Instagram pushed 45 app updates in 2017. Snapchat pushed 51. Over the past year, marketers’ favorite community-building platforms increasingly became their go-to advertising platforms, which certainly kept social marketers busy. Front-end app updates just barely outpaced self-service ad platform updates. Organic and paid strategies showed increasing overlap, coming to a head when Facebook announced the impending doom for dark posts late this year.

Beyond the year’s updates, the holiday season has driven social media marketing efforts into overdrive. With frantic shoppers on the loose, increased demand for customer service and more #awkardfamilyphotos to share, the opportunities to make meaningful brand-to-consumer touch points are boundless. Amidst the end-of-year madness, let’s explore the ways that 2017 shifted best-in-class social strategies in preparation for another exciting year.

1. Social ads became more transparent.

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2017 turned out to be the year where anything was possible. Not only did Russian-linked ads reach 126 million people on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram during the 2016 election, they also caused such a stir that Congress had to step in. With ads and accounts spanning across Facebook, Twitter, and Google, general counsels from all three companies had to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on how a foreign government was able to purchase political ads targeting another country before their election. When social media was just a beginning as a playground for people to connect with others all over the world, no one imagined that it could become a force powerful enough to influence the outcome of an election.

In response to being grilled by Congress during their intense hearings, all three companies’ executives responded by promising to make their platforms even more transparent. Most notably, Facebook announced that it would be doing away with dark posts and reveal the targeting behind all ads running on the platform. As we inch closer to 2018 and users (and Senators) expect to know how an ad on social media has reached them, we expect many other to follow in the steps of Facebook. In fact, Twitter plans to launch an Advertising Transparency Center that will show all ads currently running on the platform and a special section just for political ads that will disclose its ad spend.

What this means for our clients:

  • We’ll soon be able to share the exact performance of competitors’ social ads.
  • Consistent creative and branded identity across organic and paid media will be more important than ever.

Example of future political ad

2. Social platforms enriched context.

Image of social context

Expanded, everyday multimedia capabilities on social have enriched our digital experiences. But in 2017, a new layer of context became a hit across platforms. We noted that several updates centered upon bringing your friends’ opinions and reviews front-and-center.

Snapchat introduced Context Cards, integrating data from app partners like Foursquare, OpenTable, Lyft and more to offer basic business information alongside third-party reviews with the simplicity of a single swipe.Pinterest brought the “Tried It” tab alongside your Boards and Pins, to help you both check off and leave a review for those crafts and recipes that caught your eye. Now, you’ll see others’ “Tried It” tags on new Pins you discover. Facebook’s Recommendations feature has seen great adoption, allowing you to crowdsource the best place in town for a certain meal, a blowout, to get your car detailed--you name it. We see links between this trend and the fall of the macro influencer, with more and more people placing trust in the recommendation of those within their own network. It’s third-party endorsement without the lack of authenticity that true “influencer marketing” of the past has been plagued with.

What this means for our clients:

  • The community manager’s checklist has grown yet again. It’s time to learn how to expand this vital role’s responsibilities to stay abreast of your brand’s full scale social context–including things like reviewing the business Context Card on Snapchat and monitoring your Location tag on Instagram.
  • Consider how you can singlehandedly deliver the social context that your users crave. For example, check out the World of Soft campaign from Homage–uniting UGC, reviews and product push with style. (Hat tip to our own Zach Gerber for the wise words!)

3. Chatbots automated more than customer care.

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As more people begin to rely on their smartphones as their main source to access the internet, they will begin to expect the same from their favorite brands they follow on social media. When conducting surveys for our whitepaper, CX Revisited, we found that people are so connected with their phones, that 29% of them would rather go without eating or drinking than be without their mobile device. 38% of them also expect a response to inquiries within an hour or less. 

After opening up Facebook Messenger to third-party applications, there are now more than 100,000 chatbots on the platform and that number will continue to grow in 2018. Not only have chatbots begun to take over customer service in social, but they’ve been able to keep the attention of users longer by creating increasingly interactive experiences right in their inbox.

For example, Whole Foods launched a chatbot that would recommend recipes to you based on the emoji you sent, leading to longer and more meaningful interactions. The company American Giant utilizes chatbot solutions that allow users to receive shipping updates so you can check on the status of your order while talking with your friends.

What this means for our clients:

  • Based on the volume of incoming messages, consider implementing a chatbot strategy that addresses your customer’s most frequently asked questions and also creates a memorable experience.
  • There’s no better way to learn about what customers want than hearing directly from them. The more customers talk with your chatbots, the more you’ll learn about them and how to improve their experience.

