“I googled you on Facebook!” shouted a fellow hiker to an old friend he bumped into on the mountain. Wait . . . what? That doesn’t make sense; as a self-proclaimed techie, overhearing this abomination left me cringing, but also made me think: Could the social media giant reduce our beloved Google to a mere verb?

Every month there are new plays made by the social powerhouses, and mind-blowing innovations become reality. The social landscape is on a takeover path, and there are quite a few changes in store for us in 2017. Here’s a glimpse of what to expect.

 

Augmented reality and wearables

AR plus social media is a match made in heaven. Immersive experiences are the future of how we connect and share online. 2016 will forever be known as the year of Pokémon Go, the app that got us off our chairs and into the real world, bumping into other fanatics on street corners. When it comes to wearables, the hype around Google Glass might have been too soon, but there’s no doubt that the future of social will be whatever and wherever we want it to be. Imagine: instead of viewing your friend’s holiday snaps, being able to share a cocktail with the person in Bora Bora during your lunch break.

Scommerce

Social commerce, or scommerce, is the next phase of the e-commerce experience. Scommerce will be the driving force behind mobile shopping, making it natural for users to do purchases on the go. The expected explosion of the buy buttons on Instagram and Pinterest are yet to contribute toward sales, but why? This could be due to the information overload we’re already experiencing on these platforms, the lack of inventory structures and browsing capabilities. But instead of taking e-commerce to social media, why not take social to e-commerce? In the movie The Intern, Anne Hathaway plays a founder of the fashion e-commerce startup About the Fit; they introduce a new feature enabling users to see what other shoppers put in their carts in real time. This creates a demand for items, and makes online shopping more interactive and social—which is something we’ve been waiting for.

 

Lenses, filters, masks and more

Social media has created a demand to showcase our best selves online. With beautifying apps and colour-saturation filters, everyone is a supermodel. Snapchat took the filter culture one step further and embraced augmented reality through live animated masks; the app now has 10 billion daily video views. As new platforms pop up, the big players need to keep up. Facebook acquired the Masquerade face-tracking and 3D effects–rendering SDK (software development kit), and is now offering face masks on its live video—basically Periscope meets Snapchat. All we can do now is wait for the next big thing, and hopefully it improves our selfies.

 

Total domination, or niche segmentation

As seen by addictive Snapchat filters, innovation is exploding in the social media space, but what all the big players do is recreate their ideas on their all-inclusive platforms. Is the space being monopolised by the heavy hitters, or will platforms start to segment into niche networks? Until recently, there were three major players in the social media space: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which each filled slightly different niches. This has changed to include Snapchat and Instagram (now acquired by Facebook). As each social network becomes overcrowded by ads, and their newsfeed algorithms can’t keep up organising relevant content, there will be no other option than segmentation. Moms will flock to their specialised social network to share their magic moments, and the fitness fanatics will post their #inspo posts on their niche network.

 

Social search

Back to “I googled you on Facebook.” Social media will become the future of search engines. When you hear about a new restaurant, it’s now a toss-up between googling it or searching for its Facebook page to view up-to-date patron reviews and real images. Apart from search, there has always been a debate between the influence of social media on search engine optimisation. The Twitter Firehouse deal with Google in 2015 was a game changer. Google is now indexing selected tweets, which provides real-time updates to your search results page. Brands are latching onto Twitter as a part of their SEO strategy, which actually alters the core of the conversation platform to be more broadcast-focused. It’s early days for social indexing, but the merge between search and social will come sooner than we think; if only Google+ had hit it off, the war would’ve been over before it started.

 

The everyday influencer

If ever there were a social network killer, sponsored content would be the number-one suspect. The advertising content overload on our newsfeed is enough to make us run for the hills. What we’re mainly interested in is what our friends are doing. With the rise of social came the rise of the ‘social media celebrity’: an influencer in the space with a large following of fans interested in their content. Brands pay big bucks to get these influencers to curate posts about their products, which results in sales from loyal followers. With any advertising message, trust is the determining factor. Do you trust a brand is the best because it says so, or because the insta-celebrity says so, or maybe even because your friends say so? The rise of the everyday influencer is imminent; brands will enlist a larger number of users to review their products or services, and post their experiences to their network.

 

Changing the way you work

Social media has changed the way we stay in touch with our friends and family, but what about how we work? Some organisations have banned social media sites in the workplace for productivity reasons, but some have embraced the platforms as a means to improve efficiency, staff morale and project management. Workplace by Facebook is an app that allows organisations to build teams and collaborate on projects without the distraction of sponsored content or one’s personal newsfeed. But surprisingly enough, Workplace for Facebook, even without the ads, is not a favourite business communication tool. Slack has become the social network where we spend our workdays. Traditionally a business communication and project management tool, users are now sharing music and making lunch plans through their Slack channels. The key to workplace social networking is focus: We want to be able to interact without being distracted with funny cat memes and ads for Dunkin’ Donuts.

 

Time to go live

Live video has been around for ages, from watching sports matches to being able to see your local radio DJ in studio via webcam. But social media live streaming is still in its infancy. Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Periscope Pro are the frontrunners, though the live revolution has not even started in earnest—it’s looking for someone to take the lead. We’ll be able to broadcast our very own reality TV show at the tap of a button.
The way we communicate personally and in business is evolving at an overwhelming speed—we just can’t keep up! But should we just roll up on the couch and not give SmileVine a go? (Before you google that, it doesn’t exist yet . . .) I guess the key is to incorporate social media into your business and daily life and just go with the flow. Take it easy and see what works for you and your business. You may miss a few trends, but don’t worry: There’ll be something even wilder just around the corner.
Tacita McEvoy is the founder of the Cape Town–based digital marketing agency Social Media Now, and a partner in the accelerator/incubator Idea Camp

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