Digital marketing evolves quickly and social media use continues to grow. Here, we share our predictions for the biggest developments in social media marketing for the year ahead.

1. Live video content will become bigger

Video is big in social media. We know this already; Animoto’s research reveals that four times as many consumers prefer to watch a product video than read a product description.

14% of marketers were using live video last year, according to Social Media Examiner’s 2016 report on the industry. We think usage is going to keep going up. If companies use social media to lift engagement – which we know they do, and which we know works – then live video brings real-time, real-feel engagement. Live video streaming also has that once-in-a-lifetime quality: miss it and you may never see it again. That adds real exclusivity. It’s certainly a marketing route that’s best offered as part of a campaign, where you have already grown a receptive audience, and we think brands are going to make it a core part of digital strategy.

2. Brands will lean on messaging apps more than ever

People spend more and more time on their phones. And messaging apps seem to be growing apace. According to GetApp, WhatsApp has around a billion active monthly users, Facebook Messenger is hard on its rival’s heels with 900 million, and WeChat is chasing with almost 700 million. Snapchat has 150 million active users every single day.

Message apps may not seem like prime marketing material, but they’re massive – and growing – in shaping the customer experience and increasing interaction. Artificial intelligence and chat bots are getting more and more sophisticated and users expect a faster, direct response from companies. Facebook’s own research states that more than a billion messages go back and forth between businesses and consumers via Facebook Messenger. And as these interactions become even more commonplace, expect to see more pushed content from brands. Think about the impact of Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and Siri – already boosting engagement and normalising personalised AI interaction.

3. Social media e-commerce will become a powerful avenue for sales

It’s a logical step. Social media use is huge – Hootsuite tells us that 77% of adults here in the UK use at least one social media channel, and 40% of those believe that companies ought to be active on social media too. The joy of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest is their interactivity. An online shop can’t replicate that, except by achieving a crossover that encourages sharing. For the moment, social sits behind email marketing and search engines in driving shopping, but we think the balance is beginning to shift. Already, 75% of people have bought something because they saw it on a social media site, according to Sprout Social.

It’s not just about the interaction potential, it’s about the pure visual appeal that social media offers. Fashion, lifestyle and luxury goods and brands are obviously ideal for media like Pinterest and Instagram, and the adoption of social media by influential celebrities can only increase the impact. Social proof – the endorsement of people you know or respect – carries real weight in purchasing decisions. Social commerce is going to grow…

4. Virtual reality will find its way into more and more marketing experiences

Predicted in sci-fi films for decades and finally an affordable, persuasive practice. Virtual reality has huge potential in all sorts of arenas. Here at Tribemix we’re already using VR to create escapist experiences for dementia patients, experiences which could equally have use in other health and wellbeing applications. There’s psychology at play here, alongside the immersive experience and all-round emotional impact that VR can create – we humans link events with locations, and the more heightened our senses are and the more involved in something we feel, the more likely we are to mentally bookmark it.

We’re at the early stages of adoption, but can there be a better or more audience-friendly way to tell a brand story? Research firm Tractica predicts that there’ll be more than 200 million consumer VR headsets by 2020. Gamers are clearly going to account for a major percentage of users, but the experiential appeal of gaming can be used in all sorts of ways. Exhibitions and events are a prime location, but savvy marketers can create relatively affordable VR experiences for consumers to take home; McDonald’s in Sweden has even created a Happy Meal VR Box.

5. Ephemeral content will continue to find its place and purpose

Ephemeral means fleeting – ephemeral content is media that, unlike narrative content, will disappear forever after a fixed period of time. It sounds, at first, counterintuitive; don’t we spend vast budgets creating campaigns which run for weeks or months or years on end, to maximise uptake? Of course, but to dismiss ephemeral marketing is to overlook two things.

Firstly, we have a generation of people growing up with Snapchat, where their messages and photos disappear once they’re seen. There’s familiarity in that and, with Snapchats extraordinary growth, a huge audience of tech-savvy types to tap into. Secondly, the idea of exclusivity and limited availability. It’s a well-known sales technique to encourage uptake, and there’s no reason why, with a little ingenuity, brands can’t create marketing campaigns that move people to act before the opportunity combusts before their very eyes. Record labels can pre-release music and authors can sneak preview books; stores could use geo-targeting to push time-sensitive coupons to users in the vicinity…you just need to think a little left-field. Even the WWF (think conservation, not wrestling) is in on the act, with an ephemeral marketing campaign to highlight the risk of extinction.

6. Many brands will make the shift from snapchat to Instagram for stories

Stories, on both Instagram and Snapchat, allow users – including brands, of course – to share a combined post of photographic and video media. Storytelling is a narrative content marketing tool – a lasting background you can add to as your brand story develops; but Snapchat builds in self-destruction with its stories. 24 hours later, your content is invisible, unless you re-share it. That’s great for creating a sense of exclusivity, but it puts pressure on a brand to keep issuing new content.

Instagram gives some flexibility. That same story can be set to expire, but can also be stored on your feed forever. Add in that Instagram’s hashtags are searchable, and you’ve got the potential to out-reach Snapchat. Snapchat’s not going anywhere, but we think many brands will find extra value in the Instagram platform.

7. Mobile marketing will grow more competitive

It just makes sense, doesn’t it? If mobile use is on the increase (comScore research indicates that 65% of time spent on digital media comes via a mobile), then it’s wise to follow the trend and gear marketing efforts towards mobile users. And as mobile use increases further, and more companies adopt a mobile marketing strategy, then the competition for consumers’ time increases.

So what does this mean for marketers? A pressure to stay on top of the latest trends and deliver the most engaging, shareable content possible, and to make customer interactions more personal and/or more experiential than ever before.