2016 was a transitional year politically, socially and digitally. With the world turning to social media to learn more about current events and have their voice heard, the industry met user demands with a balance of updates that are essential (to inform, amplify, and guide users through the path-to-purchase) and entertaining (updates that bring joy to users). Across all of 2016’s updates, social platforms rose to the occasion with features that turned their platforms into necessary tools that demonstrated an understanding of current events like the Olympics or the Election, embraced augmented reality (AR), and lessened the gap between digital and real-life in the consumer journey.
Shaping current events
While certainly much of the year’s social media discourse was in response to the platforms’ struggle to quell the spreading of fake news, there’s no doubt that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat played vital roles in informing the American public. This year key national events like the 2016 Presidential Election, the Summer Olympics, and Football Season became highly produced spectacles and were spotlighted across platforms with the introduction of open sourced LIVE software. To that end, Facebook and Twitter arguably saw the most success by enhancing their platforms to ensure they were contributing to and accurately capturing the public’s conversation. Across the board these updates established a new base for how we experience cultural events and with daily enhancements to live products like Live 360 and Live audio, we expect that these experiences will continue to grow in 2017.
Debates: Now Streaming:
Between YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, cord cutters had multiple options to stream this year’s three Presidential debates. For each debate, Twitter hosted a custom stream of curated tweets and reactions in conjunction with the conversation. According to their Q3 earnings call, this experience was so engaging that it successfully attracted lapsed users back to the platform. Meanwhile, YouTube saw over 8.5 million hours spent watching the debates live, which is a 5X increase from the Live streamed 2012 debates.
Voting Encouraged and Enhanced on Platform:
Facebook issued “Voter Registration” and “Debate Tune-In” reminders and allowed fans to create customized Voting Plans that included information on each candidate on the national, state, and local level. Twitter encouraged voter registration by partnering with Rock the Vote. Users who DMed the @Gov Twitter handle with their zip code received an automated DM response that included their state’s voter registration deadline and customized registration link.
Twitter Partners with the NFL to Live Stream Thursday Night Football:
This year Twitter opened up feeds to stream the NFL, allowing users to view games directly within their feed alongside a curated conversation stream. In sync with this partnership, Twitter launched an app for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Microsoft’s Xbox that enabled the viewing of Twitter-streamed content on a TV screen. With news that Facebook is buying television programs of its own, we expect to see the lines between social platforms and entertainment content blur in 2017.
Embracing Immersive Experiences:
This summer, we saw Pokémon Go take the world by storm. Right on it’s heels, social platforms ramped up their augmented reality products and tested ways to maintain usage. Snapchat continues to be an industry leader with Facebook working to close the gap. Staying true to 2016’s trend of platforms “borrowing” from each other, Facebook introduced AR features similar to Snapchat and Instagram in particular adopted the ability to save content, send disappearing messages, and create Stories in addition to AR. Moving into 2017, we expect to see the “borrowing” trend continue and platforms will continue to roll out creative ways of bridging real and digital with augmented reality.
Augmented reality laps virtual reality due to a consumer-friendly experience:
Alternative to VR; more social platforms are now investing in AR. Snapchat’s new World Lens enables users to project a specific lens on the environment around them. Similarly, Facebook integrated facial recognition technology into their Facebook Live product and rolled out for users and Public Figures. Most recently, Facebook released a new camera to its standalone Messenger app. With the new camera, users will be able to customize their photos and videos with doodles, text overlays based on what they’re typing, stickers and emojis, face masks and effects, and artistic filters.
AR connects the online and offline experience:
Snapchat’s release of Spectacles and the new Snap-To-Unlock feature demonstrated a significant effort from the app to connect online and offline experiences. Spectacles bring real-time, human moments to the platform directly from the eyes of the Snapper . Pinterest is also making efforts with Camera-Search technology that allows users to search the platform using an uploaded photo from the real world.
Normalizing immersive experiences:
Immersive creative formats are becoming more widely used and expected. Facebook has been priming their users over the past year with 360 degree products including photo, Live and recorded video, and 360 Spatial Audio which allows video audio to escalate or soften depending on the users’ position within the video. Instagram has made news this year with their Stories feature that was similar to Snapchat. In another move out of Snapchat’s playbook, Instagram recently announced Live Stories, Disappearing messages and Stickers making Instagram Stories nearly identical to Snapchat Stories. Other platforms are stepping up to the plate as well, for instance Tumblr made their content more immersive with Live Photos and Pinterest enabled native organic and paid video.
Owning the consumer journey
With even more ad types and tools to meet every business objective (e.g. Awareness, Consideration, Advocacy, etc.), social is beginning to own the entire consumer journey. Following Facebook’s move to rank the NewsFeed, both Twitter and Instagram switched to ranking algorithms in 2016, pushing brands to provide relevant content for audiences. Overall, Facebook Inc. is doing the best job at interweaving their platforms to own the path to purchase and drive measurable results. In 2017, we expect to see Facebook and brands home in on their “Store Visits” objective to combat the 90% of sales still occurring offline in order to make Facebook a more valuable marketing tool for retail.
Inspiring platform photography and cinematography is now shopp-able:
Pinterest rolled out Shopping Bag which aggregates all shopping selections on the platform and streamlines purchase in a single payment, making conversion from browsing to buying easier. More recently, Instagram made a significant online shopping update by introducing clickable Product Tags that provide necessary details (description, price, etc.) and drive to the brand website.
Social evolves as a customer service tool:
Facebook’s Messenger Bots became available to all brands and streamlined the customer service experience with automated receipts and shipping reminders. Facebook continued to build out Messenger’s advertising capabilities with News Feed ads and automated responses set up within the Messenger interface allowing brands to effectively engage with users in a 1:1 forum. Brands can also use Sponsored Messages to re-engage people who have previously messaged them by sending targeted updates. Similarly, Twitter rolled out automated DM responses called Welcome Messages and Quick Replies.
Targeting capabilities reach the offline world:
Facebook is working to lessen the gap between the online and offline experience with updated Dynamic Ad units. Brick and mortar retailers can upload store inventory to Facebook and auto-update their campaigns based on in-store product availability and encourage store visits with a new CTA option to contact the nearest store. Tumblr and Pinterest are also catching up to the industry’s robust targeting capabilities with Tumblr sponsored carousel posts and Pinterest’s engagement retargeting.
What’s to come?
For the beginning of 2017,we expect platforms to continue to “borrow” the successful ideas of other platforms and introduce them as their own with small tweaks. As the “borrowing” continues, so does the have sameness through platforms and we expect a shift towards end of 2017 to a need to differentiate again. Platforms are going to have to showcase something revolutionary ahead of their peers to be able to be around for the next five plus years. In 2016, we’ve seen how social has risen to shape our cultural events, advancements in AR and hone in conversion throughout the consumer journey. As platforms look to differentiate themselves we could possibly see a combination of all three – AR used to convert during culturally relevant moments. We don’t know what form this will take but the ability for brands to identify trends and adapt to fit the landscape and consumer demands will be stronger than ever.
360i’s Social Platform Cheat Sheet for December is viewable here:
Amy Donnelly, Social Marketing Supervisor at 360i, and Marie Goldstein, Social Marketing Manager at 360i, contributed to this post.