How social will affect the way brands do business in 2016

Social Thinking
WARC recently published this article by our Chief Strategy Officer, Mobbie Nazir, looking at social trends in business, content, technology and culture, taken from our 2016 Think Forward Report. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

Predicting the future is a dream as old as history, from consulting the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece to the work of Nostradamus in Medieval France. This fascination has persisted into the modern day, which is littered with visions of the 21st century that never came true – but that doesn’t stop people and organizations from trying to see what’s around the next corner.

Today, we make forecasts all the time – from predicting traffic flows to the demand for turkeys at Christmas. Traditionally, these predictions have been based on what people have already done – but now with the wealth of real-time data available at our fingertips, we’re starting to see models of prediction of how people are “about to act”.

By now, it’s widely recognised that social media is changing our world. It’s one of the biggest shifts in culture and society since the industrial revolution and it’s only just getting started.

Social media has turned the traditional business model on its head. Take the “sharing economy” – a disruptive economic force that creates new sources of supply. Whether this involves underused assets (private cars, spare bedrooms) or labour (people willing to fill in a few hours as taxi drivers, personal shoppers or couriers), it taps resources that could not be effectively organized before.

Social platforms have also played an important role in many elections around the world, including in the U.S, Iran, and India. From trends such as these, we can see that social media can be a significant catalyst for success by empowering people and fuelling ideas.

It’s important to remember that people had a desire to connect with each other, way before the rise of social platforms. Social behaviour is hard-wired into our DNA. It’s how we define ourselves and build relationships with others. It’s a powerful driving force which brands and organizations can tap into to help them connect and engage with their audiences in more engaging, useful and meaningful ways.

Here, we look at some of the trends in business, content, technology and culture that will show you how social thinking is changing the world we live in, and how they will affect the future of business.

With the Apple Watch bringing wearable tech mainstream and products like Nest increasingly finding their way into the homes of consumers, it’s been a big year for technology. 2016 will see this evolve one step further as technology and social collide. The Internet of Social Things will see us share everyday objects socially through our smartphones, taking the sharing economy to the next level. Social will also be the key component in taking virtual reality to the masses. VR is slowly gaining momentum; but while most VR/360 experiences are currently a one person affair, VR 2.0 will allow us to communicate socially in a virtual environment.


Big Data has been around for a long time, but it’s ‘Big Social Data’ that’s going to be on the agenda next year. Smart brands will mine conversations on social to provide an opportunity to create reactive products and services that their audiences really want. We’ve seen steps in this direction already, from Snow Patrol crowdsourcing set lists for their gigs, to The Food Standards Agency using Twitter data as an early-warning system for outbreaks of disease, such as the norovirus. As brands start to understand these real time based on insights gathered from conversations on social, they will eventually have to change the way their businesses are set up to develop products and services in near real-time.

As much as we’re social beings, privacy is also very important to us. 2016 will be the year that brands need to understand the trend of ‘anti-social’ – the negative consumer backlash to the pressure of being ‘always on’. Private platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp continue their meteoric rise, and anonymous social app Whisper recently claimed its membership had doubled in the last six months. Brands are experimenting with products to help us switch off, such as the Dolmio Pepper Hacker, which closes down the family WiFi, TVs and mobile devices with one twist. Brands need to adapt their marketing strategies to reach consumers where they are, even if it feels out of their ‘safe’ zone.


With Community Commerce, we see positive behaviour, social and finance collide. We are starting to see communities rally around common causes for good, with positive financial outcomes for all involved. One example is PaystobeSocial, an app which pairs you up with people making the same train journey so you can get a group discount. As more examples of community commerce gain traction, brands will feel the pressure to empower their customers to adopt this innovative model for their own benefit.


Another business trend that’s having an impact is the increasing availability of social currency – sending and receiving payments via social. Snapchat’s Snapcash allows users have linked their debit card in the app to send payments to other eligible Snapchat users. Brands are adopting this trend already – Barclays allows people to make payments to each other and small businesses using just their Twitter handle. Ultimately, people on social want to spend the least amount of time doing mundane financial tasks. If social networks can provide a consistent and trustworthy way of transacting with financial services then they have the ability to draw traffic away from the more traditional methods.

We Are Social: Think Forward 2016 can be read in full here.