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Social Media’s Challenges

Social Media

With social media now a fixed part of the marketing firmament, 2016 is likely to bring with it a number of new developments and maybe even a new disruptor, writes Sheena Horgan.

Those familiar with this column will know how much I like to curate and communicate interesting research and opinions. And this time of year there’s plenty of great predictions and epiphanies from which to choose. So here are a few synopsised predictions to ponder and for a broader set of 30 predictions, check out Andrew Hutchinson’s blog on Social Media Today.

Social gets all emotional in 2016

This will be the year that Twitter and Facebook’s Reactions come into their own. I can certainly see the universally recognisable appeal of emojis – it makes for easy engagement. But personally while I expect a torrent of varying visages I’m not convinced of their real consumer utility. It’s a bit like “lol” being “lots of love” and then “laugh out loud” to others. Or what about “ha ha” – does the person means that’s funny, weird, or are they being sarcastic? And then there’s the “sad” icon – is that this “makes me sad”, “I don’t like it”, or just “it is crap”?

The search continues for metrics

My personal viewpoint aside, Facebook’s Reactions are likely to develop further in the coming 12 months and, in particular, the platform has to work out how each emoji translates into visits and purchases. Metrics will still be the marketing mantra this year. Social is now a marketing given, being allocated a growing portion of the budget pie with each passing year. All brands know they have to be on the channel, but to date metrics haven’t been bottomed out and this needs to happen. Assessing a campaign by likes, shares, tone etc. is only the tip of the accountability iceberg. Just as all marketing is being critiqued by its ability to affect the bottom line, tools that measure the conversion lift of social campaigns will be critical, and it’ll be a race to see which platforms master these metrics first this year.

Making particularly good strides in the metrics space is search. Already a growing element of Facebook and Pinterest, search functionality is also likely to appear on Instagram – which given its meteoric rise over the last two years is, in all probability, going to slow down a bit in 2016. Pinterest’s introduction of searchable pins is a prelude to the next step buyable pins, already in the US since mid-2015, so watch this space for 2016.

Customer service

Proven positive impact on sales aside, where Twitter has great, but yet to be unleashed, potential is in customer service. The move to allow unlimited characters for DM, accommodates customer service comms, allowing for responses to be provided via the consumer’s chosen medium. And the application of AI to pre-empt responses will be a key part of Twitter as a customer service solution. That said, an important question to be asked is that if the consumer is always on, and using Twitter for customer service because it’s the easiest avenue, then don’t brands need to follow suit?

Transformative tech

The application of AI to pre-empt responses (perhaps using its AI provider Whetlab) could be a key part of Twitter as a customer service solution. However, there’s circumspection that rather than AI coming into its own in 2016, it may just be another year yet. Facebook’s AI assistant – with the phonetically interesting title of “M” – is a case in point as it’s still ‘learning; and is likely to continue with specific rather than broad applications over the coming year.

It’s also been suggested that Virtual Reality will take centre stage in 2016. I’m inclined to agree that it’ll certainly progress at least – what’s not to love about the concept of 360 degree videos on Facebook? As a transformative technology though, there’s still a way to go, however compelling the thought of experiencing live streams in VR.

Content war

Facebook is interestingly being called a content landlord, and sure why shouldn’t consumers and brands and publishers post direct to the platform with its high volume of numbers and engagement.

Its Instant Articles function directs articles into your newsfeed that can be uploaded “10 times faster”. Publishers will clearly have to be wooed into this space, but the process has already begun, and with some success according to some publishers. At the end of the day, users are more likely to share Instant Articles than links which is a plus, but the potential loss of traffic and ‘cross selling opps’ as users don’t go onto the publishers’ websites needs to be balanced out. So the delicate push and pull of publishers and Facebook will continue up a gear in 2016 along with the need for the platform to build trust in this space.

Mergers, acquisitions or disruption?

The mood music around the likelihood of an acquisition of Twitter by Alphabet (aka Google) will get louder as the year progresses, especially if Dorsey’s results don’t improve. And this will present a real challenge to Facebook in the race to monetise data, create an attractive advertising model for brands, and still retain slowing growth.

But what I think is the most interesting prediction of them all, is that we’re due a new disrupter, having had none since 2012.

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (December 2015)© to order back issues please call 016611660

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