Our Take: ModSquad’s 2017 Digital Predictions

Here it is, the first week of 2017 not even finished and we’re ready to make our predictions for the digital trends we expect to see this year. We made our prognostications last year, and our recent end-of-year review of those forecasts has emboldened us to stick our necks out again with these soothsaying statements. You can bring these to Vegas, baby — they’re like money in the bank!

1. AR and VR go mainstream.

Augmented reality and, in particular, virtual reality have been poised on the brink of greatness for longer than we’d care to remember. But this year, things are different. No, really! This is the year that AR and VR hit the big time. Things started moving steadily in that direction in 2016, with record-setting AR mobile apps (think we heard something about catching ‘em all..?) and countless brands releasing their own sets of VR goggles, from cardboard doodads to pricey technotoys.

At Austin Game Conference in September, our own Rich Weil mused on building and moderating virtual reality communities, something we at ModSquad are particularly focused on as the technology evolves. We haven’t yet seen that great product that pushes VR over the edge, but expect to see the technology utilized heavily in gaming, as well as in marketing and consumer engagement across industries.

2. Live video will extend across all platforms.

The Meerkat app was, for all intents and purposes, killed by the arrival of Periscope, and Periscope suffered from the wide use of Snapchat and the introduction of Facebook Live. With behemoths like YouTube and Facebook promoting real-time broadcasts, user engagement trends are encouraging. The speed with which news reporters, brands large and small, and everyday users alike have flocked to these outlets make it clear: live video is and will remain a hot topic in 2017. We’ll be watching to see how major brands attempt to benefit from the compelling nature of live video, and working to both engage and moderate the communities that converge around these broadcasts.

3. AI will enhance, but not replace, human customer service.

Like AR and VR, artificial intelligence (AI) is another technology that’s been promising great things for what seems like ages. While many of us are using AI in our daily lives (sometimes even going beyond trying to shock Siri or Alexa with naughty phrases), we’re in the midst of an expansion of chatbot-based customer support that showcases both AI’s potential and its limitations. Some rules-based support bots have proven effective, helping users with simple queries and streamlining customer service flows.

However, these bots – essentially SmarterChild 2.0, for those of us who grew up in the age of AOL – are no match for real, live humans. Intuition, emotional knowledge, solid judgment, and a great personality can’t be duplicated (yet). Most bots can’t tell the difference between real and fake news, or sarcasm and sincerity. As 2017 progresses, AI will continue become a more important part of streamlining customer support, and providers will need to adapt… but for now, we recommend it as a tool for your support team, not a replacement.

4. Customer support will become the new winning marketing strategy.

As the voice of the customer gains more and more influence, companies will need to harness the power of positive word of mouth. As our recent infographic illustrated, a positive support interaction can foster long-lasting loyalty to your brand, while up to 95% of consumers are likely to share a poor experience with their peers. That’s why we’re expecting marketing teams to become more closely aligned than ever before with their customer-focused brethren in the CS department.

We all know it’s far cheaper to keep an existing customer than convert a new one, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep your audience delighted. Your brand’s reputation is quickly becoming a mirror of your customer satisfaction scores. The companies that embrace this philosophy will find themselves on the winning end of 2017.

5. Instagram will become a branding mainstay, rather than a nice-to-have.

2016 saw a rise in brands and advertisers embracing Instagram (along with Snapchat). Visuals (images, gifs, videos) have become an essential part of marketing and a major driver of social media engagement, While both channels have intentionally minimized advertising in the past, we saw a definite change of heart last year that portends of things to come. Instagram’s new shopping feature, which allows users to click on items in a photo and wind up on a purchase page, is likely to be a game-changer for the platform, forcing brands to recognize how imperative this channel (and others like it) are as part of their larger strategies.

What’s your take on our predictions? Let us know in the comments section below.

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