Shots recently published this article by our Head of Strategy, Harvey Cossell, discusses why 2017 has been the year for Influencer Marketing, the role that social media plays in society & the emergence of new potentially ad-friendly platforms. They've been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

What’s been the biggest talking point in social media marketing in 2017?
Influencer marketing has been on the agenda for a while, but this year it’s taken a firm grip on the industry and it’s not letting go. It’s now considered an essential part of a brand’s marketing strategy, rather than an add-on to a social campaign, as it has been in previous years. But this doesn’t mean everyone is now doing it well; most brands know they should be working with influencers, but they don’t know how to go about it effectively or measure the results.

What’s the most creative social media campaign you’ve seen in 2017 and why?
Heineken’s Worlds Apart campaign stood out for me. It was a beautifully simple idea that captured the tension in a post-Brexit Britain coming to terms with a rise in intolerance in society.

And the most influential?
We’ve been working with adidas for the last few years to build up the Tango Squads – a huge network of micro-influencers across European cities, connected with adidas using dark social [social sharing that can’t be tracked by web analytics, such as via email or WhatsApp]. We’ve recently brought this out into the light with a long-form content series called Tango Squad F.C. Brands need to be clever in the way they approach influencer marketing. This campaign has harnessed the power of dark social to build a network of passionate ambassadors for adidas, and now it’s evolving into a campaign to reach a mass market target audience.

You mentioned last year that live-streaming was a big thing through 2016. Has that upswing continued and, if so, how has it manifested itself?
Live-streaming is now just part of the furniture. Its next evolution may come when (if?) Facebook Watch establishes itself as a mainstream channel, given its schedule features live content.

You’ve said brands need to be more aware of “social thinking” and not simply use social media as another platform opportunity. Do you think more brands have achieved that?
The brands we work with are definitely focussed on a more culturally-led way of communicating. I think more brands are aware that they need to play an authentic and relevant role in consumers’ lives.

However, the challenge remains that platforms are still talking the language of interruption when it comes to ad formats – the focus for them is on reach, frequency and brand awareness only. So, there’s often a lack of synchronicity when trying to push a cultural message.

VR, despite the hype and money invested, has still not really broken through to the mainstream. Do you think that’s because it is not, inherently, a social medium?
VR allows us to connect with each other so it is inherently social. I’d say its issue is a case of accessibility. There’s no critical mass of VR headsets yet, which we need for it to be regarded as a bona fide social medium.

Do you think that President Trump using Twitter to declare political strategy and debate world events has helped or hindered the legitimacy of the platform?
It’s great PR for Twitter, keeping the platform front of mind as a news source and turning it into a modern-day newswire. Given Twitter’s push towards becoming a breaking news-focussed platform, having an ambassador like Trump (who is after all, President of the US) using the site to do just this can surely only help legitimise its position as a credible [or fake!] news aggregator.

What do you think the next big trend in social media will be?
I’d like to see a flip in the focus on creating three- or six-second pieces of content on social to 10, 15 or even 30 minutes. It could spell the second coming of Advertiser Funded Programming (AFP), as platforms like Facebook Watch will be ad funded and will need content. Despite today’s push of short-form video, marketers need to be more ambitious – it is possible to succeed on social with longer-form content, assuming it’s culturally relevant.