Social media 2016: A year in review

Practicology consultant Amanda Haxton looks back at 2016 and picks out the key developments in social media that have had the biggest impact on retail.

The past 12 months have seen a huge amount of change to the social media landscape providing lots of opportunities for retailers to incorporate social elements to their strategies.

Despite dire predictions, Google+ lives on and Facebook is still the biggest player in the game, but so-called ‘up-and-coming’ networks such as Snapchat have also well and truly come of age. 

Across most platforms in 2016 there has been a focus on making social media commercially successful and there has been an increase in governance and moderation for users to appeal to advertisers.

Here’s our round up of the key social media changes this year for retailers:

January 2016

  • Periscope begins broadcasting directly within Twitter tweets and Topshop was quick to use the feature to live stream its Topshop Unique catwalk show during London Fashion Week.

February 2016

  • Facebook launched Canvas, a full screen, immersive mobile ad experience.

April 2016

  • Facebook Live launches to all users. Benefit Cosmetics’ “Tipsy Tricks” Facebook Live series has proved a popular and entertaining way for the retailer to engage its customers.
  • Facebook allows for AI Bots to be used within Messenger, opening customer service and commercial capabilities, which have already been adopted by companies including Disney, KLM, and Hyatt.
  • Snapchat partners with Mr Burberry to make it the first brand story featured on Discover, a feature previously reserved for leading publishers.

Benefit Facebook Live.png

May 2016

  • Instagram unveils re-brand to position itself as a modern brand, no longer defined by vintage style photography filters.

June 2016

  • New features are introduced on Instagram, allowing customers to call or email businesses they follow. This makes managing the network far more efficient for retailers, with comments previously being hard to track and time consuming to sift though. It also allows for the possibility of customer service via Instagram to mature and compete with Facebook and Twitter.

July 2016

  • Instagram allows Taylor Swift, who has more than 86 million followers, to block abusive comments. Some of this functionality, such as keyword blocking has now been rolled out to everyday users. This feature will give brands and retailers greater control of online reputation and crisis management on Instagram.

Instagram Stories.jpg

August 2016

  • Instagram launches Stories, a feature remarkably similar to Snapchat’s signature functionality, with photos and videos disappearing after 24 hours. ASOS, M.A.C Cosmetics and River Island were among the retailers quick to jump on the bandwagon.
  • Pinterest launches promoted videos for brands, and heightened capability for targeted advertising based on customer’s previous Pinterest engagement.
  • Geo Stickers launch on Snapchat offering brands and retailers the chance to sponsor stickers at targeted locations. Donald Trump was a controversial early adopter with a sponsored campaign sticker while River Island has adopted the technology instore.
  • YouTube faced backlash from some of its biggest vloggers, such as ChipDaddyTV, after it implemented a ban on monetising content it deemed “inappropriate”, including videos containing vulgar language and swearing.

September 2016

  • Snapchat unveils Spectacles to widespread scepticism. After Google saw limited success with Glass it’s unclear if this move will pay off. It’s a matter of ‘wait and see’ - pun intended.

October 2016

  • Facebook launches Marketplaces, a community seller market to compete with the likes of Craigslist and Ebay.


November 2016

  • Reality TV star turned retailer Kylie Jenner dominated social media over Cyber Weekend. On Cyber Monday the top three social posts were all for Kylie Cosmetics and reached over 10million people each. Unsurprisingly Amazon was the biggest trending retailer overall.

How should you approach social media strategy in 2017?

Social Media has become increasingly crowded and diversified in functionality, with countless social networks, messaging and bookmarking sites on offer. Many of the larger platforms have played a ‘me too’ game this year, copying features or key services. However, a strategic approach for each platform is still key going forward in the New Year.

Your approach to new features, such as those introduced this past year, will differ from one business to another. High-street retailers targeting younger customers can benefit from early adoption of the newest advertising features. Other retailers may choose a few key platforms and features, such as customer service, and focus on maintaining a high level of quality and consistency.

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