by Richard Sunley | January 17, 2017
2016 was a big year for social media. From Facebook's big push in live video, to Instagram muscling in on Snapchat's stories format, the tussle between social networks has been fierce as each platform battles for a share of your attention. We've also seen social media affect globally significant events like the "Brexit" referendum in the UK and the U.S. election, as politicians wise up to the impact social networks can have on public opinion. We're now spending almost 2 hours a day on social media or about 15 percent of our time awake.

So what will 2017 bring and what social media trends do businesses need to be aware of next year? That's the question we posed to some of the biggest names in the social media world. Here are 3 trends they expect to see next year.

1. The power of social media giants will increase

It's no secret that the giants of social media world want people to spend more time on their networks and not your own website. As user numbers grow and internet users spend an increasing amount of time on social, it's time for social media marketers to work out how this will affect their strategy in 2017.

"Algorithms, bots, artificial intelligence, and people working for very big companies will destroy the business models of people who produce content by disrupting the free flow of information," says Michael Stelzner, CEO and founder of Social Media Examiner. "In the very near future, information flow will be filtered and measured and censored in the name of 'reducing clutter' and revealing 'only what's important.' Facebook will decide what you see. Google will serve up only that content that complies with its rules and are housed on its servers."

2. The social storytelling evolution

Good storytelling has always been a key component of effective marketing, long before social networks even existed. But social media innovations are changing the way audiences consume stories and influencers predict that brands will need to keep up with the evolution of social storytelling if they want to remain relevant.

"In 2017, we're going to see more emphasis on 'social storytelling' to help better engage audiences on social platforms," says Andrew Hutchinson, content and social media manager for Social Media Today. "Now, storytelling is nothing new of course -- it's been a key part of how we interact since the dawn of time -- but new uses of social, like Snapchat Stories, which add more context and immediacy to what we share, are changing audience expectations on how we communicate our messages."

Pratik Dhola, cofounder of E2MSolutions and PreceptistHQ, adds that the importance of social media influencers in the travel and tourism sector is likely to expand. 

"They may be invited to go on junkets and share their experiences using the latest features on social media viz 360-degree videos, live streaming, vlogs etc.," he says. "Additionally, social media reaction buttons are the 'next big thing' for various channels. We have already seen them on Facebook and how marketers can use them to increase user engagements on a page or a post. In the near future, we can definitely expect something similar."

3. Virtual reality meets social media

In 2016 virtual, augmented, and mixed reality took the world by storm. With the giants of tech all investing heavily in this new area 2017 could be the year that VR adoption becomes widespread and enters the realm of social networks.

"In 2017 we will see the next phase of platform adoption in VR, including Facebook's Oculus," says Martin Shervington, business consultant and tech blogger. "We know this is 10-year plan for Facebook, and having been diving deep I think people will be surprised at the existing level of sophistication. Add in HTC and Google to the mix, and we will have increased understanding of the potential of virtual spaces - including what it will mean for social and business. Add in consumer 360 content to the mix, with a push from YouTube and Facebook too, there will be fun for consumers and producers alike. (It's time to get creative and ready to explore what we all know will be a big wave of change." END

4. From social networks to social messaging

While the increasing usage of social networks is a regular feature of online news, user numbers pale in comparison to social messaging apps. The biggest social messaging apps now have a larger community than the biggest social networks with market leader WhatsApp hitting the 1 billion user mark in February 2016.

"Until recently, companies had focused their efforts on social networks, but in 2017, they will start investing massively in social messaging applications," says Isabelle Mathieu, consultant, trainer, and founder of the blog emarketinglicious. "These apps have a wide audience and offer several attractive features to brands for ecommerce and client support. Let's not forget that the four main messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber) together have a wider community than the four main social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram)."

5. More targeting and more integration

With growing numbers of people using social networks, the level of noise on social media is also increasing, making it harder and harder for brand messages to be heard. Experts predict that this will lead to a greater need for targeting messages using smart technological integrations and better social media tactics.

"Social media doesn't exist in a vacuum, although it is sometimes managed in such a way that it is with limited integration with other parts of marketing," says Dave Chaffey, CEO of digital marketing advice site Smart Insights. "In 2017, I'm expecting to see more use of services and APIs to integrate social media with CRM, Marketing Automation, and social media prospecting and retargeting ad platforms. For example, when Vauxhall Motors partnered with Twitter to send personalized videos to football fans via direct messages from players in the Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales national teams, thanking them for their ongoing support. The individual targeting of the personalized content will be sent out on the platform

6. Trust is the next frontier

The growth of fake news has had a major impact on people's trust of information on social networks. Not just news and political statements, but even brand messages. With so much competition for digital space, experts predict that next year, it will be the brands that can foster genuine trust with their audience on social that will be successful.

"In just about every digital vertical we are seeing the same trend: technology is producing incremental improvements in the user experience and the flow of data captured is producing an ever increasing granularity in the way we connect with people, companies, and brands to create working relationships, form impressions of them, and understand the values that drive them," says David Amerland, author, speaker, and semantic search expert. "This produces the interesting paradox of the importance of human qualities in a domain that is increasingly controlled by machines. When the traditional barriers to connectivity -- lack of proximity, access to content, an interactive digital presence, and a high-quality connection -- are removed, what remains is the perception of whether we can trust who we are dealing with or not. Trust in a digital environment where every step we take is a studied one and where everything can be controlled, altered, and manipulated presents both a challenge and an opportunity." 

He maintains that the challenge is in understanding the many ways trust is experienced and formed. Opportunity comes as a result of connecting with audiences in a way that has lasting value. 

"Neither of these can be undertaken lightly, nor can it be said to be easy but it is how companies, brands and individuals will now differentiate themselves from the crowd, form networks of contacts that give them influence and establish their dominance in a crowded marketplace," he adds.

7. Businesses will need to learn to sell on social

In the end it comes down to the bottom line. Can we trace revenues back to social media activity? Getting better at selling on social will be key for both social networks and the businesses that use social media in 2017 say experts.

"In 2017, business will have to figure out what works for them in Social Media," says Marsha Collier, author of numerous books and founder of #CustServ chat and #techradio podcast. There's been a lot of new platforms distracting from the end goal of selling. Rather than chasing shiny objects everywhere, center on the psychographics (what your customer cares about) versus their demographics. These days, passions are more powerful than statistical data."

Richard Sunley oversees marketing and communications for Talkwalker, one of the world's leading social data intelligence companies. Its cutting-edge technology provides actionable social media insights through real-time social listening and advanced social media analytics.