13 Social Media Predictions for 2016

Every year, in the ever-accelerating ecosystem of social media and sports, is the year of ‘something.’ It was all about engagement, then visuals, then GIFs and videos, which gave way to live streaming. What we think comes next is probably only partially accurate, as every day brings something new, something exciting, and something to be considered thoughtfully and strategically.

With all that said, here are 13 thought-provoking (hopefully) ideas to consider for the next calendar year of social media and omni-channel marketing and engagement. (PS: Let’s try not to overuse the word ‘engagement’ in 2016)

1) Micro engagements – Five years ago, we wanted to hold our (virtual) megaphones and shout our messages and push our content to the masses. But there is a reason presidential candidates supplement their speeches to thousands with door-to-door visits. Micro, 1-to-1 engagement matter. And with the growth of direct messaging apps and the evolving dedication to forming relationships with one’s most valued fans, especially influencers, has magnified the understanding of the importance of micro engagements. Even better, marketers are getting better at, and more intentional with, tracking and valuing these micro engagements. Turn one fan a day into a super-fan and it’s a good day.

2) Perfectly timed and targeted ads in digital and physical space – This point is two-fold (and will be more than just a 2016 process). First, as more TV’s are replaced by connected, OTT solutions, content providers will not rely on guessing and Scarborough and Nielsen data as much when understanding who their content (and their partners’ ads) are reaching. See the digital ads behind home plate during an MLB game on TV, on the side of the pitch of an EPL match, and on the glass behind the net of an NHL broadcast? Sooner rather than later, the ad you see, much like the Internet and social networks, will be tailored to YOU and different from the ad someone sees on the other side of the country, let alone the other side of the street.
Second, ads will get even better with targeting and timing from a 360-degree perspective. Moments after you click the image from that Subway, an ad will appear in your feed and/or on the screen of your OTT, based on that recent engagement. Segmentation is more granular than ever; the next level evolution is ever more context.

3) Social Media and CRM – The figurative ‘white whale’ for most social and digital media pros is the ability to tie the ‘traditional’ CRM with all of the data from social media profiles and engagements. The social networks want to keep this data close and secure to force brands to pay to play (and to, uhh, protect us), when they know how much brands and publishers would jump at the ability to truly tie all touch points into a single customer view and CRM. Privacy certainly plays a pivotal role, but 2016 could be the year that social media CRM, even if it remains in a silo, becomes more usable and more available, especially to paying customers.

4) Contactless engagements – We are all walking data producing machines. And 2016 will be when the acceleration of contactless engagement, as well as passive vs. proactive, starts to take off. Whether it is knowing the route you take from car to seat in a venue, the ability to pay or enter a contest simply with a wave of the wrist, and ‘liking’ or sharing things without having to open an app on a device, engagements will become more streamlined and more frictionless. That means more data, more potential activity, and more user education, first and foremost.

5) Funnels will become more developed – We’re well-educated on customer journeys and funnels. But our ability to track, visualize, optimize, and influence these funnels is greater than ever (and more numerous than ever). With so many touch points, so much data known (and not known, but normalized or extrapolated), and different pathways produced for different prospects, we’ll get smarter and more sophisticated this year with not forcing funnels, but personalizing and contextualizing them to the nth degree. All of which ties into the next point…

6) Content will become more focused – Even the biggest sports teams and businesses are creating a few campaigns, collateral, and copy at a time. The more aspirational do some A/B split testing and use targeted and custom audiences and search ads. But most don’t and most still are more focused on reaching the fan/customer than reaching the fan/customer with the right message, content, and copy. This requires more legwork with copy, design, marketing, and social, but it will become increasingly more necessary and more effective/valuable with the rise of more granular segmented marketing, augmented by programmatic advertising options.

7) Relevance over Reach – We’ll still continue to love charts with big numbers, but another element will be added — the return on all that reach. While a solution will never be full-proof, there is an increasing ability, and demand, to track the bang for the buck. If exposure are not reaching the right people or accruing the desired outcomes, it’ll all be for naught. The shotgun method may still maintain some [albeit diminishing] value with concern rising more to relevance and return.

8) Responsive design will be superlative – The term “responsive design,” for me, conjures images of a bland, blatantly basic version of a desktop or ‘first screen’ experience. But, already and even more so every day, mobile is the first screen. Design needs to be less about delivering the bare minimum, a functional experience on mobile. It should be an optimized visual and experience, designed to delight just as much as, no – more, than its desktop and more ‘traditional’ counterparts. For many, mobile may be (pretty much) the only channel with which they engage with your brand. And more and more businesses and brands are realizing they must deliver a look and feel they can present with pride.

