By Lasse Lund

May 31st, 2016

Building a long term social strategy can seem like a hopeless task. The rapid pace of development and innovation, coupled with changing preferences means that you need to stay on top of social trends to maintain relevance with customers.

Regular evaluation of the social scene is crucial – here are the social media trends we’ve observed so far in 2016.

#1 – Customer service on social
Customers regularly use social channels to contact brands, and they often expect a near-instant response. The real-time nature of apps like Facebook Messenger have further increased this expectation – which is why Facebook has recently announced the launch of a chatbot store to help streamline social media conversations.1

While it’s exciting for marketers to begin to dream about the possibilities here, the current experience still needs some evolution. Currently, bots can answer some questions, but typically only those drawn from a limited list, making the experience feel more like an interactive FAQ page than a genuine conversation.

Future chatbots are set to revolutionize social media for businesses, allowing them to automate initial contact with clients and apply artificial intelligence to address more advanced issues. Social response teams need to begin thinking about how they can use these tools effectively to better serve customers in preparation for their release – we expect to see AI chat bots appear on all the other social platforms and messaging channels in the very near future.

#2 – Channel diversity continues to grow
Almost everything can be turned into a channel, from popular social media platforms, to messaging apps like Snapchat. Customers are constantly discovering new channels – almost as quickly as established players are adding new functionality. Messaging now includes text, video, links, documents, and more.

Your social team will already know that a centralized console is essential to streamlining operations. But with so many channels to monitor and use, a multi-platform tool is vital.

#3 – Customers are experience-driven
With the whole world at their fingertips, customers can find low prices and product availability within seconds. Less easy to find however, is a great experience – which is now the defining factor in most purchasing decisions.

It’s no surprise then that 2016 has been marked by continuous improvement in the experience created by brands, including greater personalization. Transport for London, who operate the London Underground, has provided open access to its travel data so that anyone can build apps to help travellers better plan their journey. This innovative approach allows third parties to help improve TfL customers’ experience.

#4 – Businesses are doing more with big data
Big data projects are finally moving from proof-of-concept testing, to real-time deployments – and every department is getting involved. Using the data collected by every department, your social team is better able to understand customers at the individual level, allowing you to customize products and services.

For marketing, this means finally having the ability to begin building the legendary 360º view of every client and contact. Pulling data together from sales, marketing, and customer support allows you to better understand every person – and tools like Audience pull that data into a neat console view, further simplifying the process and making it easier than ever to work with big data.

#5 – The growth of video is unstoppable
Video has become a staple of most social media marketing campaigns, including the ability to share video with Snapchat users. But developments in livestreaming are set to take things to another level. Twitter’s Periscope app has already eclipsed Meerkat in terms of popularity, but Facebook and YouTube are catching up.

New developments are helping to make the broadcast process two-way as well. The new YouTube Connect service is expected to allow viewers to ask questions direct via live chat for instance, increasing the potential for engagement with each broadcast.

#6 – VR and social are getting closer
Dedicated virtual reality units like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, and Microsoft’s HoloLens products have started to roll out to consumers. They are joined by several similar products like Google’s Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR headset, which promise to reduce the cost of virtual reality hardware by tapping into consumer smartphones.

With these units now ‘in the wild,’ developers are looking for ways to use the technology beyond gaming. April’s F8 conference allowed Facebook to showcase what they are doing with Oculus Rift. The presentation showed how users could ‘convene in a virtual space, jump into 360-degree photos and even share a VR selfie’2.

VR technology is quickly maturing and becoming more accessible – so it will pay to think carefully about how your social marketing may be able to use them to better engage customers. YouTube already supports VR video which is easily experienced using Google Cardboard3 – providing a cost-effective way for your business to start exploring the potential for your business.

It always pays to think ahead
Monitoring social technology may or may not be a key part of your role, but it does make sense to invest time and effort to stay informed about the next big thing. The rate of development means that the emerging trends we talk about here could be fully established, mainstream activities by the end of the year – particularly if your business is the one that pushes the boundaries to deliver innovative twists that surprise and delight your customers.

One word of caution however – if your efforts and experiments do not improve the customer experience, you need to be willing to cut the cord. Businesses can waste a lot of capital chasing the next big thing, so be wise with your investments and make sure there is a clear link to your overall marketing and company goals.

Ready to start your 2016 campaigns in earnest? Book a demo today and see how we can help you capitalize on these new social media trends.

Is there a trend you think we missed? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

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