10 social media trends government communicators should pay attention to in 2016

More and more, those who look ahead will have an advantage in digital communications, in particular on social media. Anticipating future trends is not just fun, and incredibly difficult too, it’s also vital if you want to be able to allocate your resources properly and develop an integrated communications approach across online and offline channels.

So, after some #Brusselslockdown week-end reading (Forrester, Gartner, Social Media Today, Mashable and more), here’s my take on what the 10 most probable social media trends of 2016 look like, with a focus on government communicators and how they can adapt to or anticipate these trends. I would love to hear about other trends I missed out on.

Here’s a visual summarizing the 10 trends, in case you’re lazy –¬†aren’t we all? Probably trend 11 ūüôā

1. Pay to play becomes more necessary than ever

Paid advertisement on social media used to be for companies and brands that can afford it. Well, these times are over!

More and more government communicators are faced with the difficult decision of having to increase their social media advertising budgets, as Facebook’s organic page reach is now close to zero and there’s more and more noise on social media.

As a public service it can be difficult to take this decision as budgets are subjected to public scrutiny, but I’m still looking for the study that shows that citizens or users have a negative bias when they see promoted tweets or Facebook posts from public services. After all, if the information they get is useful and relevant, then where’s the issue?

But according to others, 2016 will also be THE year where ad blocking explodes…

2. Mobile is the new normal

In 2015, mobile internet access took over desktop access in many countries, rich and poor. 2015 also saw the rise of mobile-friendly ‘positive discrimination’ by some Internet giants such as Google, whose algorithm now penalizes¬†websites that are not mobile-friendly. So if you haven’t pressed hard on the mobile pedal yet, now’s the time to gear up.

It’s not just SEO that you’ll boost, but also user¬†satisfaction and your brand perception!

3. Live video and living ‘in the moment‚Äô

Social media is by definition already instant and ‘in the moment’, but the live streaming features launched this year –¬†Periscope, Meerkat (which I discovered at South by SouthWest – SxSW¬†in March),¬†Facebook Live and YouNow – have brought the definition of live to a new level, and at a speed unprecedented in the digital world.

Public communicators¬†will need to find new and more efficient ways to embed live into their digital marketing strategies if they are serious about using social media in the future. Events are a good place to start, during which user-generated content can turn out quite¬†handy when you don’t have the manpower or the internal¬†agility¬†to arrange for your own live coverage. And with the sad news of the last few weeks and the growing discrepancy between the speed at which people report ‘news’ and that of official news channels, users will turn more and more to Twitter’s new ‘In the moment’ feature.


Did you know that Instagram and Snapchat now also support on-the-go, in-the-moment updates?

4. In-app functionalities to keep you locked-in

Facebook is particularly keen on making sure you stick around to watch the news, read some interesting articles, talk to friends and share your own content. In the past, a couple of missing features prevented you from doing this, but 2016 promises to be the year where you can basically do all your daily stuff without leaving the comfort of your Facebook environment. Sounds scary (it does to me)?

Facebook has promised major updates to its social search, and has recently introduced an Instant Articles feature which will allow publishers to push long pieces of content, just as Linkedin did a year ago with their in-app blogging feature.  Other social media platforms are playing along and will penalize you in terms of reach for not using in-app features. Facebook and Twitter are already doing so with Youtube videos, for example, encouraging you to upload the original file to their platform.

Keeping a close eye on the evolution of in-app platform features will tell you a lot about the reach and engagement you can expect from campaigns on social media in the future.

5. Watch out for Whatsapp, Snapchat and Instagram

WhatsApp is already the second biggest social media network in the world after Facebook, with over 900 million active users and is set to reach 1 billion active users in 2016. 

Instagram, with over 400 million active users, has outgrown Twitter (316 million) and is rapidly becoming a visual hashtag paradise.¬†SnapChat is used by 30% of US millennials, but with 100 million active users,¬†there’s still scope for tremendous growth.

These three platforms have now enabled in-app advertising, opening the door to a more structured brand presence. What does this mean for government communicators? If you are reaching out to younger audiences, these are now predominantly present on these three channels.

As a jury member at the European Digital Awards this year, I was presented a¬†Snapchat campaign by¬†a German public service as a means to connect with students about university offerings, so I’m confident¬†the trend will grow in 2016.¬†

6. Content becomes even more personal

As targeting options on most social media channels become more and more refined, content can reach niche markets and audiences in no time. This however comes at a cost and return on investments will have to be properly demonstrated if the time spent on personalizing content is to be worth the investment. Luckily, most social networks still offer some form of targeting or custom visibility to organic content.

On Facebook this could be by using location-specific targeting, A/B testing or publishing translated posts to targeted audiences. On Twitter this would involve targeting by country using a specific parameter. Another strategy is to use targeting options available when using 3rd party tools such as Hootsuite or SproutSocial.

Whatever your strategy it’s pretty clear that you’ll be throwing money out the window if your content isn’t relevant and appealing to a specific target audience, in a set language and addressing precise needs.¬†

7. Visual communication is king

Think of it: by 2017, video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic, according to Cisco. And as much as 50% of video views will be happening on mobile devices in 2016. But as this Guardian article correctly points out, you will need more than to create your own videos to make a difference.

Creativity still trumps production and distribution budgets, although not in all contexts. Posts without visual content will be lost in the clutter of more appealing visual content prepared by well-advised brands. Animated content (video, GIFs and animations) will usually outperform static content (photos and infographics). Higher quality content will spread faster and farther, but lower quality, ‘rougher’ visual content will generate more engagement.

It will also be more and more important to break content into smaller chunks for repurposing and reposting, as the attention span of online users continues to shrink and social media fatigue sinks in. 

8. A shift from campaign to experience

Forget campaigns, look out for experiences! ‘Experience’ is the new buzzword of digital strategists and marketers. What does it mean in practice?¬†

It means that rather than trying to reach out to customers or users for a limited period of time through a campaign, communicators would be well advised to look at the whole chain that generates experiences with these customers or users, and improve on each of the steps in this interaction with them.

Marketers will look at embedding real-life experiences into digital campaigns. Big data will play a key role for companies as they learn to know more about their customers or users, and the context in which they are in touch with a brand. Brian Solis, a digital analyst and futurist, is suggesting a model to build experience marketing into your business strategy. Here is a visual summary of it by Solis himself:

While the organisation I work for will not be using any of these in the short term in its communication or outreach activities (though I would love to be proven wrong), those who do will more easily reach above the noise and create memorable experiences for their customers or users. And as with every communication or outreach effort where the medium is also the message, it will work if there is true added value in using these new technologies, not because they are hype.

At SXSW¬†and the European Digital Awards this year I witnessed several good uses of VR and wearables for marketing purposes, including by NASA which gave me my first virtual tour of Mars ūüôā

10. The 3Ds of government – digital, data and design

As government organisations continue to play catch up with companies to keep up with the ever changing technological landscape, they will focus more and more on the 3Ds Рdigital, data and design Рto deliver better, lower cost, public services. Digital transformation, big data and design thinking are probably the three biggest concrete translations of the 3Ds in government today.

A recent example of the blending of digital, data and design is the¬†G20 dashboard designed for the G20 in Antalya, Turkey, earlier in November. The true novelty would have been that the dashboard also blends policy data and real-time results of the international negotiations. But that’s probably for 2016 – it’s ok to dream big ūüôā


If you work in government, which of the above trend is the most challenging or the most promising in your field of work?

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