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2016 was quite a year. Politics and entertainment aside, the social media landscape began experiencing some major shifts. In 2017, I predict we will see many of these shifts take over in full force. These changes will present themselves as both exciting opportunities and daunting challenges for businesses. Either way, consumers will be reaping all the benefits. Here are my 5 suggestions on how you can keep up and keep your customers happy:

#5 You’re gonna have to pay to play

Earlier in 2016, Facebook announced an algorithm change in this optimistic post. The announcement claimed that the company’s goal was to declutter users’ newsfeeds and deliver more relevant content. But, Facebook did not address the massive way it would affect organic social for businesses. While Facebook does have a “big content, small space” problem, the change is killing organic reach.

So what does this mean for 2017? As Facebook continues to battle clickbait, fake news, and high publishing numbers, businesses will have to invest in paid campaigns to reach customers. Successful organic reach will become nearly impossible on Facebook. This trend will likely follow on other platforms like Instagram and Twitter. If you’re a small business spending time crafting meaningful, pointed messages and content for your consumers, you need to make sure it’s being seen. And to do that, you’ll probably have to venture into paid campaigns or expand your current paid campaigns. But don’t panic just yet, for not all is lost in the world of organic social marketing…

#4 Conversational commerce becomes the standard

Organic community development across social platforms will continue to grow in importance. Consumers now want to visit a company’s Facebook or Twitter page to read what other consumers are saying, ask and answer questions, and engage with like-minded people. How is this different from the organic reach issue? The decline in organic social reach means that your content just isn’t reaching your customers like it used to and they’re not receiving your marketing messages. Online community development is different because it’s about the customer lifecycle and customer support. Both processes have shifted significantly to social media.

The phrase “conversational commerce” will become an increasingly popular topic in regards to community development. Coined by Uber’s Chris Messina (the inventor of a little something called the hashtag), he defines conversational commerce as “delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.” While this definition primarily refers to the intersection of online shopping and messaging apps, it can also be applied to social selling. Consumers need organic, online communities to discuss products and ideas, and have businesses respond to service requests in real time. Because of this trend, social media communities will become one of the most reliable places to reach, educate, and convert consumers.

#3 Employee-generated content will be the next user-generated content

By now, everyone understands the importance of user-generated content, but employee-generated content is the new, free frontier. Your employees are the trusted brand advocates you’re probably not utilizing enough. Don’t believe in the power they yield? Check this out.

The only catch to this strategy is that your employees must WANT to promote your brand. If you can motivate your employees to become a part of your business’s marketing efforts, you can expand your advocacy and online presence immensely. This is an easy win for small and/or local businesses where employees are your lifeblood. These employees will share this content with friends and family located directly in your target market. For small businesses, this content will be extremely personable and trustworthy, and thus effective. Give your people the proper training and tools so employee advocacy is easy, convenient, and fun. For more guidance on this topic visit this article.

#2 Video will surpass photo content

Visual storytelling is still everything, but businesses can do so much more to connect with the consumer through video. Proof of this can be found across platforms. Twitter made video a priority by integrating with Periscope in 2016. Video is quickly becoming more prominent on Facebook newsfeeds. The consistent popularity of Snapchat has forced Instagram to dive fully into video “stories” and improve the quality of video content. While the growing popularity of video in 2016 was obvious, video content will completely rule social media in 2017. And looking even further, this transition will be the stepping stone to a much bigger change: virtual reality content and marketing. One of our clients, an Edmonds chiropractor and back pain specialist has seen great results from video content. But while I’m still on the topic of video…

#1 Facebook Live will be the next giant

Following a prominent marketing campaign in 2016, Facebook Live has exploded in popularity. This tool allows consumers and businesses alike to have engaging conversations with followers, and connect with them instantly. Consumers are growing more fond of raw, interactive and personal material – not pre-packaged or heavily edited. This trend originated from Snapchat, but the potential for businesses using Facebook Live is much greater. Among top social platforms, Facebook has the highest number of monthly users, has more diverse demographics, and has established itself as the leader for branded content. Because of this, it will continue to be the main platform for businesses to advertise and share content.

Nevertheless, Facebook Live will face stiff competition from other platforms: YouTube Live, Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram Stories are all pushing live video. Snapchat, with its upcoming $25 billion IPO, appears to be positioning itself as the future of television networks. Instagram Live is just beginning to take hold, but differentiates itself from other platforms by not allowing users to access live videos at a later time (like on Facebook, or Snapchat for the following 24 hours). Once a user stops going live, the content disappears. This offers a unique opportunity for consumers and brands to be a bit more experimental in their messaging as their content won’t be online forever like other social platforms.

For small businesses, live video is an incredible opportunity. You don’t have to invest in a production team or expensive video equipment. Just grab your phone and tell a story. Customers and viewers will love how real and personable it is, and it’s completely free!

Those are my biggest predictions for the coming year, but what do you think? Comment below and tell us what you think will rule social media in 2017!