In the past year, we’ve been slightly disappointed about the lack of hoverboards, flying cars, alien life, sentient Artificial Intelligence, or even direct neural interfacing with the internet.
But a lot of things have happened to take us several steps closer to that reality.
Without further distractions, let’s have a look at what’s expected in the next year.
- Virtual Reality [VR]
We have to start the list with perhaps one of the most exciting tech developments in the last couple of years, with consumer release prepped for 2016 with devices like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, Microsoft HoloLens (late 2016-2017).
The truth is that Virtual Reality is already here, and available for Android and iPhone phones, and lets you play some wacky games and watch content in an immersive manner. Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard are some of the many contraptions that allow most smartphones to deliver a full VR experience to users. There also exists several Virtual Reality enhanced Social Media platforms like AltSpaceVR and Convrge which either allow another layer of immersion by physically interacting in a Virtual Space, or only communicate via this virtual space and not through a desktop, mobile screen.
PlayStation Home was one of the earlier platforms that attempted to put users in an actual virtual space to interact with each other in the PS3 era but didn’t revolutionize anything. So why do we think the VR devices now will change anything? It comes down to the technology, which is different in a lot of ways. Faster internet, increasing number of users, and powerful supporting hardware allows users not to be taken out of their experience with a great many restrictions or issues.
It’s scary to think just how much of our daily lives are spent on virtual services. Heck, being able to order groceries, and even set up daily deliveries like milk, bread, and whatever else you might need makes staying at home a more popular activity. With Social Media dedicated to VR, we’ll see users watching movies, playing games, learning new skills, teaching, dating, and taking walks in a completely Virtual environment. Of course, 2016 won’t be putting you in a Matrix, but we’re getting there.
- Mobile and the rise of Multiple Platforms
There’s an insanely high probability that you regularly visit Social Media sites on your Computer, Mobile, Tablet, and even Game Console. There has already been an overwhelming emphasis on making websites Mobile-friendly, and in websites being adaptable to different screens and devices. But with so many platforms being shared by so many users, tracking takes precedence. Websites that look towards implementing login through a Google or Facebook account have the capability of gaining better insight into which devices are being used and where they ought to concentrate their efforts. Wearable devices will bring about unprecedented opportunities as well.
This brings about the term ‘Native Ad Formats’, which is what you’d call advertisements that are tailored to the site that it’s on. Instagram ads for example, appear in the feed, just like any other post, and Snapchat also features ads that work extremely well within their platform (horizontal, unskippable, unavoidable, and completely trackable). Users become less annoyed with these organic placements, as opposed to intrusive ones or ads that are irrelevant and stand out sorely.
This brings about changes in how users search for queries. We see the growth of shorter phrases and more accurate keywords. These keywords are highly sensitive to the device, location, and time (hour/day/season) and SEO focus needs to reflect these changing search patterns.
- Social Commerce
Another new term, indeed! For ages now it hasn’t been very easy to completely translate how much of the Social Media content/presence actually converts users to consumers. And now platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and especially Pinterest are moving past that wall with the option of purchasing items directly from a user feed. Although they have been deployed in very restricted ways as of now, quantifiably impressive success means that we can see these direct purchasing options to become a standard part of online purchases and social media.
Some Key Statistics to Social Media Ecommerce*:
- 93% of Pinterest users use the platform to research purchases
- 87% of Pinterest users have purchased an item because of Pinterest
- Instagram engagement is 58x to 120x higher than other platforms
- YouTube videos provide an 80% lift in consideration and 54% in ad recall
- Facebook accounts for 50% of social referrals and 64% of total social revenue
We’ll be able to track and implement more conversions using these interfaces for direct purchasing. Although it might appear that they are diluting the content of Social Media, the purpose won’t be to offer a catalogue of products, but rather to complement and enhance purchasing decisions. After all, we do know that users tend to rely on each other’s opinions and reviews over and above ‘raw’ advertisements, so this is effectively removing the middle step of having to open up a new tab and searching for a product that’s been recommended by a friend, or is on sale.
- Customer Service
How often do we find ourselves emailing Customer Support only to wonder how long they would take to get back, or even wondering if they had even noticed? Although it’s already been a part of active Businesses on Facebook, the chat function serves wonders in informing users about the average time responses taken, and also whether or not your message has been ‘seen’. Companies feel a sense of urgency especially when it comes down to having user problems crop up on their page, up for public spectatorship, and users know this.