9) Excitement over apps – Have you seen lately, a slight but noticeable uptick in teams and media properties promoting their mobile apps? It’s no secret more fan time is being spent on mobile, much of which is spent on social media, often with their team’s or brand’s content. The move toward apps may stem from a desire to get away from social media’s pay-to-play, to truly own your audience and engagement [and data], and to provide a more frictionless way to reach fans and customers. Interaction and content will persist in the public parks of social networks, but teams will also prioritize their own properties, real estate and engagement they can command.

10) Media is changing…slowly – It’s an understatement to say that technology is outpacing the media and content marketplace. Viewership, content value, and so-called “ratings” are farcical in their fragmented attempts to truly track all the ways in which content is consumed now. It is evolving, but longstanding agreements and habits makes this a necessarily gradual process. Multi-channel property rights and activations are increasingly the new norm and brands are understanding, more than ever, the eyeballs and engagement they’re getting everywhere. Content produced for consumption anywhere – TV, online, on-site – will get valued more holistically, even as we appreciate more the different segments and channels fans are consuming it.

11) Polls and decisions will deliver more data [and it’s useable] –  Surveys and focus groups remain viable or marketing information. But with so much digital engagement, now, there are so many micro-level decisions that are teaching us more about the individual consumer and consumer cohorts than ever before. Twitter polls have potential for insights, of course, but so do all the data that come from other countless engagement decisions every day. From stories one shares, links one clicks, keywords one posts, profiles one views, outside transactions one makes, and, yes, how one responds to polls about everything from which snack is their go-to stadium treat to who their vote is for team rookie of the year…all of this comes out to incredibly unique, detailed fan profiles. Combine these profiles with programmatic analysis and the possibilities are potentially powerful.


12) The internationalization of social media – Did you catch the *35* different languages or which Twitter had “Happy New Year” hash tag emoji? (This on the heels of Moments launching with Twitter UK). Or how much the NBA has begun to embrace Tencent products and grown their Spanish language media? Snapchat and Instagram were all over curating New Year’s Eve celebrations from all over the world. For years, social media has made us connected as ever. And now, with the preponderance of visual media, including emoji, have allowed cultures and people to connect and engage around common themes and ideas and passions, regardless of language. Teams are noticing. Brands are noticing. Social networks are evolving. 2016 will not be the end, but perhaps a hastened beginning when social media truly connects us all globally, fans to fans, consumers to brands, and everything in between. [Particularly with the Olympics providing a HUGE opportunity!]

13) Partnerships will be more like…partnerships – Ever since content became a thing, advertisers have wanted to pay to get a piece of the consumer attention content commands. From print ads to TV commercials to those ubiquitous pop-up ads that somehow persist, there have been discrete deliverables for which sponsors pay to help “present” the content consumers really want. But with micro engagements and innumerable touch points being so prevalent now and the standard for “ads” being higher than ever to actually engage consumers (who can increasingly block or ignore ads), the time is ripe for a dramatic paradigm shift in the sponsor-publisher relationship. It has already started, but has, and will continue to, really pick up in the coming weeks, months, and years. “Partnership” won’t just be some jargon, teams and brands that partner up will truly be looking to help accomplish objectives, rather than reach some promised numbers (this won’t happen overnight). When a team sees a good opportunity to integrate a brand partner, they’ll do it, regardless of whether a contract calls for it specifically and explicitly. Brands will be focused more so on the return from their partnership rather than the predetermined stipulations laid out for a “x” number of tweets and Facebook posts (again, this will not change overnight). Sponsors will truly start to feel like partners, in the minds of teams, fans, and customers. And we’ll all be better for it.

What are you looking for in 2016? What has started in 2015 that will progress and mature in 2016? Every year brings new challenges, new possibilities, and gets us ever so closer to a tantalizing “future” when everything will be better. Or, at least, different. But don’t embrace  change just  for the sake of it or to keep up with your kids. Be thoughtful, be strategic, and don’t stray from greater principles and ideals that form the foundation of your success. The message doesn’t change much, but the mode for delivery, information behind the message, and ability to measure the reach and effectiveness of that message (and hone it) is evolving as a rapidly as ever. I’m ready for you, 2016, and I can’t wait to see what this new year brings.


Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn


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