Year in Review: What Happened on the Social Media Scene in 2015—And What It Means for 2016

By Missy Sheehan

A lot has happened on the social media scene this year. Viral debates about whether a dress is white and gold or blue and black aside, we’ve heard rumors of Facebook adding a Dislike button, seen the rise of a whole slew of new trending hashtags supporting social movements as well as hashtag campaigns for popular brands, and experienced the wonder that is seeing animated GIFs and 360-degree videos on Facebook.

As a small business owner myself, I’m curious to see how many of the changes that social media platforms have implemented this year—as well as the new trends that have emerged alongside them—will affect other businesses and their marketing tactics. Let’s take a look at some of those changes and trends and what effects they might have in 2016.

Facebook News Feed Changes

In January this year, Facebook began rolling out changes to what kind of content shows up in users’ news feeds, which in the end has made it more difficult for business pages to reach their audiences without paying for sponsored posts. Obviously, the changes have been frustrating for many business owners who up until this year relied solely on organic reach, but expect the trend to continue in 2016.

Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers predicts that with more and more businesses becoming involved in social media marketing, competition for organic reach will increase next year as well. “Already, Facebook is throttling organic visibility to force people to buy advertising, and as more businesses emerge in the market, that throttle will only increase, and among more social media channels,” DeMers writes in a recent article.

If you want your business to be seen on social media in 2016, now’s the time to get on board with using Facebook ads and sponsored posts. With a sponsored post you can reach people based on their location, age, gender, and interests, and that can be enormously helpful in attracting attention (and ultimately business) from those in your target markets.

If you want your business to be seen on social media in 2016, now's the time to get on board with using Facebook ads & sponsored posts.

Experimenting with Other Networks and Innovative Apps

While Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest continue to reign supreme in the social media marketing realm, this year more brands started experimenting with campaigns on younger networks like Instagram and Tumblr and with popular apps like Vine, Snapchat, and Periscope.

Back in May, for example, TOMS Shoes ran a campaign on Instagram using the hashtag #withoutshoes. For every photo of bare feet that fans tagged on the image-based network, TOMS pledged to donate a new pair of shoes to a child in need. By the end of the campaign, the company was able to donate 296,243 pairs of shoes to children who needed them. That’s almost 300,000 people (e.g., potential customers) who interacted directly with the brand—and that’s not even including the countless people who heard about the campaign and supported it but didn’t feel like posting pictures of their bare feet online for the world to see!

Launched in late March, the live-video app Periscope also has earned the attention of several notable brands this year. According to an article by Lauren Johnson for Adweek, for instance, Spotify, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, and DKNY have all used the Twitter-owned app to stream live events and videos. As of August 2, Periscope had surpassed more than 10 million accounts, and the app’s users are currently watching more than 40 years of video per day. Considering those numbers, you may want to add Periscope to your bucket list for apps to try in 2016. I have no doubt that plenty more big brands will be doing just that.

New Features and Functionality

Social media networks continued to add new features and functionality this year. In May, for example, Facebook introduced Instant Articles, which gives iPhone users access to articles from publishers like The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, BBC News, NBC News, and more. In September, the network debuted 360-degree videos on news feeds. Last month, the network announced that it’s testing a new fundraising tool for nonprofits and improving the Donate button to make it easy for users to donate and join a fundraiser directly from their news feeds.

Twitter likewise has introduced some changes, including autoplay for native videos, Vines, and GIFs and the ability for users to create polls. The network also recently unveiled Brand Hub, a new analytics tool that is designed to give medium- to large-sized businesses a deeper look into the conversations around their brand, as well as the demographics of their audience. Brand Hub additionally can help brands measure their “Share of Conversation” relative to their top competitors.

Buy buttons, which allow users to purchase items without ever leaving their news feeds, gained significant attention this year across most major social networks. Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter all have introduced them in the last year, and Instagram isn’t far behind, according to DeMers, who predicts that buy buttons will take over social media next year. “By the end of 2016, most major social media brands will feature some kind of buy button naturally as an element of their advertising campaigns,” he writes.

What’s Next?

So what about Facebook’s Dislike button we’ve been hearing so much about? Well, according to Ingrid Lunden in a recent article for TechCrunch, rather than rolling out a thumbs-down button, Facebook will be introducing a set of six emoji that will be available next to the current Like button. These emoji will allow users to respond with images showing love, laughter, happiness, surprise, sadness, and anger. The new emoji will be tested first in Spain and Ireland before they’re rolled out to the rest of the world, according to Lunden, so it might be a while before we see them in the United States.

When they do arrive, the new emoji could have big benefits for businesses when it comes to data collection. “Offering different emoji will also mean that Facebook will start to tally and show those different responses: so, just as today you see how many people and who Liked a post, now you will see which people loved it, or found it surprising, or sad, and so on,” Lunden writes. These additional insights will no doubt prove to be invaluable to businesses.

As you can see, the social media scene experienced some major changes and inspired all kinds of new trends this year, and we still have plenty more to look forward to in 2016. I hope this post leaves you feeling confident and prepared to tackle all of your business’s social media goals in the coming year.

Missy Sheehan 's photo
  • Author: Missy Sheehan
  • About Me: aka Media Marketing contributor, freelance writer for regional publications like Blue Ridge Country, WV Living, and Hagerstown magazines. I write articles on food, travel, and outdoor adventure as well as marketing materials for businesses. Connect with me on Twitter @SheehanWriting.