When it comes to reaching audiences, effectively distributing your content, and building a following around your brand, social media offers a wealth of possibilities. It's where your audiences already live and engage with content, which makes it a convenient platform for brands. Its built-in analytics allow you to track and improve your efforts over time. Plus, all the free social-media tools make it easy to use and maintain an active presence.

As you look ahead to 2018 and begin planning for ways to strengthen your social strategy, it's important to keep a pulse on trends. To help, here are six social-media trends you need to prepare for if you want to hit the ground running in 2018:

1. More robust social analytics signal more opportunity for content personalization.

Nobody likes content that's irrelevant to one's needs. This is especially true when you're interacting with a brand you know and love -- the last thing you want is a piece of generic content that doesn't offer anything unique to you as a member of that audience. In fact, nearly three out of four of us get frustrated when content isn't relevant to our interests.

Improved personalization for audiences is a major trend in content marketing, and it extends to social media, too. As social platforms evolve, their analytics tools and business-specific features will become more detailed and valuable to brands.

This kind of data means marketers will have the insights to craft better and more personalized content for their audiences. It's past time for marketers to be creating and distributing content that truly speaks to and engages audiences on a personal level; social media will help make that easier.

2. Platform feature overlap means you'll have to be more selective.

Both Snapchat and Instagram feature timed videos and visual content, so the main points of differentiation are audience and reach. Instagram Stories has a significantly wider reach and receives more engagement; Instagram influencers see up to 10 percent of their audience members open their Instagram Stories on a daily basis, which is more than can be said for Snapchat. On the other hand, Snapchat continues to dominate among members of younger demographics.

As more platforms continue to offer overlapping features, brands and marketers will have to be increasingly selective about which ones they invest in. Take advantage of analytics and reporting features to identify which platforms could offer you the best return, and start there.

3. Social listening will give brands an edge to their messaging online.

Instead of just tracking what kind of content your competitors are developing or what they're sharing on social media, you should also monitor their mentions and what people are saying -- and use it as a metric to compare your performance.

"Using web monitoring, we can collect an enormous amount of data on our company and our competitors that can be used in our marketing strategy. At Brand24, our research showed that in one month, 14,000 online searches started with 'Can anyone recommend?' and about 30,000 searches started with 'Where can I buy?' About 60 percent of these questions never received responses from companies; this is a huge opportunity," says Magdalena Urbaniak, global communications manager at Brand24.

Urbaniak says monitoring these social mentions can show you what people in your shared audience like and don't like, which can give you insight into where your brand can improve. Social listening can give you valuable information about your competitors' performance and your own audience that you can use to your advantage in your content strategy.

4. Video will only take a stronger place in content strategy.

Everyone and his mother knows that video content is popular and, therefore, important for brands. And as social algorithms keep updating, video will only grow more valuable for generating engagement and building your following.

In fact, in our experience at Influence & Co., videos on Facebook receive higher engagement; we see more people commenting on them, and they get more likes and more shares. Facebook's reporting features let us know how video content performs compared to our other posts, and you can't deny how good video is at engaging audiences.

Instagram's Stories feature and Snapchat's entire platform also give brands the chance to create video content and share it immediately with their followers. Obviously, video is only becoming more important. Having the ability to create that kind of content -- and the strategy to tie it to your written content for your blog and outside publications -- will be critical for brands in 2018.

5. Facebook is becoming almost entirely mobile.

By 2020, it's predicted that 59 percent of U.S. users will access Facebook through mobile exclusively, and 80 percent of the company's ad revenue already comes from mobile ads.

Facebook was one of the last social media platforms that wasn't really designed from the beginning to be on mobile. Looking at popular apps like Instagram and Snapchat, we've seen the trend of mobile-only (or mostly mobile) social apps for a while. Sure, mobile optimization has been an industry best practice for savvy marketers for a while, but with Facebook not far from being dominated by mobile use, brands will (finally) have no excuse for creating or distributing content that's not optimized for mobile.

6. Chatbots will make customer service faster and easier.

Instant connection and widespread internet access have conditioned us to want things yesterday or, when that's not possible, in the next five minutes. Unfortunately, I've seen this prompt a lot of brands to do one of two things: respond so quickly that mistakes are made and service quality suffers, or freeze in their tracks because they're not quite sure how to meet this demand for speed.

That's part of what makes chatbots -- especially through Facebook Messenger -- so valuable. Chatbots give you the chance to interact quickly with your audience in a way that feels personal; you can customize your brand voice and send personalized content directly to users. Maybe that's why there are at least 100,000 monthly active bots on Facebook Messenger -- and the reason two billion messages are exchanged between brands and their audiences each month. If you aren't already, 2018 might be the year to test chatbots for your business.

Social media presents so many opportunities for marketers to connect with audiences, create and distribute better content, and build their brands (and their following). To take advantage of all that opportunity, you've got to understand that these shifts happen frequently, so staying ahead of the trends is imperative. We're only four months away from 2018, so what are you planning for? Let me know any trends I missed by leaving me a comment.