Strategy Session: 8 Digital Predictions for 2018

Ferris Bueller said “Life moves pretty fast.” And he wasn’t even trying to keep up with the ever changing, ride ‘til you drop, never say die digital landscape. As we step into a new year, we’re stopping to look around and offer some predictions for the year ahead. Here are 8 trends we expect to see in 2018:

1. Hashtag all the things

Hashtags were invented by Twitter users back in the day as a workaround for the platform’s poor search functionality. From those humble origins, the term found its way into the lexicon and the functionality found its way onto many social platforms. Hashtag use comes perennially in and out of vogue depending on the platform and the current social media zeitgeist. But in 2018, we’re predicting a resurgence. Last month, Instagram announced the ability to follow hashtags, just like you would a user. As we know, where one social platform goes, many are bound to follow.

2. Social paid gets more expensive, more niche

If you’ve noticed your Facebook ads getting more expensive over the course of 2017, you are not alone. Everyone in digital paid land had at least one hand-wringing conversation about it last year. Facebook has long been the least expensive advertising in digital. Now that they’ve got us hooked and more advertisers are leveraging the platform, it’s time to pay up. But not all hope is lost. We’ve seen the most dramatic cost increases among general audiences. Niche audience focus alongside segmentation within general audiences will become even more necessary to achieve optimal results.

3. Authentic is the optimal length

In November, Twitter announced that it was doubling the allowable characters per Tweet to 280 for all users (except Japanese, Chinese and Korean typers). Perhaps the most interesting data included in a blog post full of interesting data is that only 5 percent of tweets during the 280 test period were longer than 140 characters, and only 2 percent were longer than 190. Rather than losing the brevity of the content, which many feared, we simply got fewer edited-for-space tweets. So long to the days of turning “you” into “u” or sacrificing an apostrophe to the deep psychological discomfort of this grammar nerd, hello to more tags of relevant accounts.

4. Shopping goes social

2018 is the year social shopping goes big or goes home. Pinterest introduced buyable pins back in 2015. While they helped to make the platform one of the most conversion-optimized on social, they didn’t necessarily change the shopping landscape due to its niche user base. That’s about to change. Instagram is teaming up with key brands and ecommerce platform giant Shopify to test social shopping on Insta’s 800 million monthly active users throughout 2017. As we enter 2018, we have to imagine we’re also approaching general availability of shoppable ‘grams and a whole new era of social and mobile shopping. If social shopping proves money-making, surely Instagram’s owner has their eye on Facebook’s nearly 2 billion monthly active users.

5. Ad targeting gets risk managed

I’m as sure that a girl named Lauren gets a rose this week on The Bachelor as I am that we will see our first PR disaster (for a company other than Facebook itself) from insensitive ad targeting this year. While the ability to see the targeting that landed an ad in your newsfeed has been available on Facebook for years, recent scrutiny around Russia’s political digital advertising alongside Pro Publica’s ethnic targeting expose will likely move other platforms towards similar transparency. In doing so, they’ll expose advertisers to more risk. This year, make sure you challenge yourself about whether that’s really a target audience or an offensive stereotype. Begin to build risk management practices around targeting just like you have for the content itself.

6. Trolls gonna troll

Every year the digital industry waits with bated breath wondering if this is the year that social platforms (specifically Twitter) crack down on internet trolling. In the wake of the #metoo movement and the outing of Russian trolls who stoked racial tensions ahead of the election, 2018 would be as good a year as any to do it. But we won’t. It was Rose McGowan’s Twitter account that was suspended in the first days after the Harvey Weinstein revelations. The U.S. President himself trolls world leaders online. And Silicon Valley is littered with stories of workplace discrimination and misconduct. It’s unlikely that online companies will take a serious interest in thoughtfully addressing trolling on their platforms if they won’t do it in their own offices and neighborhoods. Keep your response matrix handy and your amplified posts well monitored.

7. Location-based ads get augmented

Several brands are already playing around with augmented reality to bring more of an in-store experience to ecommerce. Estée Lauder allows you to try on cosmetics. Ikea lets you try out furniture. And Amazon lets you try pretty much anything. But more than 80 percent of retail purchases still take place in physical stores. There’s a real clicks-to-bricks AR advertising opportunity for location-based digital platforms and the brick and mortar retailers who use them. In 2018, new ad types on established platforms will eliminate the need for brands to create standalone augmented reality apps. Key retailers will successfully leverage them to convert nearby customers.

8. Digital influencers prove their worth

Since the rise of the YouTube star and the beginning of #ad, there have been studies attempting to prove the value of influencers to brands. 2018 is the year that brands will be empowered to measure true ROI from influencer campaigns. In addition to the classic promo codes and dedicated referral links, tools are emerging to show direct sales attribution. Location-based data from the social media platforms on which influencers publish will prove in-store conversions. Snapchat is out in front here, but others are sure to follow. In ecommerce, Amazon rolled out its own influencer platform that creates influencer-curated shops within the site. The influencers receive a cut of sales purchased through the dedicated stores. Overall, the new data ecosystem around digital influencer driven sales will create a more sustainable market for brands and for the influencers themselves.

And of course, on a broader cultural scale, I’m betting that 80’s movie references continue to be charming ways to start and end blog posts. Looking for a digital marketing partner to drive measurable business results for you in the New Year? Drop me a line at [email protected] and check out our work.