There promises to be some major developments in 2016 but, with so much at stake in the world of digital, where will we see the major changes in the coming year? Here are our 19 big predictions.
The year of content value….
My prediction is that 2016 will be the year of Content Value. Users (and Google) are getting increasingly discerning, so any content which doesn’t offer real people real value will ultimately be ignored, or even penalised.
That means functional content needs to evolve to become genuinely useful, rich and deep resource-based content that meets users’ real-world requirements. In the same vein, engaging content that doesn’t actually resonate terribly well will be even less visible than it currently is. And distribution becomes even more important. Everyone in the content business will need to up their game or get left behind – crap won’t cut it.
… and the growth of custom content narratives
In addition, I think we will see a greater emphasis on customisable narratives, based largely on what the consumer wants the content to offer them.
The BBC is actively looking into Perceptive Media (which changes the story based on the viewers demographic) and many marketers are now actively targeting their online audiences and creating content specifically for varied demographic markets. One highly effective way to do this is to create malleable narratives to suit differing social, cultural, and lifestyle shifted audiences.
More personalisation in search…
Google has always had a strong focus on personalisation, so why would it stop when it now has more user data than ever?
We've seen personalisation for location, language and device but now, with a huge percentage of people logged in, all sharing personal data, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing (or initially getting an option to see) demographic and lifestyle tailored results.
A generic search for 'Restaurants' (still with a strong element of localisation) may be even more heavily influenced by the user who is making the search. This could be up-weighting favourite cuisines, restaurants that better suit your annual income and/or those that best meet your dietary requirements (i.e. Vegetarian, gluten-free).
At the same time, would they go as far as incorporating a further layer within the algorithm - a personalisation score? If Google were looking to offer a highly bespoke search experience then maybe they'll start looking for this as a requirement within the sites themselves.
… much more personalisation
As Google has shifted towards personalisation, with results changing based on factors such as location and previous search interest, I feel there will be a rise in sites thinking about how their websites may function on a more personal level.
No two customers are the same and while search engines generally struggle to view personalised content, largely because it is incredibly difficult to perfectly replicate a user specifically with cookies, I think we will see search engines evolve to the point where they can really start to understand what a user wants to see on the first and subsequent interactions.
The year that Twitter has to come of age
This is probably the year where Twitter has to come of age because, quite simply, it needs to understand what it’s offering to both brands and to its users if it is to appease investors on Wall Street.
To achieve this, Twitter needs to understand its audiences on a much deeper level than it currently does. Advertisers are gravitating towards rival platforms, notable Facebook and Google Customer Match, in order to target specific audience groups and Twitter arguably needs to get in on the act. In order to do that, it needs to understand more about who its audience is, how they behave and how they interact with brands.
It won’t be easy for Twitter – it has already met resistance from users over some of its changes – but it could be what ultimately makes or breaks it as a platform.
The start of the ‘post digital’ era
Next year we will see the start of what I would call the “post digital” era.
We will start to see the end of the typical ‘digital’ and ‘traditional’ silos that are still very common in brands and instead, see brands move to a cross-functional marketing investment model. Brand storytelling will transcend these channels and be used in a consistent, cross channel way to maximise customer benefit.
A mega year for micro interactions
It will be a mega year for Micro-interactions and Micro UX. There will be a big focus on making sure that even the simplest of interactions make the maximum impact on the user experience.
There is now so much choice on the web and so tiny little differentiators, like Micro UX, will be what makes the difference between being seen and being ignored.
HTTP/2 to become a ranking signal?
HTTP/2 promises to bring more efficiency, more security and a faster experience to the web, so expect it to be a big talking point in 2016. It is the first major refresh of HTTP protocol since 1999, so it is well overdue.
Less than 2.5% of the top one million Alexa websites fully support HTTP/2 (at the time of writing) but, with Google announcing that the GoogleBot will support HTTP/2 before 2015 is out, expect that figure to grow. It wouldn’t surprise me to see HTTP/2 as a fully-fledged ranking signal in its own right before the end of next year.
Paid video in search results and the rise of snack-able content
Paid video in search results is something that has been discussed for some time, but 2016 could be the year that this really takes off. More brands are producing video, more brands need to get their videos discovered, and paid is a key channel for supporting this.
Snack-able content is another term we’ve heard a lot about, but it is something that brands are really starting to get their heads around. There is clear demand from users for short-form content, social media platforms are working hard to facilitate it and so we should expect to see more and more of it in 2016.
Product placement emojis?
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Emoji is here to stay. It was inevitable that the emoji would become a brand vehicle and in 2015, a select list of wide-reaching events were allowed an exclusive glimpse of the virtual product placement entity. The X Factor, 1Direction, the Rugby World Cup and Star Wars all had bespoke icons created and became instantly shareable.
More personal and more universally recognised worldwide than a hashtag, the emoji has showcased its ability to generate substantial reach. With Coca-Cola securing the first branded emoji back in September, it seems that the offer is very much on the table for anyone prepared to pay the price tag.
