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2017 is the year social gets serious about paid, journeys and dark networks

Anyone with social in their marketing mix is used to constant change. Facebook updates, platforms buying other networks, new formats and the shifting preferences of consumers. 2017 though promises change on a different scale. Change that makes social a serious business. Katy Howell, CEO, Immediate Future explains further.

THE CHANGES in 2017 will mean retailers will have to stop chasing vanity metrics or treating social as a ‘nice to have’. Those that don’t change will slide into obscurity. Those that do grab the social opportunity will take the lead. Let me explain.

If you want to be social you need to pay: In 2016, the social networks made it clear: spend on advertising, or you won’t reach your customers. This could have seen brands leave social for good, but it didn’t. In fact, the results were so outstanding that paid social media grew faster than expected. And by 2017 social network ad spend is expected to reach $35.98bn (£28.28bn).

Now, all the networks have propositions that let you target, drive action, retarget and get your message in front of your audiences. The tools are there, your audience is receptive and the results are proven. Investing in social ads will be critical in 2017 – it’s your gateway to social success.

Focus on the journey, not just the sale. If you aren’t attributing your sales across the customer purchase journey then you are missing a trick. For starters we know that 70% of consumers trust reviews written by customers. Yet, again, and again, internet retailers focus on only selling products through social. Many are too focused on the next quarter revenues to see that it is the brands that ‘nurture’ the purchase in social that are winning.

Personalisation is the key to maximising the value across the purchase journey. Language, content and context must change through the journey and consumers are inspired, consider buying and eventually purchase if they feel valued. Some 86% of consumers say personalisation plays a role in their purchase decision. It is time to slice and dice your data across social and understand how best to motivate and drive sales.

It isn’t just what you say to your customer, it’s where you say it. When the journey is mapped by device you see another trend that is firmly fixed for 2017: Nearly 80% of social media time is now spent on mobile. Yet for many clicking through to buy from Facebook, Snapchat et al, is a painful experience. Mobile enabled and Mobile CX is a crucial integration for all those companies wanting consumers to complete the journey and buy something!

Dark social will come into the light: Of course tech innovation in social will happen. We don’t know what is being cooked up in Silicon Valley, but we do know that consumption habits are already changing again. The biggest new entry is messenger apps (called ‘Dark Social’ because unless you are in the group, you can’t see what is going on) – from Facebook messenger (one billion active users) to WhatsApp (most used messaging platform globally) the spike in usage is phenomenal.

Global Web Index data shows that 55% of messenger users are shopping on their mobiles. The opportunity is big. As yet though it is hard to know how retailers can tap into the very personal and tribe-like network. Bots are one answer and they are set for an explosion in 2017. Not just for customer service and purchase assistance either. Bots for marketing through messenger apps are already being heavily exploited by the broadcasting world.

You can also expect that the messenger apps will look at ways to monetise the platform. Advertising will be planned, formatted and rolled out. Already some are allowing video, stickers and gifs to be shared. So be prepared. Save some budget. This is going to be big.

There are also trends building on 2016’s success. Video will continue to dominate, but brands will start to format for native social as well as owned estates and YouTube. This means creative executions will need to consider 3G/4G downloads on native ads and we will see better usage of short video in native platforms and retargeting for long form video.

The last few months over excitement about influencers will grow in 2017. Eventually, as results are shared there will be a move away from influencers as a way to garner reach and instead it will move back to its heartland, changing behaviours. There will be a rise in working with micro-influencers too as brands find the internet celebrity costs skyrocket.

Finally, there is of course the unknowns. There always is in social media. Who really knows which technologies, which platform or which trends will take off? Agile marketing is our future. Be ready to change. But then you’re used to that!

Thinking outside the box

The most viewed videos on YouTube are people taking a new ‘purchase’ out of its box. The first recognisable unboxing video was uploaded in 2006, so it’s not a new phenomena. It does continue to grow though. Packaging supplier Rajapack explains its continued appeal.

The first recognisable unboxing video was uploaded back in 2006. Titled ‘Unboxing Ceremony of Nokia E61’, this video featured what is now synonymous with the trend – tech unboxing. Since then, unboxing has taken YouTube by storm, with 6.5 years’ worth of unboxing videos uploaded to the site in 2015. The products unboxed cover everything from common tech gadgets to luxury clothing, children’s toys to live reptiles. In fact, if a product is available to buy, there is more than likely an unboxing video to go with it.

In 2014, a YouTube search for the term “unboxing” yielded more than 20 million search results. At the time of writing, the exact same search returned almost 50 million results. The highest earner on YouTube is the owner of a channel dedicated to unboxing Disney toys. DC Toys Collector is estimated to have earned $4.9m (£3.85m) in 2014 and has absolutely no affiliation with Disney.

The third most popular YouTube channel, by views, belongs to unboxer FunToyzCollector, with a view count of over 11.6 billion. The channel’s most popular video alone racked up a staggering 499,514,454 views, putting it at number 155 on the list of most watched YouTube videos ever.

The appeal of unboxing videos can be explained by our capacity for empathy. Humans have the capability to put themselves in someone else’s place. Research has identified responses in the brain called “anticipation circuits”, and it’s these that begin to fire in our own brains when we watch a stranger unbox something. This discovery was made by accident in 1992.

Since then more studies have been undertaken at different laboratories that have verified the existence of what has been called the “mirror neuron system”. These neurons activate not only when we perform an action ourselves, but also when we watch someone else perform that action.

The importance of unboxing videos for brands therefore is of equal value to word-of-mouth marketing. The ever-growing popularity of online customer reviews and the importance of influencers as brand advocates is something brands can no longer ignore.

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