2016: The Year in Social Media

Jamie Davies

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It will come as no surprise to hear that the need to stay relevant and engaging online is now higher than ever. New apps and networks are appearing year on year, as existing ones race to keep up by releasing bigger and better user features. For the savvy social media marketer, keeping one step ahead of the curve can help give your brand a serious competitive edge against others in the market.

With this in mind, we’ve taken a retrospective look at updates and developments that have occurred in the world of social media throughout 2016, and what this means for social media marketing strategy in 2017.

Let’s dive in.

Google AdWords

Google Adwords is an advertising network favoured by marketers the world over – and with good reason. Though costly, AdWords’ highly granular targeting criteria, extensive reach and visibility make it unparallelled in its capacity to drive web traffic to your page and generate leads. Throughout 2016, Google has made a number of developments to further modernise the advertising network and improve the user experience for both advertisers and consumers.

  • Expansion of Text Ads –  AdWords has expanded headlines to 2×30 character headlines, and 80 characters description limit
  • Local Search Ads – These ads, served via Google Maps, help businesses become more discoverable and visible to people searching the area – particularly on mobile
  • Device Bidding – Advertisers can now place separate bids across a number of different devices

What This Means For Your Brand

Due to the benefits outlined above, and comparatively higher average Cost Per Clicks (CPCs) on AdWords to other advertising networks, many brands choose to assign a substantial chunk of their paid media spend to AdWords. In 2017, businesses could get more ‘bang for their buck’ thanks to the new extended character limit on text ads. With more character space, businesses have the opportunity to be more creative, descriptive and targeted with their advertising copy –  predicted to increase Click Through Rate (CTR) by up to 20%.

New Local Search Ads allow businesses to attract people in the near vicinity to their store or company. Early reports show that 28% of searches result in purchase, indicating that this could prove a big driver of sales for businesses in 2017.

Facebook

In recent years, social media giant, Facebook, has developed a sophisticated advertising network that can target users to an almost scary degree. The ubiquity with which Facebook permeates many of our lives has allowed the social network to collate rich user data from all corners of the world. Whilst alarming for some, this is great news for advertisers. Not only does Facebook allow businesses to precisely target particular audience groups, but this is available across a wide variety of media formats at low cost. Facebook is known for continuous and sometimes radical developments to its platform – not all of which are warmly received. 2016 was no different.

  • Updated Newsfeed Algorithm – With the new algorithm, high ranking posts gain more traction, favouring content that people actually engage and interact with
  • Organic Post Targeting – Organic posts can target specific audience groups based on interests, demographics and location
  • Fake News Crack Down – Fake news sites banned from using audience network ads
  • Reduction in Click Bait –  Posts with low engagement and that include links with a high bounce rate will be written off as click bait
  • Live Video – Facebook launched its live video feature, Facebook Live

What This Means For Your Brand

Live video gives publishers a new way to create, post and share. The introduction of new video metrics system shows you the volume of reactions, comments and shares throughout the video, which makes it easy to identify the most compelling moments. Early stats from Facebook Live make encouraging reading for brands – people are spending 3x longer watching live video compared to non-live, and live videos have 135% more organic reach in comparison to photos.

Facebook already prioritised posts on the news feed based on what sources the user interacts with most. The newest algorithm means posts from Facebook pages or brand pages are less likely to appear, and posts with less ‘shareable’ content will see less traffic from Facebook to their sites. At first glance, this doesn’t bode well for brands. However, rather than Facebook cutting down on branded content entirely, this is actually about cutting down on low quality branded content.

In 2017, this means kicking things up a notch with your content. Creating useful, interesting and engaging posts that people want to see is the best way to work around the new algorithm to keep your brand in people’s feeds.

Twitter

Twitter usage has been on a slow decline in recent years. A glint of promise shone for organic reach in 2015, after Twitter was bought by Google and tweets began to display in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). However, a number of platform updates rolled out by Twitter in 2016 appear to signal an awareness of the need for change.

