From breaking down walled gardens to augmented reality adoption: Five predictions for social in 2018

What's in store for social media marketers in the new year? From Instagram's dominance to growth in AR, columnist Laura Collins predicts the trends that will shape 2018.

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Crystal Ball Ss 1920The hangover has just faded. Diets are starting. Gyms are full to the brim. It must be January. And with all that self-reflection and salad comes hope and excitement for the year ahead. What does 2018 have in store?

Personally, I’m hoping for a kitten and a lottery win. But as for the world of social media — if 2017 is anything to go by, it’ll be full of surprises. Here are my top five predictions for the year ahead in social.

1. Breaking into the walled garden

Way back in January 2017, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, set the tone for the year with his industry-shaking keynote speech at the IAB’s annual leadership conference. In it, he took aim at various targets, but Facebook and Google sat firmly at the top of the list. He announced that P&G was done with accepting the duopoly’s self-regulated metrics, and would be demanding that all partners adopt third-party, accredited verification of audience numbers.

P&G is the biggest advertiser on Earth, so this speech rang very loud alarm bells for those on the iron throne of digital. But more than that, it sent ripples through the industry and got all advertisers thinking about the frankly quite low standards these platforms had previously been held to.

For years there’s been frustration with both “walled gardens” and the almost impossible feat of achieving a fully holistic view of a user journey. Add to that a catalog of measurement errors from Facebook in the last 18 months, and the rose-tinted glasses were starting to fall off.

In 2018, this growing discontent is only likely to get louder. Facebook can no longer continue to hide its data in an opaque bubble. It must provide more transparency and opportunities for integration with third-party tools — otherwise, it risks that frustration turning into decreased revenue.

2. A boost for Snapchat’s ad revenue

Snapchat Growth

It wasn’t the best year for Snapchat. After its IPO in March, stock prices rapidly fell, and earnings for 2017 were significantly lower than expected. Meanwhile, after brazenly stealing Snapchat’s ideas with its own take on stories, Instagram’s version surpassed its predecessor with more than 200 million daily active users in April, just eight months after it was launched.

But Snapchat is learning very rapidly from its earlier mistakes. Where before there were large minimum spends, now there are none. It recently released a pixel to address accusations of a lack of transparency or ability to measure ROI. And a total redesign of its app is a response to older users reportedly struggling to navigate the interface.

While all these changes were made last year, you don’t shake off a reputation overnight. Many advertisers are still under the impression that Snapchat is just an expensive way to target teenagers, with no ability to measure success. This year, I predict the message that this is no longer the case should start to sink in and Snapchat will see ad revenue grow from an increasingly diverse group of advertisers.

3. Instagram’s #dominance

Just last month, Instagram announced the new capability for users to follow hashtags, as well as other users.

IG Follow Hashtags

For now, this is strictly organic, but it’s only a matter of time before it gets monetized. Advertisers could pay to target followers of particular hashtags, or perhaps appear in the “top posts” section for those relevant to their business.

This will add another arrow to Instagram’s already jam-packed quiver. The platform enjoys almost all the targeting and ad format options available on Facebook, alongside its own unique features such as the aforementioned Instagram stories.

The platform has a rapidly growing user base and ad revenue. And while it continues to innovate in ways that appeal to both users and advertisers, this is unlikely to stop — 2018 will be huge for Instagram.

4. AR trumps VR

Don’t worry, I’m not getting political. That’s trump with a small “t.” Hype has been building for some time over the variety of ways in which we can escape plain old reality in favor of more exciting versions. Augmented reality and virtual reality are often lumped together when talking about the latest tech trends, and both are perfect candidates for use on social platforms. But one seems much more likely to take off than the other: AR.

Virtual reality certainly looks flashier. With the right headset, you can immerse yourself in a different world, often with hilarious consequences. And there is huge potential for advertisers willing to tap into this technology: virtual test drives, exploring a hotel without leaving your house, being in the trailer for the latest blockbuster… the possibilities are endless.

But there’s a statement you may have skipped over there: “with the right headset.” And those headsets aren’t cheap. They are getting cheaper, however, with Facebook-owned Oculus dropping the Rift headset to $399 and HTC knocking $200 off Vive. But they aren’t just offering lucky customers a bargain. It’s in response to disappointing sales.

So, while VR is inaccessible for the swathes of users who haven’t purchased the right equipment, AR is readily available for anyone with a smartphone. Snapchat has long been the king of mainstream augmented reality thanks to its lenses. Last year saw a hot dog achieve world domination, simultaneously throwing AR into the spotlight and proving it’s become a part of our everyday lives.

Snap has just released its new Lens Studio developer tool, which will allow anyone to create world lenses full of imaginary objects, hot dog or otherwise. And other platforms are trying to keep up with their own releases, such as Facebook’s World Effects.

As long as VR headsets come with such a high price tag, they’re unlikely to become mainstream enough to make a huge impact. AR, on the other hand, has already achieved that status, and 2018 should see huge growth in the number of advertisers that are tapping into its potential to engage with users.

5. A Twitter revolution

Twitter Revolution

Poor Twitter. It’s been struggling for years to build its user base and is yet to turn a profit. Slow growth in 2017 has left investors no more optimistic about its prospects. To me, this year feels like it has to be a turning point for the platform — it’s sink or swim. They need to dramatically rethink their positioning and ad product in order to survive.

There are certain occasions when an advertiser couldn’t want for a better platform than Twitter. It’s the place where conversations are started, where modern history is made, or where modern political leaders go for a rant. If you have a relevant message at the right time, you can make a huge impact. But launch a run-of-the-mill campaign promoting a new line of summer dresses, and you won’t.

Twitter is already taking steps towards changing its primary offering. Last year, it announced over 35 premium video content partnerships designed to turn the platform into a destination for high-quality entertainment. Its new pre-roll and mid-roll ads will offer advertisers brand-safe inventory with high visibility standards and a chance to target people who are highly engaged and predisposed to view video content.

Time will tell how successful this shift from social network to broadcaster turns out to be, but this kind of dramatic change is likely the only thing that can turn around Twitter’s fortunes. I hope at the end of 2018 we can look back and see it as the year Twitter revolutionized the platform and truly distinguished itself from its peers, driving the increase in users and ad revenue it needs.

Final thoughts

Social is such a rapidly evolving platform that hardly a day goes by without an update or innovation that’s worth shouting about. So much so that in a year’s time, it may be that none of these predictions appear on a “trends of 2018” list. But that’s all part of the fun. Here’s to another exciting year…

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Laura Collins
Laura Collins is senior director of digital delivery at UK-based paid media agency, Merkle. In her eight years in digital marketing, she has acquired in-depth knowledge of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and several other platforms. She has managed accounts across a range of sectors with a specialisation in finance and retail.

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