Social Media is a unique tool for marketers and advertisers, community managers and sales professionals alike, as a way to connect to customers.

But as far as marketing goes, there are still a few trends that we see some brands not taking full advantage of. We’re not talking about the kind of flash in the pan trends that invoke shiny object syndrome that can make customers confused about your overall message and consistency. We’re talking about the kind of trends that will really help you to harness the power of social.

It’s important to remember that not every strategy works for every company, nor should brands try everything all at once. But with social, there’s something for everyone. Here’s some of our top picks for 2016 social media trends that you should be taking advantage of right now.

Live Video Streaming

2015 was the year that introduced us to live streaming. Periscope, Meerkat, and Blab were all introduced last year, and Facebook introduced ‘Live’. Does that sound like gibberish to you? Let me get you up to speed.

Periscope and Meerkat (which really all but lost the battle against Periscope) are video streaming apps that connect with Twitter users to create real-time engaging video for followers.

Blab upped the ante with creating ‘chat’-like environments which allowed for multiple participants to jump into a video-streaming discussion, while followers could watch. Unfortunately, after a huge breakout performance, Blab has since become defunct.

Facebook has been the latest to jump on-board with video streaming with its new Facebook ‘Live’ feature which allows users to stream video on their timelines in real-time (which I imagine had something to do with other live-streaming services being wiped off the map).

How does this affect brands? Firstly, it provides several new platforms to increase engagement with customers and potential customers. Increasingly, consumers are looking for humanized brands who have a real face, and live video streaming follows this growing trend. Live video streaming allows the opportunity for companies to provide ‘inside looks’ into their businesses and practices, provide video story-telling, or question-and-answer opportunities for executives and their followers, and puts a ‘face’ to the name of a big (or small) corporation.

Utilize video streaming in your marketing strategy to promote content like e-books and webinars, or conduct information sessions or free trainings through video streaming. ‘Ask Me Anything’ style interviews are becoming wildly popular, and help businesses to beef up their transparency.

Social as e-commerce

If you’re a retail brand – rejoice. It’s becoming easier than ever for customers to make purchases right inside social media platforms. One of the especially great new features on social to be revealed this past year are ‘buy’ buttons, on a number of sites.

The biggest to start really utilizing these buy buttons is Pinterest, with Twitter and Facebook also following suit. For Pinterest, buy buttons just make sense. Pinterest as a platform lends itself so easily to e-commerce, that if you aren’t using it in your marketing strategy yet, you’re really missing out.

‘Pins’ and ‘Boards’ are fantastic ways to show products and collections, and with buy buttons allowing customers to make purchases without ever having to leave the social network, there is plenty of opportunity to create brand awareness and new customers at the very same time.

Twitter and Facebook ‘buy’ buttons are still catching on. These buttons appear in more sponsored post-like fashion, or ads. If you’re an online retailer already investing in Facebook ads or Twitter sponsored posts, buy buttons may be a good option for you to test.

Some say these buy buttons aren’t really working yet, but we say just not enough brands have jumped onto using them yet. Add them to your campaigns early this year, and you might just be ahead of the curve.

Influencer Partnerships and The ‘Takeover’

Social media influencers have been around almost as long as social media has – there’s nothing new there. But brands are finally beginning to realize the potential audiences they can tap into by partnering with influencers. This doesn’t have to mean a ‘celebrity endorsement’ of your products, but it could mean utilizing strategic relationships in your content marketing on social media.

What might these relationships look like? Consider those who follow your social media profiles, who may have strong followings themselves. Utilizing those people to connect with their audiences members just makes sense, and they could have something to gain from tapping into your followers.

One of the great ways we’ve seen this done in the past year, and is a trend we think will continue to grow in 2016, is the social media ‘takeover.’ Typically done on Instagram or Twitter, a ‘takeover’ is a great way to add new human interest elements to your social media while drawing in a new audience.

Brands from clothing lines to video games, to marketing companies like Hubspot are getting in on the ‘takeover,’ and it’s easy enough to implement in your own marketing strategy. It’s social media’s version of a guest blog, and also act to increase engagement amongst your followers. A ‘takeover’ breaks up the norm and adds a special element to your social media campaigns.

Who to choose? Whether you allow your platforms to be taken over by an internal employee or an external influencer, be sure that person is interesting, professional, and adds a new perspective to your social media. They should post announcements on their own accounts for followers to be on the lookout for their ‘takeover’ and to follow along on your handle. Posts can be created in ‘real-time,’ following a day-in-the-life narrative, or you can pre-strategize and create the content for sharing ahead of time for maximum promotional benefits.

Social Customer Service

Haven’t considered using social media as a customer service platform? You’re not the only one. This trend, also not necessarily new, is still catching on as consumers are becoming increasingly needy for real-time solutions to their problems. This might be the year you want to take advantage of it too.

Social customer service is becoming increasingly important, because more and more customers are going right to social profiles rather than websites or calling customer service help lines. We’ve long heard the stories of brands who have responded to customer’s (or competitors’ customer’s) needs at lightning speeds through social media, earning praise and viral sensation status. And we have also heard the stories on social media of the ones who don’t.

Increasing demand in quicker-than-ever-before customer service response times are facilitating the need for brands to jump on the social customer service trend. As such, customer service and marketing are beginning to go hand in hand. Taking care of your customers has the potential for good marketing material, and customer loyalty and brand advocacy we all know is worth the most in marketing currency.

Some companies create separate Twitter handles or Facebook pages specifically for customer service, or you can utilize your already existing accounts as a way to show followers two things: that you are available to them through real-time social, and that you are great at customer service. Use social media to conduct customer service surveys, or ask your followers questions about their experiences with your company. Both show customer appreciation, and transparency.

These four social media trends are really just getting started. Utilize them this year to make the most of your social media marketing strategy, and you’ll be able to fully tap into what social can do for your brand. Long gone are the days where social media acted as just a way to increase brand awareness. Using video streaming can add transparency and humanize your brand, social e-commerce helps shorten your path to purchase, influencer partnerships open up a world of new potential customers, and social media customer service helps you better connect with those in your network.

With an increasing number of people using social media, and new features being developed all the time, can your brand afford not to take advantage of emerging trends on social media?

This post was originally written for Inbound Marketing Agents, and can be viewed here.

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