What Social Transformation Means for 2017

David Berkowitz David Berkowitz, Former Contributor

At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I joined Digital Hollywood’s conference for the eleventh consecutive year, this time moderating a panel around the theme of social transformation. Just what does transformation mean when it comes to social media this year? Some of the highlights from the panel are below.

I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group of speakers to discuss the topic. These industry veterans include Mashable’s Gregory Gittrich, Work & Co’s Jon Jackson, Some Spider’s Sharon Mussalli, Accenture’s David T. Nguyen, Scripps Networks’ Deb Puchalla, and Business Insider’s Pete Spande.

The notes below are what I tried capturing while moderating the session at the same time, so they’re incomplete, and they capture certain speakers’ contributions better than others. But they do shed some light on some of the more pressing topics, including those that were bubbling up at CES, and those that marketers are more broadly grappling with as the year kicks off.

In their opening remarks, both Mussalli and Puchalla brought up how they use social media to reach consumers where consumers are. Puchalla added that for Scripps Networks’ food brands, she values how social media lets consumers talk to them.

The first question I brought up to the panelists centered on how voice control fits in with social media usage. It seemed like every device debuting at CES had voice activation built in, whether using Amazon Alexa or a proprietary technology. The leaders in voice technologies are companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, rather than any of the major social platforms, but voice communication is typically a social act. Nguyen noted that “voice and social are orthogonal,” so they’re developing independently of each other. Puchalla used the discussion of voice to talk about how her brands are using chatbots to interact with consumers. That connection between interactions around voice and chatbots indicate how these trends could tempt social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Slack, and Kik to become invested in voice interactivity going forward.

After Puchalla’s comment about chatbots, we dove into other emerging frontiers. Last year brought an onslaught of innovation in chatbots, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 360-degree video, live video, and artificial intelligence (AI). I was curious which of those areas, among others, that the panelists were most excited about for 2017. Mussalli was the first to bring up interest in the use of AI for image recognition. She also is eager for vertical video to become even more ubiquitous across content distribution channels. Puchalla is excited for live video, as it creates possibilities for new forms of storytelling, it lets Scripps test concepts faster (compared with the process for bringing a TV show to market), and it has her team so excited to create content for it. Both Puchalla and Spande shared how they allow for some experimentation when their content teams are particularly eager to try a new format or platform. Spande also shared that he thought VR and AR were overhyped compared to their total potential audience. He said, “It’s a fad looking for some kind of concept to fill it in.”

During further discussion about the role of video, Gittrich pointed out that “video” isn’t some monolithic category. There are so many forms of it. In traditional contexts, he noted, people don’t conflate poorly shot clips of home movies with feature films, and yet when it comes to digital, video becomes a catch-all for a slew of formats that have nothing to do with each other. Puchalla separately noted that she was very excited about Instagram Stories and video as an alternative to Snapchat.

The discussion moved on to prioritization. With so many platforms and formats, how do the speakers determine what to prioritize, and what to dismiss? Mussalli said Some Spider uses a flywheel model to see which kinds of impressions lead to more views and shares and thus have an impact that extends far beyond the initial view. Gittrich added, “All content views are not the same.” Spande said that at Business Insider, it is easy to prepare for failure, but hard to prepare for success. He added that when they try something new and it just does alright, it is more difficult to determine whether to invest further or pull back.

During the time for audience Q&A, one attendee asked about the role of crowdsourcing content from users. Jackson said that at Work & Co, they don’t have any catch-all recommendations for their clients. Some brands naturally lend themselves to incorporating user-generated content, while others won’t entertain the idea at all.

For the last question of the day, I asked panelists what they saw or heard about at CES that they were most excited about. For Gittirch, it was voice-control integrated into a wide array of products. Jackson said he’s interested in how voice leads objects to understand people, such as how toys can now understand children. Puchalla said she was surprised by the prevalence of voice, and she was excited by innovations in the connected home category. Nguyen was most interested in AI. Spande said he was blown away by how fast 5G wireless speeds are and loves the potential for what it will mean to have such fast internet access at the tip of your fingers. Mussalli said it’s the “year of the camera,” and is eager for cameras to become even more ubiquitous, such as in Snapchat Spectacles.

There were at least ten other questions we didn’t get to. If we had more time, we could have discussed what opportunities lie ahead for virtual reality, the reliability of social data following a year where various platforms had reporting issues, best practices for live video, the role of image recognition and visual search (especially on solely visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest), predictions for what the coming year will bring for Twitter, interest in social commerce, a deeper dive into chatbots, and which emerging platforms are on their radars. We’ll have to reconvene next year and block out a full day to tackle all of these.

In lieu of waiting so long, we will address some of these topics at the Sysomos Summit coming up at the end of February. It’d be great to meet you there. If you’re coming, let us know which topics you’re most excited about.

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