Welcome to 2018! Let's take a few moments to look back at some of the social media developments of 2017 and analyze what they mean for influencer marketing in the year ahead.
In this post we focus on Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat.
It's no secret that Facebook-owned Instagram has smaller rival Snapchat in its sights. But Instagram took the Cold War of social media to new heights with a series of announcements in December 2017.
First came the algorithm changes which prioritize content from accounts users interact with the most. Next were Stories Highlights and Stories Archive which, respectively, allow users to pin stories to the top of their profiles and save previous stories to be reused again in the future. But Instagram didn't stop there because next they announced Instagram Direct, a standalone direct messaging app set to target the core of Snapchat's business. The last big feature of 2017 introduced the ability to follow hashtags.
These new features (and app!) join Instagram's already large toolbox of tricks.
In 2018, Instagram is positioning itself to be the go-to app for influencer marketing. In many ways it is modeling influencer powerhouse YouTube by rewarding influencers who keep their audiences engaged and active in the app, by providing lots of new features to keep people glued to their phone screens. Instagram is putting all its chips on features to keep people within the app, increasing time spent.
It is not shy about making itself more appealing to influencers and will undoubtedly have more features to announce in 2018. Look for Instagram to increase its user base in 2018, meaning more influencers will focus on the platform as their main content creation hub. It won't be a quick transition but a steady one.
Which brings us to...
In 2017, YouTube announced that it too would be adding a Stories-like feature called YouTube Reels. It may be behind Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook in launching this feature, but that doesn't minimize how important this addition is.
Reels shares one important feature with Instagram's Stories Highlights - they don't expire. YouTube creators can make multiple Reels and keep them up for as long as they want. YouTube opted for a different approach with its own version by putting Reels in a separate tab, meaning audiences have to proactively make the decision to see them.
Another feature introduced in January 2017, Super Chat, allows fans to send money to their favorite YouTubers during live streams. This feature replaces Fan Funding, YouTube's previous tool for fans to financially support creators.
YouTube is still one of the top platforms for effective influencer marketing campaigns. This is especially true for campaigns focused on increasing product sales. This will not change in 2018. Adding Reels gives YouTubers another format to produce more content. More formats means more opportunities for creativity which is always good for influencers. Although Reels lives in a different section, dedicated and interested fans are more inclined to take the time to view such content.
Reels and Super Chat together give fans more access to their favorite YouTubers, and this is the perfect environment for creating effective marketing campaigns. Add in the unlimited creativity of influencers and it is a perfect combination.
Last but not least we come to...
Before Instagram took over the year-end announcements, Snapchat had its own reveals to share. First it announced a complete redesign of its app which separates social content and sponsored content in different tabs.
Once again the focus here is on improving user engagement by prioritizing content from accounts users interact with more. Snap Inc., Snapchat's parent company, described it as separating "the social from the media". In the Discover tab, where users now find sponsored content, accounts users subscribe to are once again prioritized.
Snapchat is making up some ground here but these changes are all steps in the right direction. This is Snapchat taking its first major steps towards becoming a true social media platform. However, it is facing stiff competition from Instagram, and Snapchat can't afford to ignore that. This year needs to be the year Snapchat throws itself into fighting back.
To be truly competitive Snapchat need to be open to creating a developer community like other social media platforms have done. Opening up its application programming interface will go a long way to embracing eager developers. Getting developers involved means free promotion and increased opportunities for influencers on the platform to be more creative. Snapchat hasn't had a good track record with its influencer relationships, and bringing developers into the community would go a long way to fix that.
2018 will be the year of Instagram. Snapchat isn't going anywhere just yet but it must act faster to catch up in a game it invented. Instagram has the backing of Facebook, which gives it access to the resources and data to quickly develop and respond to market changes. This is difficult for any company to go up against but it isn't impossible.
Snapchat does have the potential to make Instagram rethink its plans but the smaller company has been slow to accept change. Snapchat can no longer rely on its "cool" reputation to stay relevant. Instagram did not hesitate to pick a fight with Snapchat, but 2018 is the year Snapchat needs to come up with a smart defense strategy.
If Snapchat wants to survive, it needs to innovate...quickly!
In the middle of all this YouTube continues to be a steady and reliable influencer partner. YouTube has deep roots in the industry and it shows. That won't change in 2018, but look for increased motivation for new initiatives to keep creators involved.
Overall, 2017 was a year dedicated to algorithms. 2018 will see a deeper commitment to that in the name of user engagement.