Expect more brands to take up that offer in 2016 as they look to stand out within the social jungle.
More brands will start to realise the importance of localisation
We’ve come a long way from the apocryphal tale of a cola drink’s ability to ‘raise your ancestors from the dead’ in China, but the importance of tailoring your content for distinct separate international markets has stayed with us.
Where brands may previously have budgeted for one catch-all blog post or video to be directly translated for other markets, in 2016 the emphasis should go on localisation rather than translation. Considering other territories’ cultural sensibilities, their likes and dislikes, what is and isn’t ‘a thing’ from country to country at an earlier stage of your content strategy will help boost international engagement.
Keeping people in the app
For some time Facebook has been coming up with ways to stop people from leaving its application, and 2016 is certainly going to see those efforts intensify.
Next year, we will start to see the wider roll-out of Instant Articles, with more content partners signing-up, charity donation functionality and a bigger focus on pushing the ‘buy’ button. Essentially, Facebook will be making big moves to bring more general e-commerce functionality into business pages.
More and more content partnerships
Facebook Instant Articles is one to keep an eye on, because it’s typical of a number of trends within content marketing generally that could see brands put a bigger emphasis on building content partnerships with publishers and networks.
Native advertising is likely to be a big area in the next year. It is hardly small-fry today but, as the threat of ad blockers becomes very real to publishers, they are going to be crying out for quality branded content to maintain their revenues – and brands will be more than willing to use the publisher’s power to get their content across.
Facebook Instant Articles might currently only be open to publishers, but don’t expect that to last for much longer.
Just a moment
Will Twitter Moments capture the imagination? Do users want pre-defined indexing of content? Does the manual indexing even work? So many questions with very few answers.
Project lightning, as it was formerly known, has yet to light users imagination but it seems the message at Twitter HQ is clear – push & promote at all costs. Once a fully-fledged service, the rewards for the platform’s commercial arm could be great, but it currently screams of running before one walks.
I still feel Moments has potential, but Twitter would be wise to listen to their most valuable asset in their pursuit of commercial glory – its audience, and focus on establishing the feature as a starting point.
GoogleBot starts to understand video content
We will see an expansion of the Google machine learning API, which is currently used to search and tag photos, as a method for understanding video content. This will facilitate things such as automatically edited videos, video tagging and content awareness categorisation.
This will ultimately lead to initiatives such as semantic command robotic filming and control. It may be possible for users to simply say “follow the bike” and the content will react accordingly.
A bolder approach to PR
Next year I expect to see brands take more risks with their PR activity, stepping out of their comfort zones to compete with each other.
Video content and video-led campaigns in particular will be a big area of growth in 2016. More and more journalists are seeking out video content to grow their own channels and engage their audiences, so the brands that can provide this are putting themselves in the frame for that all-important coverage spot.
Facebook’s recent push to enable building native apps using React is only going to help adoption of the library, which could save developers a lot of time by meaning they only have to produce one UI for web, iOS and Android.
Taking the ‘search’ out of search?
Search has come such a long way. In fact, we're getting to a point where the hard work is picking up the device and doing the searching. Would we be surprised if the next step is (gradually) taking the searching out of search, and simply providing what you need, when you need it.
As we permit more and more access to and usage of our personal data, will search engines simply start functioning on our behalf?
For instance, using my calendar, TripAdvisor ratings and eating habits, I'm expecting engines to begin anticipating events (i.e. special occasions) and requesting if I'd like to book a table at my favourite restaurant (or impulsively find me a new one that suits my tastes). If an occasion scheduled with a partner, then also utilising their preferences and providing me with a list of potential gifts which suit their preferences. Imagine scaling this up to automated output for your entire (perfect) wedding's requirements.
While there is always the barrier of privacy, as trust in devices grows (i.e. TVs and consoles constantly listening for commands), the need to self-search will become less of a requirement. Long gone will be the days of those topical Saturday night football questions - your TV or phone will jump in and tell you - or mostly likely correct you!
‘Buy Now’ buttons are now plastered across most social media platforms. The selling point for this the premise of ease – it is easier for the consumer to immediately engage with a post and it is easier for the brand to capture that customer.
In 2016 I expect this to go to the next level, with social networks offering a fully native experience. Consumers will be able to access their shopping carts natively within a social platform, rather than being redirected to a third party website. That would enormously benefit the platform, who can keep hold of the user and demonstrate ROI to the advertiser, whilst it is likely to increase the effectiveness of a brand’s sponsored content – particular when you consider the level of targeting that social media offers.
So will we all start having Facebook Pay accounts, much like we currently have PayPal and Apple Pay accounts? That could offer consumers enough protection to consumers and address a huge barrier to purchase for the social media platforms.
Those are our predictions for the coming year - feel free to add your predictions in the comments below, or by tweeting @stickyeyes.