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Social Media is changing, What does 2018 promise?

Trends are determined through the process of watching slow and progressive changes and seeing how they influence the bigger picture. In the world of social media change is rapid and determining trends is sometimes difficult due to the speed at which the changes occur. In order to see what is a real trend and what is just a passing phase, this article takes notes from numerous articles focusing on social media developments to compile a list of trends for 2018.

The one thing which must be taken into account is that social media is now firmly entrenched in the corporate sphere. Not only are consumers using social media to critique brands and products but brands in turn are using social media to interact with consumers. This is, in part, responsible for some of the developments which are taking place.

The one trend which came up in almost all of the articles considered for this feature was that of Chatbots. For those, like me, who are unsure of what a Chatbot is, it is an automated response system designed to make the user think they are interacting with a person. Essentially, it is almost Artificial Intelligence, but it is designed around a series of intelligent questions with predictable answers. An algorithm looks at the question asked and finds the first in a series of answers designed to bring about a final solution.

Take buying shoes for example. The user clicks on a style of shoes that he or she likes. Going through the process of selecting size and colour, along with any other relevant questions, the system is able to advise the user on availability and delivery times. The end result is that the user will purchase the shoes. This increases the chances of the sale being concluded and reduces the occurrence of abandoned baskets. The response is also better than with message-driven systems.

Chatbots will become the norm. Using Facebook Messenger as a benchmark, the number of chatbots in Messenger grew from 33 000 in 2016 to 100 000 in 2017. Chatbots are also to be found in other platforms such as WeChat, Slack, Viber and iMessage among others.

Another prevalent trend is the move from Social Media to Social Messaging in the corporate environment. This is due to the fact that messaging makes corporates appear more accessible. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have added messaging.

Augmented Reality will be a major area of growth in 2018. Not only have devices now reached the required level of maturity and technology but the demand is there and the number of companies working on solutions has expanded, further driving the rate of development. Social media will be one of the most logical and popular applications for Augmented Reality by bringing people together over vast distances in a more realistic and first-hand way and also providing the best social interaction via enhanced User Interfaces.

Live Streaming will become mainstream in 2018. While it became extremely popular in 2017, this year it will become the norm as more brands adopt this method of interacting with consumers. Video posts and live streaming have the highest levels of engagement of all posts. This is further enhanced by the fact that all social media platforms have adopted this and provide the technology to handle live video. Marketers are planning to spend more on video advertising across all platforms.

Live streaming has caused an improvement in the technology while at the same time driving the demand for further technological improvements designed to make live streaming more stable and accessible. As hardware developments continue to improve so the speed and clarity of live video streaming will improve and adoption rates will increase even further.

As one would expect, there is a strong trend towards Privacy and Content Control. Users are increasingly stringent about the use of their personal data. The recent Facebook debacle has brought this to light even more. It is likely to further drive demand for apps which do not sell or release user data. At the same time the social media companies will be required to moderate content in order to ensure that it meets the legal requirements as laid down in markets around the world. Social media platforms in general, have adopted a more hands-on approach to governing the content on their platforms.

While the majority of trends relate to the broader spectrum of social media platforms, there is one which focuses specifically on Twitter. Twitter has not only seen a lack of growth over the past year, but has actually seen a decline in users numbers. This will require Twitter to make a number of fundamental changes if it is to survive. A number of suggestions have been flouted including selling the company or the introduction of a subscription element.

As already stated, video streaming will be growing, an extension of this is digital hangouts. This is essentially a digital means for Generation Zers to hang out in a digital environment. Apps such as Houseparty are gaining in popularity with more than a million users per day. The extremely rapid adoption of this technology has resulted in Facebook investigating ways to incorporate similar technology into its platform. This is also in response to the development by Instagram of its Stories platform.

The future of social media and those companies which have a presence on the various social media platforms depends on their ability to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. An interesting fact from the various articles which have been written about social media is the fact that the first of the Generation Zers are starting to enter the workplace and, as a result, will start to have an increasing impact on the marketplace as their spending power grows.

What all of this means to companies and brands is that they are going to have to become more tech-savvy and flexible in order to respond more quickly to their customers who are using social media for more than social interaction. They are responding to advertising and interacting and relating to products in a far more real and engaged manner. This means that brands which are not present in the social media realm are ‘missing’ from their customers’ worlds.

Consider that on Instagram alone, there are more than 375 million active users per month communicating via Instagram Direct. In more widespread terms there are in the region of 2,5 billon social media users worldwide. That is a full one third of the planet’s population and it is growing exponentially. That is a substantial market if you are part of it, but if you are not, you are clearly missing out.

From the drivers of social media, the rate of development is only going to increase as consumers demand faster, better and more interactive methods of contact. Ignore social media at your peril!

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