The end of the year is fast approaching, which means Christmas jingles, New Year’s resolutions and… prediction posts. And while the ever-shifting social landscape eventually renders many such prognostications invalid, it’s still worth analyzing what might be on the horizon as a means of trying to understand where we’re at, and where we’re headed, as we plan for the next 12 months.
Last year, my predictions mostly pointed in the right direction, so again, I’ve decided to get in early and put down a few of my thoughts on where each platform is going, before the upcoming onslaught of ‘looking ahead’ posts.
So here are my 24 predictions for each of the major social platforms in 2017, starting with the big one – Mark Zuckerberg’s ever-expanding giant.
2016 has been another huge year for Facebook. They’ve added 197 million more monthly active users and recently crossed a billion mobile only MAU for the first time. The future of the network – as reiterated by Zuckerberg in their most recent earnings call – is video, with more emphasis to be put on live-streaming and 360 content in particular over the next 12 months. And that will cause a significant shift in the platform – here’s what you can expect.
Video first – Facebook’s been refining their focus on video for some time, and you can expect this to continue into next year. Just recently, Facebook announced a trial of a new camera option which Zuckerberg sees as eventually taking over from the text box as the default status update tool. The new camera will be easily accessible from the home screen and will appear with a Snapchat-style interface, including new visual features like masks and other interactive tools.
This new option – the latest in Facebook’s efforts to beat out Snapchat – is currently being trialed in Ireland and will likely be rolled out to all regions early in the new year. And, importantly, as you can see in the above video, it’ll include new visual enhancement features that go beyond those that are currently available on Snapchat.
The impetus here is obvious – Facebook sees that the next generation of users are gravitating towards this ‘camera-first’ style of interaction, and they want to appeal to those users to keep them on Facebook. A big driver in getting new people interested in Snapchat is their cool visual tools like Lenses – if Facebook can provide better, more innovative tools on this front, that might help them keep those users on Facebook instead. After all, most people already have larger established networks of their friends on Facebook, why not just use Facebooks ‘lenses’ instead?
And while this won’t kill Snapchat, it will slow their growth, which will increase the pressure on Evan Spiegel and Co. to innovate faster. And that could be good or bad, depending on how they’re able to execute.
You might not personally be that into selfies and broadcasting yourself, but this will become more and more common on Facebook, advancing the platform’s shift towards becoming ‘mostly video” by 2020.
NOTE: In mid-December, Facebook announced the global launch of new Snapchat-like camera tools for Messenger, continuing their efforts on this front.
Facebook Live – Live has seen major growth in the past year. According to Facebook, the number of people broadcasting via Facebook Live has increased 4X since May, while live videos are drawing significantly more engagement than other types of posts on the network. That said, the real money in live-streaming is likely to come via established broadcasters, as opposed to everyday users.
Nevertheless, expect Facebook to keep pushing the issue on Live and working to unseat Periscope (if they haven’t already) as the key live-streaming platform. Facebook’s already launched a new advertising push to get more everyday users broadcasting, and that focus will continue to be a priority into 2017. On top of this, expect Facebook to announce more live-streaming partnerships with major broadcasters and move to screen more exclusive content through Facebook. I’ve noted before, it wouldn’t be a surprise to one day see people tuning into the Facebook breakfast show, as opposed to Good Morning America and the like – in the next 12 months, that’s the type of premium content you can expect. Exclusive, Facebook TV broadcasts that draw a larger audience to Live – both in terms of viewers and creators.
But the real win on this front will be reaching people’s home TV screens. While more and more people are consuming content online, the TV set remains the primary viewing device – our homes are constructed around the TV being the key entertainment source. In order to really make Facebook a genuine competitor for traditional TV broadcasters, Facebook needs an easy way for people to connect Facebook to their TV set.
They’re already making moves on this – last month, Facebook released a new and improved way to stream Facebook content to your TV via Apple TV or Google Chromecast.