4. Self-service got simplified. 

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Who do you think of as leaders in the data-driven marketing space? Amazon and Spotify are certainly near the top of our lists, and this is why their 2017 similarity is so interesting: the introduction of self-service advertising platforms. Snap, Inc. introduced their own self-service ad interface earlier this year, and updates such as Advanced Mode look notably similar to Facebook’s Ad Manager. With similar digital usage patterns, it can be assumed that Amazon and Spotify’s interfaces will follow suit.

Although Google and Facebook will end still another year in 2017 as leaders in digital advertising revenue by a long shot, it will be interesting to see how the increase of individual self-service ad platforms sways brands’ social media advertising budgets. The definition of a social network has been blurred by hardware product releases, publisher demand and even political influence. Snap, Inc. founder Evan Spiegel doesn’t even want to call Snapchat a social network. Considerations of ad options like WhatsApp, Amazon and Spotify - especially as we learn more about cross-platform targeting opportunities - may soon be brought closer into the realm of “paid social.”

What this means for our clients:

  • “Self service” doesn’t equate to “simplified” ad placement. However, it does introduce broader opportunities for test budgets across platforms that may be new to your brand.
  • Customer journey mapping will help us to reveal opportunities for highly-qualified ad reach at scale, complementing paid social media strategies.

5. Universal optimal posting times disappeared. 

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At this point it feels like a question as old as (modern) time. What’s the best time for my brand to post on social media? For some time, it was a valid concern. Advice shifted from relying on the Eastern and Central time zones - home to more than 80% of the U.S. population--to digging into your audience insights to determine when most of your brands’ users’ were online.

Social usage spans most of your customers’ entire day. In Mindstream Interactive’s proprietary Customer Experience study, we learned that 42% of people actively spend more than 12 hours a day on their mobile devices. So, with all-day connection, increased marketer access to audience data, and the retooling of several social platforms’ algorithms, the widespread optimal posting time is outdated advice to seek.

Despite a few ways to game the system, you’ve likely noticed that your overall organic reach is suffering. Aiming for the time when most of your users are online would logically offer you the largest audience, but this doesn’t play well with customer experience thinking. Now, you can rely on automated scheduling tools like Sprout’s ViralPost or you can design organic content meant to complement your broader journey.

What this means for our clients:

  • Organic social is still a marathon, but the approach has changed. Rather than focusing on optimal posting times, consider how your editorial approach is complementing your paid social strategy.
  • This frame of mind pairs well with a day-in-the-life exercise of your marketing persona. Think of where and when can you offer the greatest organic social value, rather than setting your sights on the greatest organic reach.

6. Social became a storefront. 

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Last year we discussed how social media continues to mirror the advancements made in the way we communicate. In 2017, social media took it a step further and began to more heavily affect the way we shop. After testing shoppable posts last November with 20 US retailers, including kate spade, Warby Parker, and JackThreads, Instagram made the feature available to the 50,000 businesses who use the platform Bigcommerce.

Being that 1 in 3 U.S. shoppers would like to shop on their smartphone more, we expect to see more retailers taking advantage of shoppable posts because it will allow users will buy products even faster. Since half of US shoppers say that poor navigation and slow load times make shopping on their smartphone harder, this is a direct way to streamline that process. Hopefully, what we see in 2018 is an update to this feature that expands to other countries. With more than 1 billion people on social media connected to a business in another country, the demand to quickly shop online globally will only increase.

What this means for our clients:

  • Referring to the “link in bio” on Instagram will soon become a thing of the past for retailers who regularly link to their online store.
  • There will be an increased need for immediate customer service as users begin to use social media to shop more.

2017 shook social strategy up.

These six trends have shaped a transformational year in digital marketing. As the year comes to a close, it’s a good time for a reminder that no wise social media strategy is set in stone. In 2018, you’ll need to consider how growing consumer awareness of your paid social media strategy will alter your approach. Hopefully, you’ll build new bridges between your customer’s journey map and your social touch points. You’ll make cross-platform context, social shoppability and automated service work for you.

Most certainly, in 2018, your social media strategy won’t stand alone. Stay tuned for updates on how 2017’s digital trends in SEO and Analytics will play in to your broader 2018 CX planning. We have a feeling you’ll sense some common themes.




Nicole Spears

Nicole Spears Sr. Social Media Strategist