Bob PearsonBob Pearson

When social media channels evolve, so does the communications function. On the surface, the changes often appear subtle, yet they require PR pros to either develop new skills or approach the channels with a different mindset.

Here is a look at how five major social platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn—will impact PR and communicators in 2016.

Facebook: There are two major drivers of change. The first relates to the anonymized data now available via Datasift. For the first time, we can start to see patterns related to specific audience types. Yes, the data is “in aggregate,” but new products from Datasift and innovative agencies will create analytics products that give insights into the Facebook population not available before. Stay tuned. The second relates to the use of strategic paid media. We can now make buys of $100 to $500 at a time, judge the success of the content and then continue or stop. This ability to combine earned, shared and strategic paid is a game changer, because what we do on Facebook now will eventually translate to the majority of social channels. Communicators will need to become strategic paid experts and media planners in shared media.

Twitter: What matters about Twitter is where customers go after seeing a tweet, whether it is earned or paid. If we think of Twitter as a catalyst, similar to a wire service, we’re in the right mindset. Our metrics will need to measure the journey across two to four social channels. Twitter is just the start. This trend is directly related to the emerging ability of Twitter to display a full story inside the microblogging service. Imagine being able to touch a tweet and see a video, slide deck, FAQs and key links, and then decide where to go from there. The “retweet” will be replaced by Twitter as “story catalyst” and we’ll see what content moves and why. I like to call this Lego analytics, since each interaction leads to the next building block of a story and/or campaign.

Pinterest: I heard Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann talk this summer about how Pinterest will become a search engine for experiences. This is a major pivot and it makes complete sense. Channels with large audiences will transform themselves into mini-search engines for the area they excel in. Think of Pinterest as the first of many custom-search engines that help us learn more about our customers’ needs.

Snapchat: This is the big mystery for most PR execs. The channel is very successful, but will it allow us to learn what people do on the channel and how else it can be used? I think we’re getting closer to an environment where we “Snap to buy” within a Snapchat social stream. In the future, if we use Snapchat, our credit card is already attached and we like what we see from our friends, why not buy it in real time? Snapchat can easily move from hipster channel targeting twentysomethings to ecommerce innovator virtually overnight.

LinkedIn: The best blogging platform is now LinkedIn. You gain a wider audience and can see how your direct audience views your thinking. This will place a higher premium on brands building up an intelligent presence on LinkedIn. Brands should showcase thought leaders and encourage dialogue that is educational. A big opportunity lies ahead for brands and agencies of all stripes.

Each of these examples show how incremental innovation is making a major impact on how we communicate, shape behavior and, ultimately, sell our products or services.

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Bob Pearson is president and chief innovation officer at W20 Group. Follow him on Twitter, @bobpearson1845. This is the first of a regular series of articles focusing on social media.