4 Ways the Social Media Landscape Will Change in 2016 — & What It Means for You

It feels like just yesterday that I was putting together this post on content trends for 2015 — and now it’s time to start thinking about trends for next year! We’ve seen some really interesting advancements in the content and social media spaces over the past year, and research indicates that we’ll see some even greater strides in 2016.

One of the most interesting studies I’ve read recently is Gartner’s Top Strategic Predictions for 2016 and Beyond: The Future Is a Digital Thing, a report published in October that delves into the evolving relationship between man and machine. The key takeaway? “Smart”and predictive technologies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and that applies to our business lives as much as it does to our personal ones.

By 2018, 20% of all business content will be authored by machines. 

By 2020, smart agents will facilitate 40% of mobile interactions, and the post-app era will begin to dominate.

By 2018, 6 billion connected things will be requesting support.

The implications of our increasingly smart world are both inspiring and frightening (as a copywriter, hearing that machines are making their way into the content realm is particularly scary!). As I started thinking about 2016 trends, it quickly became apparent that many of these same digital themes are making their way into the content marketing and social media spaces — and have been for some time.

Let’s take a look at some of the key trends we can expect to see over the next year. How will content and social — both already digital in so many ways — become increasingly digital in 2016?

1. Social media will be real time…like, really real time.

If you spend any time on social media (and let’s be honest, one billion people are logging into Facebook every single day), you’ve probably noticed that there’s been a movement toward real-time content over the past year. Now, I’m not talking about your Facebook feed, which updates in real time — I’m talking about the movement toward real-time, live updates of our lives, of news, of “in-the-moment” happenings. Think about how quickly the Snapchat application took off, which gives users the ability to capture and share moments in their lives as they happen. Or, the acquisition of Periscope — a live-streaming app that allows users to broadcast moments in real-time — by Twitter earlier this year. We’re seeing a movement toward a completely connected, totally up-to-date social sphere — and the risk of businesses falling “behind the times” is now a realer threat than ever.

2. You’ll never have to leave your apps.

This year, we started to see the apps we use every day — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. — becoming more and more robust, often slipping news articles, restaurant recommendations, and other immersive content into our news feeds without us even having to ask for them. We’ve also seen platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram introduce “buy it” functionality from directly within the app. While this can certainly toe the line between helpful and creepy, the point is that social platforms know more and more about us every day, and are going to continue to use this information to keep us inside our apps as much as possible.

Take, for instance, the example of Facebook’s M, a virtual assistant introduced in August that lives inside the Facebook Messenger App. Think of it like Siri in the way that it can respond to inquiries, complete tasks, provide recommendations, book your restaurant reservations, and more. The difference is that M is a hybrid artificial intelligence that is powered by people on the backend. While M is still being tested and has yet to be introduced at scale, it provides an interesting look at ways that social platforms are creating immersive experiences for users based on personal data. From a business perspective, where personalization on social networks can quickly become invasive if done incorrectly, it will be interesting to see how businesses adapt to this increasingly immersive and personal social environment.

3. Concerns over privacy will grow.

Given my point above, it’s no surprise that concerns over data privacy are growing. Think about how a simple change to your relationship status on Facebook can trigger an onslaught of ads and sponsored posts about wedding venues or engagement photography — or how one click on an article will prompt a series of related articles to appear in your news feed or sidebar. While these updates may be welcome to some, and are arguably helpful in many instances, users like to maintain at least an illusion of privacy when going about their business on social media, and that illusion is quickly being shattered by smarter and smarter social applications.

On the business side, expect your buyers to become increasingly reluctant to provide their personal information — not just on social media, but across the board. We already know that too many form fields can deter users from filling out a form, and that many users lie about their phone numbers when asked for them, but I would expect this reluctance to grow as eyes are opened to the power of technology to collect and use this data.

4. Organic traffic will be more important than ever — but also more difficult to attract.

I know, I know — the fact that your buyers are conducting research on their own before contacting a vendor is not new news. But the fact remains: 74% of business buyers are conducting more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase, and that research often begins with a simple Google search. Because of this, it’s becoming more and more important that companies pay careful attention to their organic traffic, so that they’re not missing out on valuable website traffic as buyers conduct their research and digest content online.

The problem is that paid advertising — including advertising on social channels — has been proving its ROI for business use more and more, which means not only a rise in the cost and popularity of advertising, but also a decrease in organic visibility as businesses are incentivized to buy more advertising space. For instance, Facebook has been catching flack for their diminishing organic reach (according to 2014 research from Edgerank Checker and a more recent study by Social@Ogilvy, organic reach has dropped from 16% in 2012 to as low as 2% in 2015). This has been attributed to a number of reasons, but notably a greater emphasis on paid advertising.

What other trends can we expect to see in the social media landscape in 2016? What are your thoughts on the move toward a progressively more digital social and content experience? Scroll down and let us know in the comments!