6 Social Advertising Trends That Will Shape 2016

By Amanda Walgrove December 14th, 2015

Go to the gym, quit smoking, eat more vegetables, travel more—for the next few weeks, we’re all going to start thinking about how we can be better, smarter people in 2016. Most New Year’s resolutions come down to personal improvement, but if you need help thinking about some professional resolutions, eMarketer’s new report, “U.S. Social Trends for 2016,” is a good place to start. That way, when your friend tells you she just signed up for Equinox, you make her feel really weird by telling her you’re going to invest a lot more in Instagram.

According to the report, marketers put more money into social media this year than ever before: $10.45 billion, to be precise, up from $7.32 billion in 2014. 2016 is expected to generate $13.43 billion in social ad dollars, with social networks set to account for 20 percent of U.S. digital ad spending. Overall, that’s almost a 100 percent jump in just two years.

To help marketers and publishers get ahead of the game, eMarketer laid out its top predictions about the future of social spending, which touch on significant topics like adblocking, the rise of video, and the importance of messaging apps.

1. Instagram will catch up to Facebook and Twitter in the social ad horse race

A majority of companies still flock to Facebook and Twitter, with 84 and 65 percent of marketers creating ads on each platform, respectively, but Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is gaining ground. In the coming year, the percentage of companies on Instagram is expected to jump from 32 to 48 percent. By 2017, eMarketer predicts that Instagram will surpass Twitter.

The surge in popularity among companies makes sense. While no network has been able to duplicate Facebook’s audience of 1.55 billion users, Instagram reached 400 million monthly users this fall, outdoing Twitter by almost 100 million.

Instagram’s new ad capabilities are also having a huge impact on marketers. Earlier this year, it finally opened its API to all advertisers, along with a slew of new features including carousel ads, targeting options, and buy buttons.

2. Digital ads will top TV ads in 2017

As eMarketer previously reported, viewers are spending more time watching digital video than ever before. Meanwhile, time spent watching TV continues to decrease. As a result, marketers are shifting their TV ad dollars to digital platforms.

So when will online ad spend actually overtake TV ad spend? eMarketer predicts it will happen in 2017.

What’s behind this shift? For one, Facebook will push forward with its initiative to become a video powerhouse. Meanwhile, other platforms are improving their capabilities with rollouts like Pinterest’s Cinematic Pins and Twitter’s auto-play videos.

But the biggest factor propelling the shift could be cord-cutting. More and more viewers are opting for connected devices like Apple TV and Roku, while video streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix keep growing. As a result, major networks can’t stop ratings from declining, and marketers are looking elsewhere to get eyes on their ads.

3. Adblockers will take over mobile apps

Until relatively recently, adblocking wasn’t a big impediment for social advertising since most adblockers only work on desktop browsers like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Most importantly, they couldn’t block in-feed ads on Facebook or Twitter apps.

That’s about to change.

This spring, Adblock Plus, which has over 50 million users, released a browser for Android devices. It’s also working on one for iOS 9, which allowed adblockers to be added to the popular mobile browser Safari. Additionally, as eMarketer pointed out, mobile adblocker Been Choice blocked in-app ads on Facebook and Pinterest until Apple removed the app from its store due to privacy concerns. In-app adblocking isn’t ubiquitous yet, but it will be, perhaps sooner than expected.

4. Buy buttons will come on, but slowly

Buy buttons are one of the most exciting e-commerce features to take hold on social media in 2015. Within the past couple of years, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram have all introduced these clickable calls to action, creating opportunities for retailers to drive purchases directly from social networks.

But even though these buttons have incredible potential, consumers are still hesitant to use them. “Compressing the purchase funnel to one-click impulse buying won’t happen quickly,” the report states. “It’s not yet a regular consumer activity in any digital platform, let alone in social, where consumers are typically less inclined to be in a purchasing mood.”

In fact, according to an August 2015 survey by Campaigner, only 22 percent of retailers tried using a buy button on Facebook, while numbers on Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram were even lower.

As brands gradually begin to adopt this new feature, 2016 should see marketers testing these buttons even more. For instance, there’s the question of whether your button take users to an online shopping cart, a third-party retail site, or another app entirely? These are the types of strategies marketers will be expected to experiment with in the year ahead.

5. Live streaming will gain traction

In 2016, eMarketer believes live streaming is primed to take over the video space. This development will be especially important for brands that want to reach younger demographics.

For example, Twitter’s live-streaming app Periscope, launched in the beginning of this year, has been popular among millennials aged 18 to 29. A survey by Cowen and Company found that 41 percent of Periscope users were in this age range, as opposed to just 34 percent of Twitter users.

Additionally, as eMarketer points out, Snapchat’s Live Stories—which are curated streams of snaps from certain locations and events—could soon have live-streaming capabilities. YouTube has offered live-streaming services for a few years now (and rolled out a gaming-specific live-streaming service this year). Twitch, meanwhile, has dominated the video game streaming market since its inception in 2011.

Companies like GE and Doritos have already played around with live-streaming events, but no one has truly dominated the medium yet. As a result, the stage is set for brands to make their mark and engage new audiences with real-time video advertising.

6. Messaging apps will dominate

In 2016, eMarketer predicts that 49 percent of U.S. mobile phone users will use messaging apps, up from 30 percent in 2014. This spike can likely be attributed to the growing popularity of apps like Snapchat, Kik, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook’s WhatsApp—the last two of which Facebook is expected to monetize soon.

As Dillon Baker pointed out in June on TCS, the messaging app movement has been relatively slow in America but has exploded in countries like China, Germany, and India. For instance, China’s WeChat has over 650 million monthly users across the globe and has already partnered with brands like Coca-Cola, Vogue, and BuzzFeed.

Until these apps start launching plans to monetize, marketers should continue to use them to provide customer service support and platform-specific content.

Preparing for the year ahead

Based on eMarketer’s predictions, it’s fair to say that marketers should be excited for what 2016 has in store. There are more channels than ever to reach an audience with relevant content—be it through live streaming, buy buttons, Instagram’s new API, or messaging apps.

And those are just the services that broke ground in 2015. If this year is any indication, by the time we’re ready to reflect on 2016, we’ll be talking about new products and platforms we didn’t even see coming.


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