And that’s a positive first step, but it’s still only reaching a small percentage of the TV viewing audience (there are around 25 million Apple TV units in circulation and 30 million Chromecast devices). In order to really make a splash, Facebook will likely need to provide another alternative that makes it easier to everyone to connect their TV to Facebook.
They’re already working on this – a patent filed last year shows that Facebook is working on their own TV dongle that would act as a conduit between your phone and the TV set.
But that would mean Facebook would need to move into commercial hardware production, something that’s a big step to take. If the payoff is there, however, and it can significantly boost their viewing audience, I’d expect Facebook to do it – I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see the platform provide such connective devices for free, purely to drive future uptake.
If they can do this, that’s the next big threshold for Live, that’s what will take live-streaming to the mainstream in a big way, disrupting all aspects of traditional TV as we know it. It’s big, it’s ambitious, but no one is better placed to pull it off than Zuck and Co. Expect movement on this around the middle of next year.
Virtual Reality – But the next frontier for Facebook is virtual reality, and this will also become the thing everyone’s talking about next year. But don’t expect VR to have an all-consuming entertainment takeover effect right off the bat.
First off, the cost of a fully operative VR-enabled system is still fairly restrictive. An Oculus Rift headset will set you back $US599, and that’s without the Touch controllers – the combo of the two costs $US798, as per the Oculus website. You also need a high-end PC to effectively run Oculus content, so all up you’re looking at upwards of $US1,500 for an Oculus VR set-up, putting it out of the reach for most consumers.
The other element to consider is that while virtual reality will be the next big thing, at present, there’s not a heap of content out there. Anyone who’s ever used a Google Cardboard device knows this – while the experience is great, there’s just not enough good content to keep you engaged – and that’s not even next-level VR material. Because of this, VR is still a while off becoming an essential component, but momentum will continue to build in 2017, with new use-cases and opportunities showcased by Facebook and other providers (and worth noting, Google’s Daydream View headsets go on sale this week).
In order to boost the appeal of VR, however, Facebook will be ramping up those mid-step options, including 360 content. Facebook’s been quietly advancing the presence of 360 videos and photos on the platform, providing the ability for all users to upload 360 photos back in June.
In 2017, expect Facebook to provide more tools to help more users get on the 360 bandwagon, while also giving 360 material a reach boost in the News Feed, providing extra incentive for brands to create 360 content.
But the biggest shift next year, I’m predicting, will be the arrival of at least one 360 movie. That’ll bring 360/VR into the wider public consciousness in a big way, and will get people buzzing about the next level of communication. And Facebook will be right in the middle of it. After that happens – or a similar, significant 360 release – everyday users will be given more ways to create their own 360 content, and that will usher in the next stage of the evolution towards VR.
Also, expect Facebook to add new augmented reality elements to Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and their new camera option, highlighting the future of interacting in the virtual world.
NOTE: In December, Facebook announced the upcoming release of 360 degree video for Facebook Live, another step towards this next stage
Facebook Search – One lesser discussed aspect of Facebook’s evolution has been the growth of on-platform search. As noted by Zuckerberg back in June, Facebook’s now facilitating more than 2 billion on-platform searches every day, with search activity rising 33% in just nine months. The platform’s now working to actively boost this trend, introducing new recommendation and event tools to help users find more of what they’re after, as well as their new marketplace option to facilitate more common on-platform search activities.
This not only helps Facebook boost on-platform engagement, but it also keeps those users away from Google – if Facebook can provide more active options on this front, that’ll help boost their position as the only website users ever need to visit.
Facebook has tried to improve their search functionality several times, with Graph Search, then later with their improved, real-time search and discovery tools, which, as evidenced by the above stats, has obviously boosted on-platform search activity, but neither of these options has been able to take optimal advantage of Facebook’s full knowledge graph. On one hand, Facebook don’t want to provide too much data access, as it’s that knowledge graph that fuels their ad targeting system. But on the other, the more traffic they can take from Google the better.
