Where is social media headed in 2016? In a world where checking your Twitter or Instagram feed in the morning is as normal as putting the kettle on to make a cup of tea, social media dominates our personal and business transactions, but at such saturation point, where can it go next? We take a look at the trends that will rule our online worlds in 2016.

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1. Niche platforms

The world of social media has become dominated by a few titans, but 2016 will see a continuation of the trend for smaller start-ups bidding for a slice of the action. Teens and young people will migrate from the increasingly monetised, corporately-dominated environs of Facebook and Twitter to niche networks geared around specific interests. As these smaller platforms bloom and get bought up by the titans keen to protect their audience share, so they will move on again, creating a game of cat and mouse around up and coming channels like Meerkat, Periscope and Vine.

2. Social shopping

Monetisation continues to be the hot ticket concern among social media platforms, whose billion dollar acquisition deals tend to be based on audience potential rather than cold, hard revenue. As even the big players struggle to balance income generation with alienating an audience comfortably used to the free internet, social shopping may be the way forward. Brand collaborations, embedded one-click buying, and social network driven shopping will all become more prominentin 2016as bricks-and-mortar shops also work to merge with the online world and become experiential.

3. Social Superstars

The relentless growth in channels such as YouTube and Instagram has created a new breed of star – the social media guru. With perfectly curated social feeds and their immediacy of access to millions of young subscribers, the mainstream is taking notice of these influencers. Once the preserve of the internet, their reach is now expanding into the wider world, with stars such as Joe Sugg and Caspar Van Dien releasing movies and going on tour and beauty vloggers like Tanya Burr releasing in store cosmetic ranges and shooting an Elle cover. 2016 will see social superstars taking over the mainstream media as their reach cannot be ignored.

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4. What Cost Privacy

Last year saw a snowballing in concerns around user privacy as websites and social networks were left cowering in the wake of data breaches. With online and social now pervading every aspect of our life, from networking to personal finance, who we give our information to, and what they do with it, will become a major concern. Any new social platform will be forced to prove they can protect customer data in order to have a hope of success.

5. COPE for Content

Withnew platforms and an increasingly socially-savvy customer, 2016 will see a need to produce content tailored to each platform. This will likely drive a rise in COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere) marketing, where content is created with multiple channel relevancy in mind. Anchor content for websites will be created in a modular style that can then be easily broken down into pieces relevant to each native platform. For example, one long video will be embedded into a blog post, clipped for Instagram and Snapchat, set into an infographic for Pinterest, and added to Twitter as a picture and Facebook as an article. All sources will lead back to the original post, directing traffic back to the brand website.

6. Brands get personal

Despite the wealth of personal data they collect from us, brands have struggled to realise the true marketing potential of what they know about their users. A name-personalised email is still as daring as some get. But with social media now more metrics than smoke and mirrors, much of the guesswork is disappearing. In 2016, brands will focus on deepening the connection with their customers, using their knowledge of individual preferences to develop mini marketing strategies for ever more refined subsets of consumers, shooting for valuable repeat and add-on sales, stronger loyalty and personal experience.

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7. Express Your Emoji

Still not taking those little pictures seriously? Emoji have gone from niche add-on to a key communication tool. A shorthand for sentiment, they provide a much-needed context to our social transactions, and in 2016 will see them go stratospheric. Emoji use will become part of the analytics for brands this year, s a way to better understand audiences. How and why emoji are linked to interest and engagement with a brand or product, and how they might be used commercially to help with insight-driven sales will be a much bigger focus this year.

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