I published a whole slew of predictions for 2017 at the end of December, but a recent conversation had me thinking hard about the future of social media. Is the future really just "more followers?" What can Facebook's pay-to-play model teach us about the future? And really, when all the gloss gets peeled back, what will the real purpose of social be in the years to come?

Honestly, I think it's sooner than years. I think 2017 is the year.

Social media is, by every definition, becoming a social marketplace. In fact, it's already happening on an  influencer level. Think of social media platforms as different malls, where sure, there are things to buy, plenty of shops, but really people are there to hang out and socialize (think high school). In the beginning, social platforms were wholly intended for communication. They were based around people--and not built like an eCommerce platform, for example.

But look at what has happened, and what is continuing to happen. People themselves have become brands; their own shops, if you will. Influencers command the attention within the marketplace ("Hey, look over here! This is where the cool stuff is!"). And the companies who know that this is where all the kids hang out are willing to shell out big bucks for exposure. Even the social platforms (the owners of the malls) themselves know their value--which is why only the early, early social platforms are free. If you want all your fans and followers to see your content on Facebook and Instagram, get ready to pay. And I promise you, this is only to get worse and worse, until it's no longer social media. It's simply a social marketplace.

The conversation I had that got my brain thinking in this direction was with Tomer Tagrin, CEO and co-founder of Yotpo--a UGC tool for eCommerce marketers. 

"We realize how difficult it is for brands today to stand out in an increasingly noisy online environment. It's harder than ever to get customers' attention, and the brands that succeed on social realize that it's much more effective to give their followers content they actually want to see instead of pushing ads. That's why user-generated content is so powerful for social media advertising," said Tagrin.

How I started thinking about this social marketplace idea was actually in looking at one of Yotpo's primary offerings, giving businesses and brands the ability to automatically ask customers for reviews following their purchases, with an email interface where customers can submit ratings, reviews and photos.

What's interesting is its lack of friction. When someone purchases a product, Yotpo automatically sends a review request to the customer immediately after, branded and all. The look and feel of the request is customizable, and you can even include additional relevant upsets in the review request.

But it was Yotpo's "shoppable" posts on Instagram and Pinterest that really drove home the point (and the future became all-too-clear). With this tool, you can source customer photos from submitted reviews, and then use them as content on social media with Calls To Action that proceed directly to check out.

Ok, so knowing that this is where digital marketers are thinking (wanting to start the buyer's journey inside social media itself), and knowing the future of UI/UX and how everything is become more and more condensed, it should be apparent what's going to happen next:

Pretty soon, you won't need to leave any social platform to make your purchase. You won't need to leave Facebook to go to a website. You won't need to link from Instagram to a landing page. It'll happen right there, inside the environment. And not just that, but it won't be big brands and roulettes of ads that will be encouraging you to buy--but your friends. Every "profile" on social media is, in a sense, some sort of "channel" in itself. If your friend tells you to buy a pair of jeans, you will probably take their word for it and do it. So what happens when social platforms and the eCommerce element are so interwoven that a friend on Instagram can send you a content post from their favorite jeans brand, and you can buy that pair of jeans right within your direct message?

Now, every single person is an "affiliate," in a sense. And all of social media marketing and purchasing is built off peer recommendations--just like it is in real life.

At that moment, social media platforms will fundamentally change, period. Social media will become, in every sense, a social marketplace. People will hang out there. People will still socialize, no different than a bunch of teenagers in a mall. The only difference will be that goods will be even more readily available, and the impulse to shop will no longer be a question. It will be a constant.

And you know what?

We're not far off from that. At all.