From Pokémon Go to Snapbots and mainstream support for 360-degree video, social media in 2016 packed a punch when it came to innovations and trends. There were some great wins for social media heavyweights, a few challenges as well, and plenty of valuable take-outs for brands and social media marketers.

Here we look at some highlights of the social media world over the past 12 months, plus a few trends we expect to see more of in the year ahead.

Social media in 2016: the movings and shakings


Facebook video features

Facebook upped its video capabilities in 2016 with the introduction of two new features: Facebook Live and live 360-Degree video streaming. The former, rolled out broadly in April, allows users to live broadcast almost anything to anyone, anywhere – as if it were your own personal TV news channel. The uptake was huge and we particularly enjoyed observing the use of Facebook Live, both good and bad, throughout the US election campaign.

The second of Facebook’s new vid features, introduced in December, teams live-streaming up with 360-video support to offer users an incredibly immersive video experience in real-time. The US Nat Geo channel was the first big name to try it out in December, and we look forward to seeing how other brands embrace this amazing feature in the coming months.

There were some awkward moments for Facebook last year too. It fluffed some figures around the average length of time videos were viewed and it also came under scrutiny for fake news and filter bubbles (read our article on Propaganda in the age of social media). Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s insistence that Facebook wasn’t responsible for the spread of fake news in the US election run-up, some of his own employees disagreed. Zuckerberg has since resolved to deal with fake news on Facebook. We’ll wait to see if and how he cracks it! Meanwhile, it’s made us more acutely aware of filter bubbles, the algorithms that mediate our newsfeeds, and the importance of reading beyond our go-to media outlets and regular social newsfeeds.

New engagement opportunities on Instagram

New engagement opportunities on Instagram

It was a year of highs for Insta, starting with the increase of time limitations on video content from 15 seconds to 60 second. This allows more creative storytelling and greater audience engagement, especially for brands.

The next big win was the introduction of Instagram Stories – a fun tool that lets you share multiple images and videos in a storyboard format. While Insta copped flak from the social media world for copying Snap Inc’s Moments feature, it managed to stand its ground and within two months had attracted a daily active user-base of 100 million+.

The new features and updates didn’t stop there for Insta – more about that here. Looking ahead, we’re particularly excited to see how Instagram e-commerce capabilities develop and how brands will use it for marketing, advertising and retail.

Snap Inc’s transformation

Snap Inc’s transformation

Snapchat, rebranded Snap Inc in September, had an epic year. Though just five years old, the platform has gone from being a mostly tween-dominated, infamously naughty social networking app to a powerful platform for brands (read more about that here). It now has 150 million+ daily active users, two thirds of whom regularly create content and view the content of others.

In terms of Snap highlights, the first was the launch of Memories, a feature that lets you save and share old pics into a collection, which is archived below the camera screen (yes, much like Instagram Stories). This quickly became a popular storytelling and engagement tool for brands and individuals alike. Then there was the introduction of on-demand Geofilters, which are customisable graphics specific to a location, used by individuals and brands to embellish snaps of special events and occasions.

Later in the year, the company launched its first hardware product, Snap Spectacles, which are camera-enabled, one-size-fits-all sunglasses that let you record video. In addition to this was perhaps one of the coolest marketing innovations we’ve seen for a while: branded vending machines called Snapbots from which to purchase your own pair of Spectacles.

Snap Inc seems to be on a roll and we expect to see more innovations and engagement opportunities for brands as the year unfolds.

Augmented reality gaming takes off

Augmented reality gaming takes off

The star of the mobile gaming resurgence, Pokémon Go, deserves a special mention in our 2016 highlights roll. A collab between US-based Niantic and Japanese software giant Nintendo, Pokémon Go burst into the market in July, quickly amassing a huge and addicted global following of Pokémon ‘trainers’ (users). Not only was this GPS-capable, augmented reality gaming app an epic hit with personal smartphone users, many quick-thinking brands joined the craze (including Air New Zealand, which concocted a fun Pokémon Go airport mission) and took advantage of the app’s sensation to reach their target audiences. We’re excited to watch as new augmented reality apps are delivered to the market this year!

Twitter updates old character rules

Twitter updates old character rules

Finally, 2016 was the year that Twitter extended its 140 character limit – but just for photos, GIFS, videos, polls and quoted Tweets. The purpose was to make it easier for its 300 million+ user base to create accurate and impactful messages without having to jam it all into a tiny character count. The other memorable moment for Twitter was the introduction of the While You Were Away feature, which basically presents you with a recap of popular and recent Tweets you might have missed.  While Twitter’s popularity might appear to have stagnated, we’re predicting more exciting changes to come for Twitter, which will make it even better and easier for brands to engage with audiences online.

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