Opinion: social media opportunity in 2017

Danny Whatmough head of social, EMEA at Weber Shandwick, talks about PR and social media in 2016, and his expectations and hopes for the medium in 2017.

Danny Whatmough 1

Danny Whatmough

2016 was quite a year, wasn’t it? And while I’m not just referring to social media here, there is no doubt that the landscape has changed significantly over the last 12 months.

This year, social media found itself in an uncomfortable adolescent phase. The networks have grappled with ways to make their platforms more engaging, experimenting with a host of new features. In August, Facebook made Facebook Live widely available, and, most recently, Instagram has introduced new, temporary messages, that have been likened to Snapchat’s service.

At the same time, brands and marketers experimented with the potential of social media.

On the one hand you have the ‘traditional’ always-on, brand-building approach, where daily social media conversation calendars are used to build awareness and drive engagement. On the other, you have the increased use of social media as a performance marketing tool – digital advertising on steroids – with a whole host of new possibilities in terms of targeting and measurement.

A new year, a new opportunity
So, what will 2017 bring to the party? Well, from a social media point of view, I think it will be the year that social grows-up, the year when PRs and marketers realise that social is more than just a standalone conversation calendar. Social isn’t just something that sits as a silo in a business, it exists across it; from HR, customer services, marketing and advertising, to internal comms. The list goes on.

2017 will see social continue to get more immersive. Expect more from the likes of Facebook Canvas, 360 video, VR, Instagram, Snapchat Stories and Discover.

It’ll be the year of mobile messaging apps, with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iOS Messages leading the way.

It’ll be the year that social becomes meaningful to the bottom line through Facebook and Twitter lead generation, and features such as Facebook’s location-based tracking and social commerce through Messenger and Apple Pay.

It’ll also be the year that transparency and accountability come to the fore. Metrics will come under more scrutiny than ever, and the privacy debate will continue to rage.

The opportunity for PR, if we choose to grasp it
For all of us, there is much to look forward to here. It’s now time to transform social media beyond ‘always on’, into truly value-creating work that starts to capitalise on budgets shifting from more traditional marketing channels.

To succeed here, a different approach is often needed. We need to bring data to the fore, we need to understand audiences and the role that social plays in the customer journey and we need to demonstrate how smart distribution approaches are the only way for content to succeed.

Fundamentally (and at a good moment considering Eurobest is just around the corner) creativity will once again be vital to ensuring we can stop thumbs in the feed, and truly engage an audience with content that has value.

I have high hopes for 2017, let’s hope I’m right!

Danny Whatmough is head of social, EMEA at Weber Shandwick. He is  also chair of the PRCA Digital Group, and is a member of  AMEC’s global social media measurement committee.

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