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Six predictions for social media evolution in 2016

Yes, it’s that time of year where strategists, ‘experts’ and journo’s polish off the crystal ball and cast an eye forward to what the new year holds – I promise to keep mine brief. 2015 was an interesting year in social; driven as predicted by the convergence of the holy trinity of mega-trends; mobile, content and data. So, what will 2016 have in store for us? 2016 will be the year native content is crowned king Content is king but distribution is queen and she wears the pants.” – Jonathan Perelman. With more and more publishers working directly with Facebook and LinkedIn to publish live content, native content will boom in 2016. Expect also, more real-time and native video uploads - Twitter started the rush with its acquisition of Periscope and Facebook followed late in 2015 with live video for ‘VIP’ accounts. For me the bigger story is that whenever there’s a paradigm shift, there will be an eventual loser. I am going to start throwing some question marks up about the long-term future of sites that rely heavily on referral and embedded traffic, such as YouTube. Yes, YouTube may have 1 billion users and $4 billion in revenue but Facebook now refers more traffic than Google, including to YouTube. Publishers shifting to native content and Facebook’s ready built audience and distribution network could cause a seismic shift in the landscape. Employee advocacy overtakes social selling The big buzz of 2015 was social selling – the idea that businesses leverage their employees networks for sales opportunities. I don’t see a fundamental change in this approach, but rather the addition of a foundation stage; the growth of employee advocacy. Startups have long relied on their employees as super fans and brand advocates. But, 2016 looks set to be the year when Corporates realize that their sales stars may not be the only influencers in the company capable of winning share of voice and new customers. Look as well, to an emerging trend of organizations recruiting top talent, not just on the strength of their experience and capabilities but also their networks. The old saying “it’s not just what you know but who you know” has been around for generations, but social media and influencer marketing now enables you to effectively track, leverage and compensate for this influence. The C-Level finally gets on-board with social media 2015 was the year that executives started to emerge from the dark ages and come to terms with the fact that this ‘social thing’ wasn’t just a passing trend. More and more executives are personally adopting social – realizing its importance for both the business and personal branding. Expect 2016 to be the year when you see the whole board mandated to embrace thought leadership, social selling and employee advocacy - driven by the acknowledgement that the C-Level need to both lead by example and that they also have the most effective and high value networks. Community management evolves I’ve always seen community management as something of a thankless task, particularly in B2B – build and grow an engaged audience of relevant stakeholders…easier said than done in saturated niche markets. B2B community staples such as LinkedIn groups and showcase pages have both seen falling engagement rates. For 2016, look instead to Corporates building or acquiring entire vertical networks - the opportunity to own entire communities, publishers and professional groups. Social payments become mainstream Financial services at its most basic is a flow of information and money between two individuals, more often than not family or friends – individuals who you are almost always connected to via social media. FinTech is booming and new players stepped up in 2015 to disrupt the payments sector; queue a raft of business adopting Twitter, Whatsapp and Facebook payment integrations. The underlying driver of course is that financial services represents the social networks clearest path to continued user growth, particularly in emerging markets. Twitter becomes the first of the big social networks to come under serious strain 2015 was a tough year for Twitter, culminating in the return of co-Founder Jack Dorsey to the helm in October. I’m not predicting an immediate demise but I do foresee it’s growth tailing off further and it’s revenue coming under increased strain with some nasty surprises in store for shareholders. Why? Back in 2012, as a consultant I worked with the BBC on breaking the global news story that Facebook’s user growth was being threatened by tens of millions of fake accounts. Twitter has it doubly bad. Not only does it have an endemic problem with fake and spam users but it also has few new paths to revenue, due in part to its poor data collection and subsequent low value advertising targeting. Twitter engagement rates are flagging and growth is stalling - Buzzfeed UK noted earlier this year that Whatsapp had overtaken Twitter as a driver of traffic. What does the future have in store for Twitter? The natural consolidation is around real-time events – see more being made of live video streaming and the new ‘Moments’ functionality which is being rolled out.

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So there you have it – my top predictions for social in 2016. Watch this space for more in the coming weeks; and of course feel free to add your comments below or get in touch.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and insights expressed are my own and are not necessarily those of my employer.

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