Share via Twitter
Share via LinkedIn
Share via Facebook
Share via Google+

It’s that time again, folks. As 2015 begins to draw to a close and 2016 waits just over the horizon, we’ve a prime opportunity to look back on what transpired over the past year – and use that to prepare ourselves for what’s coming next. Of course, in this case, that may be easier said than done.

See, 2015 may well have been one of the biggest years yet in the social space. We saw a ton of evolutions, disruptions, and emerging trends, and although certain constants yet remain (Facebook is still top dog, traditional ads still fall flat), a great deal has nevertheless changed. Today, we’re going to help you make sense of it all.

Let’s get started.

Employee Amplification

Especially in small businesses, money’s tight. A local organization doesn’t necessarily have the time or budget to expend on a large-scale social marketing campaign, and even large enterprises may find it difficult to justify pouring funds into a social network where returns may be limited, at best. Some companies – like Starbucks – have come up with an awesome, creative solution to the problem.

They’re using their employees as a social marketing resource.

“Starbucks has an entire team of social media strategists working ‘round the clock,” writes Fast Company’s Ryan Holmes. “There is, however, a lesser-known secret to its success: its own employees do a lot of the tweeting and posting themselves. A unique employee advocacy program actively encourages staff to share updates about the brand on their own social media accounts.”

“Starbucks isn’t alone in bringing employees into the fold,” he continues. “At Zappos, employees receive special Twitter training and are encouraged to share updates about what they’re doing at work. (There’s even a company “leaderboard” that shows who’s got the most followers.) Southwest Airlines, which is incidentally reporting record profits, is famous for harnessing its own employees to share stories on its Nuts About Southwest blog and post about the company on social media.”

Expect employee advocacy to become a regular term in the social marketing space as 2015 turns to 2016 – and one your business would be right to consider.

Legality and Privacy in The Social Space

Privacy concerns related to the Internet are really nothing new – but 2015 wound up being a particularly bad year. From a cadre of extremely high-profile data breaches to further troubling revelations connected to NSA surveillance, the general theme in the news media is that neither governments nor businesses do enough to protect consumer and employee information. Not surprisingly, this led to consumers being more paranoid and privacy-conscious than ever before, while governments desperately searched for ways to make the web less hostile.

Although it isn’t likely to happen overnight, governments will soon make sweeping changes to laws regarding online privacy and security – to some extent, this has already happened, particularly in the EU, where legislators are flirting with the idea of requiring parental consent for social media users below the age of 16.

Social networks came under mounting pressure, as well, with incidents such as Facebook’s real name policy kicking off massive torrents of outrage on the behalf of users and civil liberties groups. These privacy and security concerns aren’t going to go away, either. Moving into 2016, the dialogue on private data will only grow more prominent.

Advertising Goes Social

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m no fan of traditional advertising, and that it genuinely has no place on the modern Internet. And in 2015, advertising firms and enterprises alike finally started to realize that.  Obnoxious banners and poorly-designed popups are being phased out in lieu of native ads that mesh seamlessly with user feeds, and – most importantly – don’t interrupt their experience.

Consequently, ad spending on social networks actually increased by 33.5% from 2014, ballooning to $23.68 billion. That this didn’t coincide with a marked increase in non-native ads drives home the fact that marketers are finally starting to “get it” where social’s concerned. And native ads weren’t the only way businesses were reaching their audience, either.

Influencer-based marketing will take off as well, with celebrities and experts alike wielding incredible power over purchasing decisions and brand perception – according to McKinsey, such influencers could generate sales that nearly double those gained through paid advertising.

Social Messaging and Social Marketing

Social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate – and in 2015, businesses became significantly more cognizant of that fact. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite figure out what to do with it, particularly where messaging is involved. Tools such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger don’t offer an easy means of measurement, and many businesses still don’t understand how such tools influence purchasing decisions and customer behavior.

And though analytics and behavioral insights may well come along in 2016, as predicted by Fast Company, for the time being instant messaging largely rests in the realm known ominously as dark social.

Oh, one more thing – social’s also invaded the workplace, and in 2015 businesses began to recognize its power as a tool for creation and collaboration.