Twitter’s Direct Messaging has also become widely used, and the platform is coming up as a standard communication device between firms and users since it removed a ‘mutual follow’ policy for messages, along with a 140 character limit.
Response rates have not improved a whole lot, but we predict that it will be more efficient in 2016, especially with improved functionality headed for these platforms.
Facebook’s Messenger for Business is another dedicated step in this direction as well.
Alternative Social platforms coming up for individual businesses also have the capacity to transform the communication channels between user and firm, in a way that Facebook and/or Twitter may not be able to. More on that coming up below!
- New Social Media platforms and ones for Businesses
The big giants of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc are not the only ones who are leading the evolution of social media platforms. Several new ideas emerge almost daily, and a hundred different variations of existing platforms have come up. (Here’s a non-exhaustive list of active Social Networking sites )
Businesses are also following suit. Slack is something that came up as a Social Media platform for businesses and has already seen promising growth.
Businesses often tend to just put up a page on Facebook and Twitter and call it quits. Well that’s what used to be the ‘trend’, but it’s like a little saying from The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super, no one is!” contextually marking your firm to be just another, generic corporation, rather than a unique offering. A dedicated network can mean better control and tracking, both of internal and external employees and grievances. After all, getting employees to warm up to using a new technology always meets resistance, but just like e-mail, internet, and anything else that changed corporate communications, social media will also need to be customized and utilized.
- A Video dominated Internet
With better access to the internet for an increasing number of people, videos are being watched in greater numbers across a growing number of platforms. In addition to being easily accessible, videos have proven to be more effective at grabbing attention, especially if they are short, and load fast. YouTube sees more and more searches as users seek reviews and demos, and cats.
GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) have become more popular too, what with Facebook’s adding the ability to post them. They serve as a marriage of images and videos, although their pronunciation by users might leave a sore impression; Steve Wilhite, the inventor of the medium declared it ought to be “jif”, although it ultimately falls on personal preference.
But back to videos, LIVE video and 360 Degree Videos are two of the biggest debutantes of 2015. Live video here meaning the increasing adoption of broadcasting live, and the consumption of live streams rather than the start of LIVE video in and of itself. We’ll get to LIVE video later down as part of a bigger phenomenon. 360o Video has come up and about with an increasing adoption of VR, as well. The rise of trailers, sports, showcases, music videos being shot and consumed in 360o Video all exploded after YouTube unveiled the feature in March of this year.
Undoubtedly there’s a long way to go before regular users would be able to produce 360o Videos themselves, but with cheaper VR solutions, consumers can easily watch these.
- Going Live
Live is a new phenomenon, both for Social Media as well as Digital Marketing. Sure, LIVE Video is one element, but another one coming up dude to Mobile Internet prominence is ‘Micro Moments’, which are those brief spurts of searching users do while waiting in a line, or shopping for something. It’s accurate, contextual, and usually is done from a smartphone and outside a user’s home. SEO requirements are, again, changed, and a user would give preference to products and services which are framed according to their query over-hhabituated purchasesor any sense of ‘brand loyalty’.
Back to Social Media, Periscope may have just come up in 2015, but has already gained a lot of momentum in attracting users to its proposition. SnapChat is similar but is a more personal sharing rather than public broadcasting. Both platforms need users to capture content through the application and share it immediately. No selections from the gallery. Facebook introduced Livestreaming in a different shade this year as well. Although not open to all users, only to ‘VIP’/verified ones (might change in the future). The difference being that videos aren’t deleted after the broadcast, and is less time sensitive that way. The benefit being that Facebook already has a lot of users, and thus, live streams will be watched more, and shared more too.
Another year another set of challenges and opportunities. We don’t expect a lot of newer technologies to come up in 2016, but more refinement for the ones that are already existing or scheduled to come in 2016. It’s not only a great time for evening out the odds when it comes to smaller businesses competing with established ones, it’s going to be new ways of doing new things. We can’t wait to see how people are going to use (and unfortunately, yet expectedly abuse) the new systems and technologies.
It’s a great time for Marketers and an even greater time for consumers.