Death and taxes used to be the only two things we could all rely on. Now we can add a third: that social media will roll out all sorts of weird changes. Entrepreneurs will then scratch their heads, wonder what this is all about, and finally jump on the bandwagon and try to catch up.
So before you scratch your heads, here's a heads-up. Five major changes are currently rumbling away in social media, and they're going to break out in 2016. You need to be ready for them.
1. Live Streaming Goes Mainstream
Live streaming is already out, but it's going to get bigger. Within months of its launch, Twitter's Periscope service already had 15 million registered users who could employ their smartphones to share instant content. Big companies have been quick to spot the opportunity. In July 2015, GE's Droneweek exercise took viewers into the company's factories and showed audiences, including the engineering graduates the company needs to attract, how jet engines, wind turbines, and locomotives are made and tested. The company got to tell its story through a week of live, authentic content.
Other kinds of content that companies can broadcast live include conferences, interviews, customer support, product demonstrations, and special offers. For small businesses, the select audiences who tune in are the most loyal customers. They're the people you want to hug closest, and live streaming brings them about as close as they can get. If you're not broadcasting live yet, expect to push up a Periscope in 2016.
2. On-Platform Content Opens Up
In 2015, Facebook snatched distribution from established content creators. Instead of publishers bringing Facebook users to their own websites, Facebook's Instant Articles program let publishers distribute their content on the social media platform. The content would load up to 10 times faster, more people would see it, and the publisher could earn advertising revenue. But the users would stay on Facebook, reducing the publisher's own brand value.
Despite the risks, 350 publications have now signed up, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post. More than 100 publications distribute their content through Instant Articles every day.
The program started on iPhones and expanded to Android devices at the end of 2015. It's still limited to select publishers, but expect registration to roll out more broadly--and force all of us to compare the benefits of showing our content on Facebook with the advantages of bringing users to our webpages.
3. Smarter Use of Snapchat
Of all the head-scratching moves in social media, few have created a greater risk of a bald spot than the rise of Snapchat. You spend time and money creating unique content for a targeted audience only to see that content disappear as soon as it's used. It's the exact opposite of the quick burst and slow burn that a good YouTube video or blog post can achieve.
And yet, companies as big as McDonald's, Acura, and Heineken have all waded in, keen to connect with the platform's young audience--and scared to be left behind.
The quality of the content has improved over the past couple of years, and it's going to get better. There are enough good case studies available now for anyone to be able churn out effective Snapchat content quickly and easily. Now that businesses no longer need to scratch their heads for good ideas, expect companies with youthful customers to start churning out disposable content.
4. Video Will Continue to Beat Static Content
At the start of 2015, the news was that Facebook users were posting 75 percent more videos than they were the previous year. In the U.S., it was closer to 100 percent, and Facebook was pushing 360 percent more video content into people's news feeds. Between April and November 2015, Facebook doubled average daily video views from four billion to eight billion. Even though the company counts a three-second glimpse as a "view," that's still a huge amount of video watching, and it shows how keen Mark Zuckerberg is to eat YouTube's lunch.
Those figures are only going to grow. Facebook has already made clear that it prefers video content to link posts and even images, so to build any kind of successful social media campaign, you will need to pull out a video camera and get shooting this year.
5. Virtual Reality Content Will Make Its First Appearance
When Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion in 2014, even the most savvy social media watchers were left bemused. But the idea is starting to become clear. Just as video is a more engaging form of content than still imagery, so virtual reality will be the next and most engaging step forward for content. The New York Times has already started creating virtual reality content that works with Google's Cardboard virtual reality viewer, and Paul McCartney invited a VR firm to film one of his concerts. It's still early days for virtual reality, but as we approach the end of the year, expect to see more moves toward a new kind of engaging content--and start scratching your head for a way to use it yourself.