We spoke with industry thought leaders about the shifts and changes 2016 might have in store for social media and those trying to leverage it for business.
The social media landscape is in a constant state of flux. It was last year, and 2016 will be no different. What remains the same is that businesses will have to rise to the challenge of figuring out how to get the best results from a channel that's getting an increasing amount of attention and resources.
Here are five trends to watch in the coming year relating to business and social media.
Facebook video will dominate, including 360 video
The past few years have seen a momentum build behind native video on social media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, including Twitter's native video ads, rolled out in October 2015.
"In 2015, Facebook got really serious about video, and I think 2016 is the year where they will just dominate," said Adobe Social's Carmen Sutter said.
In November 2015, Facebook reported roughly 8 billion daily video views, coming from about 500 million users. Plus, the site's made other tweaks and changes, like adding the video tab, and the ability for a brand to post an entire back catalog of videos on Facebook, without publishing to followers' newsfeeds. Or, there's the ability for a video to expire.
And that interest in video could extend to 360 video, Sutter said. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg introduced spherical video at Facebook's developer conference F8 last year. She sees it as a space brands will want to explore, partly to get in on the buzz early.
In March 2015, YouTube also announced support for 360 videos, but when it comes to numbers and reach, Sutter still thinks that Facebook could have YouTube beat.
"I think video, moving into 360 and trying to be trend setters, that's going to happen on Facebook. It's not going to happen on YouTube, and I think that's the other reason why it'll be Facebook's year when it comes to video," she said.
Social commerce could finally arrive
Sutter said that for years, people have been talking about the idea of social commerce (which basically refers to the role of social media in online purchases), but there are a few reasons to believe that 2016 will be the year it gains traction.
For one, there's the proliferation of buy buttons on various platforms that allow a user to make a purchase from a tweet, a Facebook page, or an Instagram's direct response button. In the past, results have been mixed, or mostly just experimental, but Sutter thinks people are getting more comfortable with these types of transactions. Also, if a platform like Pinterest, which is a sweet spot for retailers, and a natural fit for prompting users to buy something, could successfully introduce a way for customers to buy from a pin instead of going through an entire checkout process, that could impact the overall state of social commerce.
"The fact that so many of the big platforms have [added social commerce buttons], I think by the end of 2016 we won't think twice about buying something from a Facebook page," Sutter said.
Companies will have to rethink the customer
Brian Solis, Altimeter Group principal analyst, sees a convergence coming of real-time, mobile video, and imagery.
"We're going to see the proliferation of emojis, selfies, and filters that bring both worlds together like we see in Snapchat to further turn people into human emoticons. Those moments into expressing experiences, sentiments, events, etc. What it all comes down to is these tools are going to completely shatter the customer journey and any notion of the customer as we know them," he said.
Solis referenced Google's concept of Micro-Moments. This is how Google defines the concept: "Thanks to mobile, micro-moments can happen anytime, anywhere. In those moments, consumers expect brands to address their needs with real-time relevance." Think about that moment when your hair dryer stops working and you need a new one. So, you pick up your phone and search for hair dryers.
Brands will have to figure out how to be there and be relevant to the customer in a different way than before.
Social media is maturing, and will need better measurement
Social media marketing is all grown up, said Gartner analyst Jay Wilson. Finally, it's seen as one of the most important channels at two points in the customer journey in terms of driving both awareness and advocacy.
This recognition of the effectiveness of social marketing as a channel is driving more investment in social technologies from C-level executives like CMOs, Wilson said.
But what that also means is that social marketing will be increasingly held to the same standards as other marketing areas like email marketing or search marketing. Professionals involved in social marketing will need to make sure they can demonstrate the value of what they're doing.
"One way social marketers can do that is by really starting to promulgate and disseminate insights from social media across the organization, [from] product development and customer experience teams, [to] customer service," Wilson said.
As a part of that, Sutter said there needs to be a standardization as to how the different platforms define things like impressions, page views, reach, and more.
"We're going to see a little more fragmentation before we become more standardized in how we measure social performance," she said, "especially with platforms like Snapchat — they invented entirely new things to measure. They don't have APIs, and don't really provide you with good metrics on understanding if something worked or didn't work." Or there's Facebook's recently added eight reaction emoji — what metric do you assign to an emoji with a vacant stare? How do you learn to understand emoji as a marketer?
That will be a challenge. Solis brought up how emoji was the 2015 word of the year, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
"If you look at more traditional thinkers, they're incredibly upset that emoji is the word of the year. At the same time, what is a word but a collection of symbols? That's just like a philosophical crux that I think businesses have to better understand," he said.
As a sub point to the idea of social media growing up, Solis said there will be more of a reliance on agencies to handle social on behalf of businesses.
"The reason why they're not doing this internally is because this is a highly specialized skill set. They're the ones who understand the dynamics of Periscope or Blab or what's next," he said.
Live streaming is...?
"I have to admit, I have a hard time figuring out what's going on with it," said Sutter. And the rest of the internet. Meerkat and Periscope were going at it for a while as brands were trying to figure out not only what to live stream, but what benefit it could hold for them.
She does see potential for news outlets, whether it's streaming from a disaster zone, or from a candidate's campaign headquarters. Still, it will probably remain a supplementary medium, versus taking a chunk out of broadcasting.
"I don't think anybody is going to stop watching NFL just because someone is Periscoping a game," Sutter said.