  • Closure of Vine –  In October 2016, Twitter announced it was to close its video sharing app, Vine.
  • Updated Newsfeed Algorithm – Twitter rolled out a new algorithm which aggregated users’ newsfeeds based on high performing posts

What This Means For Your Brand

The decision to aggregate newsfeeds by top performing content was lambasted by many Twitter users, who felt the new algorithm contradicted one of Twitter’s core benefits. For brands, this indicates that quality and relevance of content is now more important than ever on Twitter, and that quantity alone is no longer enough to claim a prominent space in your followers’ feeds.

Twitter’s decision to close Vine sparked polarised opinions in the social media community (we wrote more about this here). In the wake of superior video sharing apps such as Instagram and Snapchat, Vine failed to keep pace. For marketers, this is an abundantly clear indication that the audience has moved elsewhere. Monitoring and adapting to new media formats and platforms should continue to be a priority for social media professionals in 2017, as video content continues to proliferate.

Instagram

Instagram has had a big year. Earlier in 2016, many of its users were left infuriated by a change to its algorithm which, you guessed it, aggregated newsfeeds by best performing content. Considering similar algorithm changes rolled out by parent app Facebook, it’s little surprise Instagram took this move. Later, following the highly publicised failure of Facebook to acquire Snapchat, Instagram rocked the social media community with the launch of its Snapchat-esque Stories feature.

  • Updated Newsfeed Algorithm – Users were missing up to 70% of their feed. The solution? Instagram implemented a new algorithm which analysed and prioritised the content its users cared about most
  • Stories – a cross between Snapchat and Facebook live, Instagram Stories allows users to share images and video which expire after 24 hours. In November 2016, Instagram added a Live video sharing feature to Stories which allows users to broadcast live to their followers. These videos can only be viewed whilst the user is live, no replays.
  • Boomerang – Arguably one of the most fun social media releases of 2016, Instagram’s Boomerang feature allows users to create audioless, looped video clips – more reminiscent of .GIFs than Vine

What This Means For Your Brand

When changes were rolled out which seemed to push brands out of user’s newsfeeds, this posed a dilemma to brands on Instagram. With the launch of Stories, brands are able to take an even more prominent place in the user dashboard, directly at the top of the newsfeed. Early stats for Instagram Stories show a daily engagement rate ⅔ that of Snapchat. With the addition of Boomerang, brands now have more varied and engaging content opportunities on this channel than ever before. This is certainly a space to watch for brands in 2017.

In 2017, we’d like to see Instagram make further developments to its advertising platform. Such as more interactive, engaging and dynamic advertising formats.

Snapchat

Snapchat has rocketed to the top of the social media charts in recent years. It’s pretty staggering to reflect on its growth – video views have increased by 400% year on year since 2015. The past 12 months have been huge for Snapchat, as they launched a number of game-changing customisation and commercial features.

  • Geofilters – the introduction of Geofilters allows users to further customise their Snaps with custom lenses unique to their location
  • Branded lenses success – this year Snapchat opened its platform up to advertisers with branded lenses and, later, mid-roll ads in between publishing partner’s Snaps
  • News channel targeting/ Snap Audience Match – Snapchat has tapped into user data to make significant improvements to its targeting criteria for advertisers
  • Spectacles – With the recent release of Snapchat’s much anticipated Spectacles interesting developments in brand communications could be in store for 2017

What This Means For Your Brand

Branded Geofilters are typically seen by 40% of the Snapchat audience they are made available to, and receive an average engagement rate of 20 seconds viewing time. With the launch of Spectacles, users can now view the world through the eyes of another. For brands, this takes brand-consumer communication next level with influencer marketing, product demos and much more.

What’s more, Snapchat’s targeting is getting increasingly precise and complex. The new Audience Match feature allows brands to use their email lists and databases of mobile device IDs to anonymously sync data with Snapchat’s user pool, as well as target Snapchatters that have been watching specific publishers in the app.

2016 has been a huge year for social media and technology, as we have seen the way information is shared and disseminated modernised beyond our imaginations. It’s mind-blowing to imagine what the next 12 months have in store, let alone where we’ll be at the decade’s end. One thing is certain though – it’s an exciting time to be in social media.

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