Social media has made our world ultra-connected, but navigating the new reality can feel ultra-confusing at times. The landscape of these online communities continues to evolve as new technologies and trends emerge, giving rise to new ways of engaging and communicating.

Savvy brands should constantly look for ways to stay ahead of the trend. They should understand the importance of finding their strategic foothold and maintaining their customer reach among all the shifts and changes.

To help you find your footing in this ever-changing landscape, here are 11 social media trends that brands (and everyone else) should be watching closely:

1. Video-centric social media.

Video continues to be a major buzz for users, spurring platforms to look for new ways to incorporate it into their content.

Last year, Facebook launched Live, which allows users to instantly stream video from anywhere, at any time. Facebook has said that its users watch live videos more often and for longer periods of time than non-live videos.

Instagram confirmed in November that it too is testing a live video feature. In August, the platform added a Snapchat-like feature called Stories, which allows users to share short clips from everyday life. Brands that want to continue to engage customers should be sharpening their video-story capabilities.

2. Enhanced business analytics and tools.

Business continues to boom on social media, and platforms are stepping up to offer more support through enhanced tools and analytics.

For instance, in 2015, Instagram launched Business Tools, with features that work in much the same way as Twitter Analytics and Facebook Insights.

These tools help businesses both small and large develop their profiles and offer analytics, and give them the ability to create ads from posts directly within the app. Business tools will continue to evolve, making it easier for businesses to drive traffic and derive revenue from social media sites.

3. Expiring and informal storytelling.

Storytelling on social media is becoming more informal and casual. Developing new tools and abilities that will spotlight a moment in time in a fun and quirky way is one of the biggest trends in social media.

Informal storytelling blossomed under Snapchat through its disappearing “snaps” and its Stories, which are semi-public and viewable for 24 hours. In 2016, Instagram launched its version of Stories, based on the same assumption: people love quick videos and photos that disappear a day later.

Brands should be considering the best ways to incorporate expiring content into their marketing, but they should also remember that this format works best when turning everyday, authentic moments into something unique and memorable.

4. A filters and lens for every occasion.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, we can now add mystical flower crowns to our heads and make rainbow waterfalls flow out of our mouths. These filters and lenses are incredibly addictive and fun to use, and data analysis proves that users love them.

These tools increase our ability to create individualized experiences and to interact with others, either through public social media or one on one.

Facebook began testing facial lenses for its mobile interface in 2016, and Instagram’s Stories also gives users a bevy of options. These platforms will continue to improve and capitalize on these features in 2017.

5. Improved controls over your social media experience.

Users are demanding more control over their social media experience, and platforms are responding. Users want to be able to determine what content is flowing through their feeds and search and view content related to their interests.

In keeping with this trend, Twitter recently rolled out quality filter tools to help users control their on-platform experience.

To meet these changes, brands should make sure users can find them by performing usability testing and ensuring that their user experience falls in line with customer behavior and preferences.

6. Users seeking niche social platforms.

While Facebook is still the biggest player on the social media scene, brands would do well to consider the importance of smaller platforms that are focused on more specific interests.

There are a number of robust platforms out there that operate on a smaller scale, but still allow users to focus on specific hobbies or interests. Examples include Tastebuds (“meet people through music”), Ravelry (for knitters and crocheters) and Fishbrain (for fishing enthusiasts). These online communities give researchers a window into better understanding certain customer bases.

7. The rise of dark social.

Sharing on social media is increasingly being kept in the dark. Users don’t want their content or comments made public, and this has given rise to private social media sharing.

Instead of posting content publically, users are turning to so-called “dark social,” which are private channels, such as messaging applications, to share content. According to some statistics, almost 70 percent of online shares are through one-on-one communication (like Snapchat), which makes it difficult for analytics tools to track.

Brands that want to stay ahead of the trend should begin exploring ways to use messenger apps in their customer service. This kind of direct communication will increase the need to automate the process and will likely increase the growth of another trend we are seeing: chatbots.

8. Increased customer service through chatbots.

Powered by artificial intelligence, chatbots can interact with customers and engage in human-like conversations. They are poised to change how brands interact with users because they will provide increased customer service and offer information in more convenient ways. They are also able to handle online orders.

The popularity of chatbots shot up after Mark Zuckerberg announced in April that third parties could use the FB messenger platform to create their own personal chatbot.

This allows brands to boost real-time engagement with users—a trend that will likely continue to increase in coming years.

9. Mindfulness amid social media.

The hyper-connectivity of social media creates the feeling that our lives and our world are intricately bound together. And yet the technology that we use to connect can also make us feel more anxious and estranged. The result is a surprising trend: users are seeking Zen.

More people are looking for ways to calm their stressed-out minds and find peace in their harried online worlds. Enter mindfulness into the social media cosmos.

The trend is evident in the more than two dozen mindfulness apps you can download for your smartphone. And there is an increase in users turning to YouTube videos that offer white noise and relaxing music.

Instead of adding to the clutter and noise online, brands should consider ways to offer fewer but higher-quality experiences.

10. Virtual and augmented reality are about to arrive.

This may be the year that virtual reality (VR) social networking truly comes to life. VR and augmented reality technology are expected to enter the mainstream in 2017, and social platforms are set to embrace it. VR allows people to further connect on social media, but through their idealized avatar selves.

For example, Facebook and YouTube have introduced 360-degree videos, paving the way for users to share interactive VR experiences. But new platforms such as myVR will seek to bring virtual reality to a wider, more mainstream audience.

This new technology will also offer brands new ways of engaging customers. Brands should be looking at ways to utilize VR, or at the very least should be producing memorable experiences that can eventually translate to VR technology.

11. Business and commerce continue to thrive.

Thanks to complicated algorithms embedded in social media platforms, brands are no longer able to reach would-be clients through unpaid posts. This organic reach was initially a huge draw for many businesses, but now paid content is king.

However, paying to promote content on social media comes with some major pluses, including the fact that it allows brands to target users within specific demographics. The end result is that business and commerce are continuing to thrive on social media.

Social shopping is making it easier for brands to sell to customers—and trends show sales are growing across the board. As more businesses move toward social commerce, be aware that sales are often focused on customers’ emotions and brands are looking to streamline the purchasing process.


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