We’re back with part one of our social media trend forecast for 2017!

A picture is worth a thousand words…so Instagram is our big bet for the future! It’s likely to be a big winner as non-visual social media platforms like Twitter are losing ground and edging towards oblivion. Image-based social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat aren’t just gaining users, especially after Instagram’s addition of ‘Stories’, but are also seeing more time spent on the platforms as well as increased engagement from shoppers. Twitter’s acquisition of Periscope bought it time, but Snap, Instagram and Pinterest are where the influencers gather – especially amongst celebrity millennials and Generation Z-ers, who are venturing away from a grown-up-infested Facebook.

Facebook is still the most popular social platform by volume, but its growth is slowing down compared to other platforms and the fashion and lifestyle influencers have long gone to Snapchat and Instagram. For fashion, interiors, toys and the turbo-charged growing cosmetics sectors that thrive on photography, an image-based social presence has been proven to attract more shoppers than text-heavy pages.

Brands that have already benefited from Instagram marketing success include Nike and Ben and Jerry’s, as well as luxe label Gucci, who, after years in the ‘passé’ category, has bounced back via Instagram under the courageous leadership of Alessandro Michele. Pinterest may find itself in the eye of a social media storm because of the way it toys with inspiration and aspiration, which we think younger consumers are going to seek more of in the coming years. Brands should rekindle their love for photography and reclaim visual platforms with increased investment into visual content marketing, not only through 360° video but also via blog images, infographics and social media posts.

No more humans! Messeneger-based social media platforms have the highest amount of users, but as a result of consumer cynicism towards traditional advertising and the desire for a more engaging and personalised customer journey, a Facebook-messenger-style chatbot is emerging as a key marketing tool. Companies using Facebook and Instagram have already seen how messenger functions have helped to make customer service even more efficient, which suits the more independent approach of the under-35s. Since chatbots can guide consumers through their customer journeys in an interactive and less obtrusive way, they’re going to become a much bigger part of marketing strategies in 2017. Not only that, but chatbots will be able to accurately analyse shoppers’ individual preferences to deliver as personalised a service as possible. For foodies, a Whole Foods virtual chef chatbot helps you to find recipes even if you are a fruitarian, using emojis as the key to your gut’s desires. Through Kik Messenger, other brands including Sephora and H&M have also increased customer engagement with their chatbots, which provide an online personal shopping experience. In fact, the potential for chatbots to offer accurate and targeted advice has been glimpsed at across a number of fields, including fashion styling, make-up consultations and even medicine.

The rise of dark social In light of the high numbers of users on messaging channels, dark social is a growing problem for marketers that want to track brand-sharing efforts. ‘Dark social’ is a term coined in 2012 that describes the pesky social sharing of content that web analytics simply cannot track. As messaging platforms such as WhatsApp strive to protect users’ data via encryption, it’s much harder for brands to track how they’re being shared. Over three-quarters of shared content from marketers and publishers is shared privately. As people rightly grow more concerned about privacy and over-sharing on social media, and messaging platforms go from strength to strength (even more so with the introduction of messaging on Instagram), we predict the problem of dark social for brands will get even bigger in 2017. This year, brands will have to scratch their heads and try to find ways to better understand the impact of their social media outreach and how they’re shared if they are to invest accurately and reach their target audience. Brands such as Ghirardelli, Adidas, Clarks and Time Inc have already come up with innovative ideas to tackle this problem, such as dedicated marketing ‘squads’ for WhatsApp. Businesses, take note!

Influencer marketing and brand advocacy The consumer search for authenticity is increasing the influence of blogger and celebrity brand relationships. It’s a strategy that enables brands to put their arms around up-and-coming stylists, fashion leaders and general movers-and-shakers to connect with their local digital audiences.

Local is better than global and this trust increases with proximity. By using well loved local celebrities (e.g. Doutzen Kroes for Hunkemöller), popular or cult bloggers and Instagrammers (e.g. Emily Weiss or Chiara Ferragni) as champions of social media, brands are finding ways to build relationships with a variety of audiences through influencers, be it surfers, hipsters, vegans or coffee-lovers. This is why Snapchat and Instagram are quickly becoming the platforms of choice for many brands as they allow consumers who identify with particular figures to then identify with brands in an intimate way. Shoppers seem to be getting wise to marketing quickly, and we forecast that influencers who lack a strong enough identity and authenticity will risk becoming transparent and redundant quickly. This year will be about strong personalities and social media heroes.

From polygamy to monogamy When brands first latched onto the selling and advertising potential of social media, an account was made on each and every platform. However, expect to see brands hone investment to specific platforms in 2017 according to their target audience. Older demographics like Next or Marks & Spencer have done well on Facebook, while their Instagram accounts remain light on engagement. Younger brands are focusing on Snapchat and may end up not even running a Facebook account at all – particularly when Instagram launches their rumoured e-commerce feature. This split could lead to a greater divide between these platforms based on their individual strengths, as brands create platform-specific strategies to reach their audiences. On the upside, the budgets may get bigger for more impressive creative solutions on a single platform rather than being split across many. Social media platforms seem to have their own personalities, with Instagram being more urban and young compared to the older, wealthier, female users of Pinterest. Expect brands to start capitalising on these differences and maximising one or two platforms of choice instead of spreading their resources too thinly across many. Inspo for 2017? Be convincing on your own terms!

By Eva Pascoe and Stephanie Stapleton