Facebook is no doubt working on new, improved search tools, which will utilize their advanced machine learning to index more content, including images and video, and provide better, automated guidance tools. Expect to see them release something on this in the new year, combining more search capabilities via machine learning, based on what people are typing in their status updates.
You can read more about the potential opportunities of evolving search on Facebook here
Messenger Business – Facebook’s been working to build out Messenger as a new platform for direct connection with brands – Zuckerberg says that Messenger is in stage two of their three tiered app development framework. And while more than 33,000 automated bots are now active on the platform, consumer adoption of Messenger bots has been slow. Part of this is likely due to a perceptual shift – people are used to communicating with friends via Messenger, not brands, and they can browse products or find out information easily via other sources, like Google – the definitive use-case for Messenger business hasn’t yet been proven to the wider audience.
Facebook will continue to push Messenger bots, but in 2017, expect them to start providing more compelling use-cases from the business perspective – i.e. the use of Messenger bots to automate these simple interactions will save you money in labor costs. That may also mean Facebook needs to simplify the bot creation process to appeal to smaller brands who would see the most benefit from such cost reductions. If they can get businesses promoting Messenger and bots on their behalf, that’ll take a lot of pressure off Facebook to do all the pitching, and will lead to more people adopting Messenger for direct engagement with brands, boosting the the platform. The hard part, of course, is simplifying the bot creation process. Expect Facebook to provide a means for businesses to create their own Bot workflow, or provide a cheaper, easier way for smaller brands to work with Facebook and their development partners to do so.
Some of the current use case for bots are interesting – the platform’s recently added eBay and Shopify integrations, adding to what’s on offer via message. But in order to get people using bots, they need to get the businesses themselves advocating as to why people would want to connect in this way. That’ll be the next big push for Messenger bots.
Also, another interesting bot application – diagnosing medical conditions based on users inputting their symptoms. Technical processes like this may also provide compelling examples to drive increased adoption.
Reactions – There’s an interesting question around what becomes of Facebook’s Like alternatives – their expressive ‘Reactions’ emoji-set. Made available to all users back in February, the intention was to provide Facebook with more ways to express their responses more easily, but research has shown that adoption of Reactions thus far has been poor. A recent report found that Likes still make up almost 93% of all such responses on the platform, showing that most users haven’t changed their behaviors despite the new options being present.
Does this mean Reactions is a failure? Facebook has found other ways to spice them up, releasing custom, event-themed Reactions, including one to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and more recently, a Halloween set.
So while it does seem that Facebook could potentially use Reactions as an advertising tool, and boost interest in the option at the same time, there are additional considerations like this to keep in mind. Given this, it may be better for Facebook to just remove them – but then again, they do provide additional value within Facebook Live broadcasts, giving viewers a wider range of ways to express their appreciation as they watch.
Given this, I’d expect Reactions to remain, and I do expect to see more themed Reactions, including possibly a few promotional tie-ins – you can imagine movie studios would be keen to get in on this. But at the same time, I don’t think Reactions are going to become a significant part of the Facebook experience, nor would I expect them to be providing a new wealth of audience data, as originally expected. Facebook’s got other priorities, and the user response has been pretty clear.
No platform’s future has been more discussed that Twitter in 2016. The micro-blog giant has faced all sorts of challenges and problems, and none of them, as yet, have been resolved. So what does Twitter do next? There are a few areas in which we’ll see Twitter increase their focus.
Live-streaming – It’s no secret that Twitter’s placing big bets on live-streaming. The platform recently reiterated this at their “#WhatsNext” event, with COO Adam Bain saying that live is the “purest embodiment” of what the platform is all about, enabling users to be part of what’s happening right now, at any given time.
As such, Twitter’s concentrating on making live content a centrepiece of the Twitter experience – and with research showing that one in two Twitter users are active on the platform while watching TV, that focus makes sense. But with Facebook also working to appeal to that same audience, the challenge is significant.