If there’s one thing we learned from 2016 it’s that making predictions about the future is a precarious business. That’s especially true of social media, where trajectories can be reversed in the blink of an eye and today’s front-runners can all too easily become tomorrow’s also-rans.
This year’s best example of changing fortunes in the social media ecosystem was Twitter-owned video sharing platform, Vine. Spawning a new generation of bite-size digital video-stars, the service had 200 million users at the end of 2015 but, less than 12 months later, Twitter had shut it down. Why? This brings us on to our first prediction.
A significant pivot at Twitter is likely
Twitter made headlines this year as it failed to find a buyer, with several high-profile suitors backing off. Tech industry pundits have argued that the company does not have a sustainable business model, and it’s taken a lot of (perhaps unfair) flak over its handling of trolls and the problem of harassment.
This means that big changes are likely in 2017. Twitter is now a listed company so it needs to deliver value for shareholders, not just its users, which means focusing on increasing revenues and cutting costs. That’s most likely the rationale for shutting Vine, but it’s highly probable that more changes will take place at Twitter to help it become profitable.
It’s hard to say what new direction the company might head in; if there were an obvious answer it would already have solved the problem. But significant changes seem likely, and it’s not too hard to imagine that those changes could mean brands will need to start paying more to build a useful presence on Twitter.
Live video will explode, but that might not be a good thing
Another contributing factor to the demise of Vine is quite possibly the success of Periscope, the live-streaming video service Twitter acquired in 2015. Other platforms are also making a big play out of live-streaming, with Facebook and Instagram both offering features to compete with Periscope.
While live-streaming through social media isn’t exactly new, it’s really starting to reach critical mass and 2017 will be the year it takes over the world. Expect existing A-list bloggers and YouTubers to incorporate live video into their mini-media-empires, as well as a new breed of social-superstar focused entirely on live content.
From a marketing perspective, live video offers a wealth of new content possibilities. But there’s also the risk of brands jumping on the bandwagon without really thinking it through, so don’t be surprised to see a lot of really weak branded live video content as businesses struggle to understand how the format can work well for them.
Pay to play, then pay some more, and then some more
Twitter isn’t the only social media business that’s figuring out how to increase revenues. The problem is replicated across the industry; users love a service but they don’t want to pay for it, meanwhile brands are keen to get involved. The solution is straightforward: if brands want to use these popular social channels to reach consumers, they’ll need to provide the revenues that will keep the lights on.
There are no free lunches anymore. Organic reach in social media continues to diminish and brands that want to maintain visibility need to pay to promote their posts. The only circumstances in which organic posts might deliver strong results are when the content is exceptional, which also requires investment. So whichever way you look at it, if brands want great results from social media, it’s going to cost.
Convergence of tools
As social has become a serious component of the marketing mix, a complex ecosystem of tools has evolved around it. Initially designed to make life easier, these tools now only add to the confusion. There are too many of them, and for many marketers it’s not clear what they all do, how they fit together, which ones offer value and which are unnecessary.
This cannot continue, so expect to see a lot of consolidation and clearing out in the social marketing tech landscape over 2017.
To use a well worn cliché, uncertainty is the only certainty, especially in technology, but hopefully the ideas outlined here won’t look too wide of the mark 12 months from now.
Lance Concannon, marketing director, Europe, Sysomos
Tel: 020 7220 4500