The Rise of Social Video

Right now, I know four things for certain:

  1. The Internet has changed how we think, and social has changed how we consume content
  2. The majority of modern Internet users are visual learners
  3. Our attention spans are now shorter than they’ve ever been.
  4. Video is among the most popular content mediums on the Internet

With those facts in mind, it shouldn’t come as a great shock that 2015 saw social video sail into the stratosphere in popularity – both for marketers and for consumers. This year, videos became the preferred content medium on sites such as Facebook, owing to their innate accessibility and ease of creation. Marketers have kept a close eye on this trend, particularly on Facebook.

“Facebook is focused on creating a video marketing ecosystem,” writes Mass Planner’s Zoe Summers. “Since August last year, when comScore found that, for the first time Facebook had more video views than YouTube on desktop, a new battle began for the top spot in the video space.”

“Facebook’s rise is backed by a year of investments, improvements and features to its video marketing platform like the video metrics and insights, the auto-play feature or the new video rankings in the News Feeds just to name a few,” she adds.

Mobile Becomes the Default

Surprising virtually no one, 2015 was also the year that mobile devices finally supplanted desktops as the primary browsing and search tool of Internet users. As social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram continually worked to enhance the mobile experience for their customers, it became overwhelmingly clear that mobile was no longer something you should support – it was something you must support.

“Until recently, content, app, and web development strategy has focused primarily on the needs of the desktop user with mobile being an afterthought,” explains Social Media Week’s Julie Ellis. “In 2015, there was a noticeable shift in this line of thinking with many companies moving towards a mobile first mindset. This shift was largely due in part to the sharp increase in the number of mobile users, and the increasing amount of mobile visitors to websites.”

Instant Updates Now Top-Priority

In some ways, the changes wrought by social media are nearly unthinkable. See, in the past, businesses had ample opportunity to review, reconsider, and redraft content before unleashing it onto the public. Thanks to social media, in-the-moment, real-time updates are now all but demanded by consumers, and though businesses can still analyze and calculate their approach to users online, everything moves at a much faster pace than it once did. 

In other words, if you’re not doing stuff like realtime Q&As, onsite event updates, and the release of highly time-sensitive content, you’re lagging behind.

“The obsession with live streaming and instant updates will continue to grow exponentially,” writes Elena Prokopets of Huffington Post. “Think SnapChat, Periscope and Blab. Virtual Reality is close to going mainstream, meaning more and more apps will battle for users’ full attention and struggle to satisfy their cravings for full immersion in the event. Sure, Facebook still does good job with keeping users updated on the latest news, however the platform cannot offer in-the-moment content that live steam apps offer.”

The Growth of Social Search

It’s no secret that Facebook’s been hard at work on enhancing its internal search engine for quite some time – and in 2015, we really saw its efforts start to bear fruit. Although Google still remains the reigning, undisputed king of search, Facebook is ever-so-slowly catching up. This year, for example, the social network added trillions of posts into its search engines, including public posts made by other Facebook users.

The aim, I think, is for Facebook to make its search functionality something of a counterpart to Google. Whereas the latter will allow users to keep abreast of news and information, the former will become a reliable tool for searching up how other people are reacting to an event, entertainment property, or story. It’s an interesting feature, to be sure, even if it does have its opponents.

Facebook wasn’t alone in this, of course – other social networks had their own search modifications to throw into the pot, such as Snapchat’s Discover feature.

Social Politics

Social media has become thoroughly ingrained in our daily lives – though the extent, perhaps, wasn’t clear until this year, which saw social networks like Facebook change both how political influencers campaigned and how voters gained information about elections. Facebook and Twitter are now central to political success, while tools such as Instagram are seeing greatly-increased political use. This is actually a topic we’ve touched on in the past.

Long story short, political engagement through social media is now a must.

The Digital Economy

Last, but certainly not least, 2015 saw the digital economy – more specifically, the social digital economy – really start to take off. Although it didn’t reach anywhere near its full potential this year, changes such as Facebook’s buy/sell feature and Google’s unique new approach to content and subscriptions are trends that cannot be ignored. I’ve not a doubt in my mind that as 2016 rolls around, we’re going to see social networks transform into social marketplaces in a very big way.

(Not that we haven’t already, of course).

Closing Thoughts

2015 was a big year for social media – and 2016 promises to be just as huge. By bearing in mind the changes we saw in the social space this year, marketers can better prepare themselves for what the New Year has to bring, whatever that may be.