It’s that time of year again when we put on our futurist attire and share with you our predictions for the rapidly approaching New Year. We have gazed into our social media crystal ball and laid out what we think 2017 has in store…

1. The year of social video

We are living in a video-first world, and social media has become a huge video platform in itself, with Facebook now seeing more unique viewers than Yahoo, ABC and CBS, to name but a few publishers. This will continue to grow in 2017, with social channels moving more into the publisher space that we talked about in our 2016 predictions, each having a different role to play in terms of the type of video content shared.

We also talked about live streaming in our 2016 predictions, and with the recent launch of Facebook Live and Twitter’s Live Video Experience where Twitter commentary takes place underneath live football games for example, this bubble shows no sign of bursting. In my recent blog post about the IAB Video Conference I attended, I referenced a talk from Ian Crocombe, Head of Creative Shop at Facebook. Ian predicted (and I would agree with him!) that one day, probably in the not too distant future, we will be telling the camera on our smartphone how we are feeling or what we are up to, and publishing to our friends and family!

2. The best things in life are (not) free

Gone are the days when brands could distribute their content and communicate with their audiences on social networks for free. It is common knowledge now that organic reach has reached an all-time low, sometimes as low as 2% on Facebook. Therefore if brands want to be seen by their core followers, as well as by new audiences, they need to be budgeting for content amplification in the form of paid social (or boosted posts).

3. Savvy influencers

Self-made social influencers are a big hit with audiences – think Zoella or Tyler Oakley, who are earning a huge amount of cash through simply namedropping a brand in one of their vlogs. Working with influencers enables brands to develop ideas that tap into the noise already around these individuals, creating authentic content and making a connection with an audience in a way you could not achieve through paid advertising.

This is all well and good, but in the same way that social media is no longer a “free” way of communicating with your audience, neither will influencer marketing remain an organic way to reach them. There are certain influencer groups who are already insisting on payment in order to promote a brand’s content, and therefore as this becomes a channel in its own right brands will need to put aside budget for influencer marketing too.

4. A whole new (virtual) world

I referenced VR in my 2016 predictions, and in my recap I commented on the way charities such as The National Autistic Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK have successfully used VR to generate awareness of their causes. We also saw the launch of a number of devices, such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which are now available to the population alongside the likes of Google Cardboard and HTC Vive.

So what’s in store for 2017? We expect to see more brands and more sectors making use of VR, especially sectors such as gaming, retail, live events, education, healthcare and journalistic. The Guardian are setting the benchmark for the journalistic sector – have a look at their solitary confinement VR experience and their urban explorers piece.

We’re also starting to see the Virtual Reality and fashion industry come together. Just last month Vogue talked about the Trillenium and ASOS VR project which involves the use of technology to create a virtual shop. We are also expecting to see an uptake in the purchase of VR devices – with the likes of Sony’s The Future of Play Tour taking place over the last couple of months in several Game stores these devices are now becoming attainable rather than purely aspirational.

VR does remain a significant investment for brands, and therefore they must be careful not to rush into it without being clear about why the story needs to be told through VR, and why it is vital that the user needs to be ‘in’ that place.

5. All hail the chatbots

Chatbots have gained a lot of attention in the back end of 2016 and we expect investment in this space to grow considerably further in 2017. They can read and write messages just like a human would, they can be programmed to carry out automated actions and they can initiate action as well as respond to requests from users. Domino’s is currently testing its Dom the Pizza Bot within Facebook Messenger, which enables people to message the word ‘Pizza’ and creates what they are calling a ‘conversational transactional experience.’ In their view they are simply extending the Instant Messaging people are used to using with their friends so that they can also use it to communicate with brands. We have also seen eBay launch ShopBot, powered by A.I. to help it better understand the context of a shopper’s needs, and dozens of brands are also taking advantage of Twitter’s new chatbot service too, including Evernote, Pizza Hut, Spotify, Tesco and Airbnb.

As with VR, chatbots and AI is again a significant investment for brands to commit to, so there needs to be a valid and commercial reason to focus on this. For now, chatbots can’t replace human contact in a ‘help’ situation, and can actually cause a further delay in this case. But they can be used to provide new information to people that are searching, and fulfil status queries or facilitate donations.

Brands also need to be aware of the danger of chatbots. It took less than 24 hours for Twitter to corrupt Microsoft’s experimental chatbot ‘Tay,’ which ended up repeating inappropriate tweets relating to racism and misogyny.

That brings us to the end of our 2017 predictions for social media – we will review them throughout the year during our digital futures events. Plus you can also sign up for our digital updates and we’ll make sure you’re kept up to date with the all the latest industry developments!

About Kathryn

Kathryn is our Digital Operations Director. Her primary role is to safeguard excellent working practices from planning through to delivery and analysis. In her spare time she is kept busy looking after her two young children and her fitness interests.