Social media is the in-vogue digital marketing channel. It’s a dynamic industry, with little staying static for longer than what feels like a few weeks. 2016, for instance, saw the emergence of live video, chatbots and swathes of smaller changes to advertising and targeting capabilities. Like with influencer marketing, last year was a maturation year for social media with marketing managers coming on-board like never before. And one thing’s for certain; social media isn’t going to sit still in 2017 either…

To better understand where social media marketing is heading in 2017 and beyond, we’ve turned to our own social media manager, Keri Hudson, for the inside track on the industry’s latest trends and advice on how to take advantage of them.

Firstly, could you give us a little insight about yourself and what you do at Digital Visitor?

I joined the social media marketing world a little over seven years ago, and have been lucky enough to work with variety of lovely brands including Universal, STA Travel, Land Rover, P&G, BFI London Film Festival and Cancer Research UK. I’ve spent time agency-side and in-house, and have experience in both account and social media management roles.

I now lead Digital Visitor’s small but perfectly formed social media team. We produce content, run advertising and community manage channels to increase brand awareness, create engagement and drive sales. Our work spans a number of clients, including JNTO, Visit Eastbourne, ANA, Catalunya and AccorHotels

I also work with our Simon, our Head of Strategy, to develop effective content and advertising strategies based on audience and channel insight.

Social media is clearly a very fluid and fast-developing marketing “channel”. What are, in your opinion, the biggest trends in social media right now?

Ephemeral, ‘Story’ content is huge at the moment. Driven by Snap and copied by channels across the board, for me it indicates a complete return to people-centric, conversational networks. With current newsfeeds now fairly bloated with advertising (Facebook are increasingly wary of reaching ad overload), the speed at which users have flocked to these purer, uncrowded sub-channels is hardly surprising. Brands need to work out how to adapt to this; to fit in, content must feel personal and be even less polished than Facebook’s algorithm demands (a challenge for brand managers, for sure). And some are already doing it well – Rimmel recently held a Snap press conference with new Brand Ambassador, Cara Delevingne, allowing fans to ask the model questions. And US-based accessories brand Ban.do make use of their founder Jen Gotch’s Instagram Stories to preview new products, share videos of behind-the-scenes content at photo shoots and spread the brand’s personality.

2016 was undeniably the year of live video…

2016 was undeniably the year of live video, which was fun, a little experimental, a bit of a novelty. This year, I expect to see brands (and influencers) start taking it seriously. For events and their associated sponsors, there are certainly some easy wins. We’ve already seen BAFTA broadcast live from this year’s red carpet, Wimbledon have hinted at an increase in social broadcast in the coming years and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see an artist use Live to unexpectedly drop a new album, à la Lemonade. For FMCG brands it poses a little more of a creative challenge – I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

As a side note, there’s been a lot of hype about virtual and augmented reality, but I don’t think they have landed quite yet. Consumers don’t care enough about content; if they have to put in too much effort to view it, they just won’t – that’s obvious. Once we start to see the tech emerging in other areas (in-store retail, entertainment events and brand experiential would be my initial guesses, if any) then the habit might start to embed. It’s more of a 2018/2019 one for me.   

Live video is a good example of a quickly developing social media trend. But, if you were the marketing manager for a national brand, where would you be putting your money?

If only budgets were unlimited! I’d look to invest heavily in three different areas: (continuing) to build a newsroom-style content team, exploring chatbots for customer service and brand engagement, and, of course, live video in some form.

For me, having a multi-talented newsroom team (which can merge in-house and agency talent) is key; there is so much pressure for brands to be reactive and always-on while maintaining varying personalities and content-types across multiple channels. To do so, a brand needs a group of creators and community managers who are ready to reactively and proactively rise to the challenge in daring and creative ways, and are (really importantly) totally trusted to do so. It’s pretty much the only way to getting cut-through in today’s crowded social marketplace; scheduled activity just isn’t enough anymore.

…a brand needs a group of creators and community managers who are ready to reactively and proactively rise to the challenge in daring and creative ways…

The rise of chatbots has been, well… less dramatic than that phrase sounds, but on the horizon for a while and increasingly picking up speed. Creating a chatbot to answer customer service queries is a no-brainer for brands who have long relied on agencies (or upskilled call centre staff), but it’s far more fun to consider how the tech could be used as a brand engagement piece. Last year Activision used a bot as part of a brilliantly-executed launch campaign for their new Call of Duty game, which won a shed load of awards and demonstrated a totally new storytelling opportunity for brands in the process. As a marketing manager, I’d definitely want to explore bot opportunities (bot-tunities?) for any new product launch in 2017.

As for live video, it’s going to be one of those trends that all brands try, but only a few do well. I’d rather go down a sponsorship route – working with either an influencer or media partner to create a series of branded content.

One of the biggest questions still surrounding social is attribution. Firstly, can you explain what we mean by attribution. And, secondly, to what extent do you feel brands truly understand the value of social media?

Ah, it feels like the social attribution debate has been raging on for years. Social attribution is exactly that: being able to clearly attribute business results (sales, sign ups, subscriptions etc…) to social media activity. In other words, it’s being able to report on ROI. And it’s been a struggle for marketers for such a long time because social is (and always will be) primarily a brand channel. In the age-old marketing funnel of ‘Awareness-Understanding-Evaluating-Action-Advocacy’, the majority of social activity falls neatly into the first, second and final stages. And that isn’t a bad thing. Use of social (particularly Facebook and Snap) as a broadcast channel is ever increasing, so it makes sense that awareness activity on those platforms should be considered in the same way TV spots are. And while it isn’t easily measured, irreplaceable value comes from social (particularly of the dark variety) during the advocacy stage; word-of-mouth is one the strongest drivers of purchase.

Use of social… as a broadcast channel is ever increasing, so it makes sense that awareness activity on those platforms should be considered in the same way TV spots are.

So, how can we report on social attribution? Well, a social media campaign should always include an action element of some kind, which will almost always be in the form of (generally Facebook) advertising. Using well-defined targeting or, ideally, optimised cost-per-conversion ads can and will drive goal completions if the audience is right, and the correct brand activity has taken place initially. In terms of reporting, direct conversions are obviously a dream, but using a mixture of Google Analytics and Doubleclick to follow click-through and view-through attribution windows means that you can also see how social slots into assisted conversion flows.

In my experience, brands want to see value from social, but don’t understand where to find it, or how to create it. Implementing an end-to-end, awareness-to-advocacy social media strategy is the most effective way to do so.

Where do you think social media will be this time in 12 months?

Well, it might be a terrifying place where all competition is demolished and we’re chained to Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp forever.

But it’s (hopefully) more likely that other channels will continue to pour money into innovation to keep themselves ahead of the game, which means we’re going to have a pretty colourful and diverse year ahead of us.

In 12 months time, we might see: