The trouble with predictions is it's quite easy to look foolish when presenting yourself as an authority on comms when the reality turns out to be anything but. Last year more than one blog was hyping up Ello and insisting you needed to have a strategy for this platform or your business would die. Or words to that effect.
Nonetheless, I thought I'd have a stab at highlighting a few trends that are worth paying attention to in 2016.
Mobile messengers comes of age
It's hardly a leap of faith to say that Facebook Messenger - and other private comms channel apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat - will continue to grow in popularity. And that presents some interesting challenges.
Firstly, Messenger is getting serious about commerce. The recent partnership with Uber, where you can order you cab from within Messenger, is one such indication. While a lot of brands boast about their attribution success from within social, the development of Messenger commerce should provide some of the strongest data from Facebook yet - all while bypassing the news feed. If you've followed WeChat's roadmap this probably isn't a surprise and it probably won't be long until other private messaging apps follow suit.
Of course, the other challenge for marketers is the more people spend time within Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc, the harder it is to reach with the broad based spray and pray comms (which, yes, still goes on despite the targeting and data options available). It's intrusive to gatecrash these conversations and social customer service agents could play a key role here.
The news feed is dead, long live the news feed
The impact of the shift to Messenger and the like is going to require a shift in strategy for marketers on both Facebook and Twitter, especially for those brands who've invested heavily in building a Facebook presence. Hundreds of thousands of fans are largely irrelevant if they're all busy private messaging rather than checking their news feed.
Maintaining a Facebook presence is useful as a hub but as Facebook keeps tweaking its algorithm to be more useful to users, brands have to be more innovative in how they get in front of consumers.
Facebook still remains one of the most effective platforms both for scale and targeting but it places even more emphasis on the creative. There are still a lot of brands and agencies who treat Facebook as another display channel but with the right creative it can be so much more.
For those with the right content - either on or off platform - and the right approach to targeting, a solid paid strategy could be very rewarding. Many other companies will continue to burn through spend on this channel though, while those who still think they can achieve a viral hit of their content will be waiting a long time.
Twitter, meanwhile, will remain the go-to place for real time but their continuing tinkering with the core feed betrays a nervousness. There are some smart innovations - Moments looks strong - but whether it will address the fundamental shift in their users to use other platforms for conversation and Twitter for broadcasting is unclear. Expect plenty of innovation in this area.
Voice and visual search to pose some interesting questions for Google
While it's unlikely that Google will be under threat anytime soon, there's a few developments in this area that are worth watching. Voice search is an area that fascinates me, with mobile phone users increasingly asking Siri and Cortana to perform tasks they'd ordinarily type into Google.
Similarly, Facebook's own virtual assistant, M, will also be performing a similar job within the Facebook platform. If these gain significant traction, it could lead to some interesting questions for the PPC sector.
It's also worth keeping an eye on Pinterest's development as a search engine. Earlier this year, the network launched its visual search tool, which enabled people to search within images. If Pinterest can get the back-end data ordering right, this is a potentially hugely attractive offering to advertisers, useful to users and a little bit of a threat to Google.
Plenty of companies are looking at visual search - and plenty of monitoring companies are now offering visual brand monitoring - but Pinterest is the network with the most logical monetisation roadmap.
Distribution is a fundamental issue
2015 was the year that brands who really got it realised that distribution was as important as the content itself, if not more so, while the braver publishers ceded a level of control to social networks. 2016 should be the year when the distribution issue finally shakes out. Make no mistake, there will be some casualties.
From a branded content perspective, any attempt to simply release the same piece of content across multiple platforms and push it on influencers will be the surest way to fail. As previously mentioned, paid becomes a key player, while carefully crafted campaigns may avoid certain platforms entirely.
Some brands may abandon the idea of the brand blog or hub on their own website. Nescafe moved to Tumblr earlier this year - although questions around how this affects their SEO strategy still remain - while other brands may decide maintaining a blog isn’t worth the trouble.
SEO professionals may have something to say about this - and any business would be foolish to abandon Google juice in favour of the next shiny network - but some companies may find the likes of Medium, LinkedIn Pulse or Groups, Tumblr or YouTube to be a more effective medium for their core audience than their own offering.
Meanwhile publishers have some difficult decisions to make. Nescafe’s leap onto Tumblr may have grabbed headlines, but there is a wider point about the death of the homepage as a destination. For generalist news providers, this has meant ceding control to Facebook within Instant Articles or releasing videos solely on Snapchat or Twitter, with BuzzFeed, naturally leading the way.
The biggest issue for publishers is while this may gain them more eyeballs, it’s difficult to see how such a strategy will do the same for eyeballs. Facebook, as ever, looks like the big winner here.
YouTube to continue its transition into mainstream broadcaster
Facebook stole many of the headlines in 2015 as it made a big play for the online video space. But while the numbers may have been impressive, this doesn’t mean YouTube’s in trouble just yet. On Facebook, the 10 second video rules, but if you’re looking for a channel with engaged users who are willing to invest several minutes in content (and with deeper metrics than Facebook’s 3 second view count), then YouTube is still the place to go.
What Facebook - and other platforms, especially Snapchat and Vine - have done is to force YouTube into behaviour that isn’t a million miles away from the likes of ITV. YouTube has based its most recent advertising campaign around its stars, has launched subscription service YouTube Red, and has been looking to tie some of its best known talent into significant deals.
YouTube could probably survive the loss of, say, Zoella, if she decided to up sticks and move completely to another site (although many YouTubers are savvy enough to diversify across platforms) but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see YouTube enter into a kind of contract bidding war to keep the likes of Jamie Oliver providing exclusive content for the platform.
I’d love to hear your predictions, so let me know in the comments below.