability to host catalogues and expanded detail – this is something we recently tested for a charity client who had multiple messages to convey in one ad.
Blurring of personal, professional and brand
The move to Social Hubs will see current boundaries merge together as people are driven towards a single contact book.
Facebook Messenger has announced scannable codes similar to Snapchat’s Snapcodes for brands to carry on packaging.
These will automatically add themselves to contact lists and enable direct messaging within certain platforms. Dropbox and Salesforce integration has also been announced within the Messenger platform – something which will no doubt excite B2B brands too, as it will allow brands to share content and maintain up to date pipeline records at the same time, from within a social network!
Towards the end of last year Facebook announced ‘Facebook at Work’; a likely challenger to LinkedIn, although we’re still waiting to see any significant developments before they are considered a serious contender.
Employers are also likely to benefit; two recent studies
‘Do jobs run in families?’ and ‘How strong and weak ties help you find a job’ demonstrate how recruiters can utilise Facebook data to successfully identify prospective candidates.
Increasing efforts are also being made to make content more sharable. The key start point here is to make sure people will be interested in your content in the first place, but brands are finding ways to get cut through by using the latest technologies; Emoji led emotional enhancements, 360-degree videos, hashtag sharing, in-feed video streams and save functions are currently being rolled out across platforms.
And beyond 2016… what’s in store?
Hardware advancements - Facebook have already invested heavily in Oculus VR with a clear intention of merging social with virtual. All big players from Apple to Google are currently running R&D programmes to develop future communication technology.
Connectivity - the end goal will of course be to feature across user access points. Google fibre has already started to roll out in the US, with the more adventurous Project Loon and Facebook solar powered drones looking towards increasing world connectivity.
Why brands need to care
It’s clear innovation and opportunity is only going to increase in the social sector as hubs continue to grow, so what are the advantages of revisiting social to drive your brand forwards ?
Reach your target market - social platforms hold a staggering amount of data on their users, including what they like, what their interests are, their personality traits and how they interact with brands. Drive volume and efficiency with targeted campaigns and messaging.
Expand your creative possibilities - the ability to reach users on a one to one basis is unique compared to other traditional media forms. Speak directly to the individual and tailor your message for maximum impact.
Amplify your message - connecting with one user can help promote your message to their followers and friends. Viral reach is built into social platforms; use this to your advantage to maximise your impact and uncover valuable new audiences.
Measure your success - as social hubs grow the full user journey will be easier to report on and analyse. Available reporting metrics and future advances driven by the desire to entice greater advertising investment are making campaigns much easier to measure and justify when compared to traditional offline media.
Growing engagement footprint - opportunities are only going to grow via the hub based philosophy. Established media channels such as newspapers and broadcast television are showing measurable decline and the balance will continue to shift at sharp pace. Traditional mediums will increasingly move their brand presence inside the social environment.
An ‘always on’ audience - social hubs offer always on touchpoints throughout the day. Reach your audience anytime and anywhere
New opportunities are available now in the social space. Speaking to the individual, in a language they understand and using formats that will engage and entertain them will become increasingly important and brands that can adapt and innovate in this space while measuring value and performance to influence future decisions, will benefit the most.