It seems as if social media has taken over all aspects of our daily life. Some of the side effects include a feeling of connectedness with others, the acceleration of the news cycle from days to hours, and an endless stream of pictures of your friends’ latest restaurant meals. For marketers, social media’s ascension has introduced many opportunities, and challenges.

That social media will be at the forefront of marketing innovation for 2018 is a given — it’s too important not to be. For this set of 2018 predictions, then, I wanted to focus on how marketers will begin to get social media data under control, and start to benefit from it. As you may have guessed, the major technologies for sorting through all this data are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

AI and machine learning have become essential for analyzing social media, with its rich, unstructured data that has the potential to serve as the world’s largest focus group. But this data is incredibly complex. It’s unpredictable, inconsistent and variable, and includes everything from sarcasm and emotional content, to images and slang.

Machine learning and AI can interpret language’s nuances and deliver relevant, accurate results beyond just identifying brand mentions. Machine learning technologies can make predictions, but it’s still up to the marketers to ensure they’re making strategic business decisions based on these data-based predictions.

AI-powered tools have advanced to the point that they have the potential to make 2018 the year marketers can finally get all the insights they want out of social media data, without spending hours upon hours collecting, analyzing and interpreting it. Below are three areas where AI technologies will affect marketing for the better in 2018.

Timing and message

There’s nothing worse than an out-of-touch marketer. How many times have you chuckled at a campaign that was woefully off target the second it launches? Almost as important as the message itself is the distribution channel and timing. This used to mean picking the appropriate magazine and month, or the right TV show and day to run a campaign. Now? As channels have increased and become more diverse and complicated, and attention spans have decreased, choosing the right times, most effective creative and correct distribution channel by feel or by manually going through data has become untenable.

There’s simply no way for marketers to go through the data on views, clicks, favorites, retweets or other metrics and discern any real trends.

However, in 2018 AI will have improved ability to go through this data, in real time, to provide insights that marketers can then use to pick the exact right content, for the exact right platform, at the exact right time for the right audiences. This saves marketers time, and increases the effectiveness of campaigns.

Images are everything

When we think of data, we tend to think of numbers and text. As time has gone on, however, the visual aspect of marketing has become more and more important. As photo-first social media platforms like Instragram and Snapchat proliferate, marketers have been forced to keep up. This means images. Lots of images.

(Source: KPCB)

The sheer volume of potentially useful and relevant images is overwhelming. This content shows, among other things, how, when and where consumers use a company’s products. What used to be a crush of potentially great customer-generated advertising, in 2018 will continue to become a great tool for marketers thanks to AI.

AI-powered computer vision opens up these images to marketers, beyond what a couple of interns can go through manually. Whether you’re looking for moments of consumption, logo use (and misuse), or other user-generated content, AI can help sift through the literally billions of images on social media and home in on the ones that matter most. Once you have those, applying your expertise on which images to use, and how, becomes a much more interesting, and valuable, proposition.

Influencers become more influential

A relatively new phenomenon that has come with social media’s increased importance is influencers. These people have lots of followers who make buying decisions partially based on what these influencers like, and don’t like. Many of these potential ambassadors for your brand make a living by providing content, and getting paid by companies to promote their products and services.

Finding the right influencer can be a real boost to your brand. We don’t need to tell you, though, what happens when you pick the wrong influencer. There are so many Internet celebrities out there. How do you choose the perfect influencer without getting burned?

Even the most up-to-speed marketers need help in this area. How do you match your brand to influencers who will most resonate with your target audience? How do you avoid making a critical mistake in who you interact with? As we come into 2018, AI-powered consumer insights sourced from social data can help identify the right influencers for your target audience, based on shared interests, favorable opinions and other difficult-to-quantify data points.

Social media, and the data it generates, are great tools for marketers looking to promote their brand. Up to this point, though, it has bordered on being too much of a good thing, as marketing departments have struggled to make the best use of social media platforms, and the insight their data can provide.

In 2018, we see some real advances coming in the field of artificial intelligence that will unlock a lot of this data for marketers. Yes, AI has been around for a few years now, but 2018 is the year it turns the corner, and becomes a real driver of marketing innovation when it comes to social media.

About the Author: Lou Jordano is chief marketing officer at Crimson Hexagon, bringing more than 20 years of experience building and leading high-impact teams within global enterprises and high-growth startups. Prior to Crimson Hexagon, Lou served as the CMO for Attivio, a privately held cognitive search and insight platform company.  Lou holds a Master of Arts from Hofstra University and a Bachelor of Arts from Holy Cross College.