With more than 550 million people on Facebook, 65 million tweets posted on twitter each day, and 2 billion video views each day on YouTube—social media has become an integral part of our connected lives. But this is just the beginning.
For the past two years, I have been forecasting the ways social media will change. Key trends for 2010, included social media integration across applications and devices, lowered technological barriers, mobile pervasiveness, and social media ROI as a focus. It is safe to say that these trends indeed became reality in 2010.
And, more change is ahead. In 2011 we will experience the lines between digital and physical blur further as infrastructure and service companies integrate social technologies into their offering, changing the fabric of our behavior, culture, and identity in completely new ways. Here are key trends to watch in the coming year:
1. Social media will be supersized
Following the success of various social media SaaS vendors and application providers, and fueled by ‘Apple envy,’ in 2011 we will see a surge of service providers bundling social networks, engagement widgets, video, mobile capabilities, cloud services, and analytics, with their own unique services and proprietary capabilities. Ad agencies, for example, will offer bundles that include layers of creative strategy, campaign management, and advertising deals all handled through a central dashboard; telecommunications companies will offer video tools for businesses and consumers with greater bandwidth, storage, and syndication; learning management systems (LMS) integrators will add engagement, archiving, training, and collaboration tools for a deeper and more engaging academic experience. By the end of the year, using today’s a-la cart solutions will seem as efficient as buying a pocket knife with only a bottle opener in it.
2. Companies will integrate social feedback into their decision making process
In 2011 we will see a growing number of companies finally go beyond using social channels merely for building awareness and providing support. As “social thinkers,” these companies will use the social engine to inform strategic decisions, and execute on the organization’s objectives, marketing plans, product roadmaps, and more. “It’s not just about technology, it’s about a fundamental shift into a new age of leadership with a new type of executives who behave and operate in new ways,” said Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com Chairman and CEO. Expect to see a rise in companies who, by end of year, will be recognized for socially-informed innovation, customer focus, and work environment—much like Zappos and Amazon were a few years back.
3. Mobile will become our gateway to the world
2010 marked the year in which infrastructure, technology, and design finally intersected in the mobile space. For the first time, sales of smartphones outpace sales of desktops and laptops, iPhone and iPad applications were downloaded more than 7 billion times, and research shows e-mail access is now on the rise on iPhone while declining on the computer.
With the foundation in place, in the coming year we will witness the scales tip: Mobile device users will interact with content, companies, and the web more on their phones and iPads than on their computers, and IT and service providers will create solutions that are defined by our mobile consumption and use behaviors. “The highway has been there but until now we needed a special car to get us to our destination so the average pedestrian was not going to get there. Now that technology barriers have been lowered, mobile will become an extension of who we are,” said Philippe Suchet, CEO of MyShopanion, and the recipient of Web2.0’s Summit 2010 award for most innovative startup in the mobile shopping category.
From social shopping on the go, to easy paperless transactions and check-ins, to watching (and creating) videos with friends abroad, to in-class learning and collaboration, to managing our health real-time--prepare for an explosion of connected experiences across all points of interactions between people and people, people and companies, and people and information in the cloud.
4. Video will be everywhere
With plummeting video delivery costs and highly accessible and flexible video management platforms (like Brightcove, Ooyala, and the open-source platform Kaltura*), custom-use of video by enterprises online, on mobile devices, and across screens is on the rise across all sectors.
Consumers’ engagement with video will also continue to rise. In October alone, 5.4 billion videos were viewed--2 billion of these on Facebook. “People today can shoot and share HD videos from their phone. The user experience is getting to the same level as broadcast or professional media from image quality standpoint. Image acquisition is entirely changing content production,” said Brett Leonard, renowned writer and director and pioneer of “frag” technology in the movie industry.
In the coming year, gaps in our video experience will be filled with the integration of filtering, tagging, editing, and locating tools into each and every video feed. Both companies and consumers will increasingly rely on video to provide information and behavioral cues that are not otherwise present in texts, tweets, and status updates, making video a critical component of the value chain for its impact on shaping people’s perception about companies and about each other.
5. The next big Online Social Network will not be a network at all
Social networks have transformed human access capabilities much like modern transportation and the telephone did over 150 years ago. But they are also changing the very structure of our relationships—flattening our naturally varying levels of intimacy in real life.
In the coming year we will see the rise of dynamic, engaging, easy to use, community platforms and applications like Diaspora, Path, and Looppa*, that will better mimic and facilitate the innate way people seek to manage relationships “People today look for more personalized, authentic, private information (where we make) a ‘social contract’ around a topic or context that is beyond the reach of search engine results and Facebook crowds,” said Dave Blakely, Director of Technology Strategy at IDEO.
For consumers, this means the ability to create smaller, more intimate, context-specific communities using their existing social graph and live-streams. For companies, this means the ability to facilitate a custom branded, dynamic and engaging experience on their online properties in ways not possible on Facebook. “Every company should think of itself as a media company,” said Tom Foremski, journalist and thought leader.
As they become more social, on their own turfs, companies will once again own their customer relationships and brand in a whole new way—ultimately building greater community value for both the company and its customers.
6. ROI will be redefined
When it comes to ROI, it seems that companies want to cook gourmet risotto but most are still busy washing the rice: Despite 2010 being a year filled with ROI discussions and some strong case studies, Forrester research shows that most companies still have no clue how to meaningfully measure ROI.
As brands move this year from being on social media to using the social media ecosystem, ROI metrics will finally evolve beyond counting ‘likes’ and comments. Aligning with actionable business objectives and their corresponding metrics will be critical to being able to demonstrate repeatable contribution to the bottom line. Companies who hire social media strategists with proven marketing analytics background and business strategy experience will have the upper hand and place first in the race to cracking the ROI code.
7. Psychology is shifting
Until now, human psychology has been regarded slow to change. In the coming year we will begin to see evidence that we are, in fact, witnessing a growing psychological plasticity.
“We have changed the importance of time, geography, age—the assumption of how the world works. We have new levels of cognitive flexibility which is creating a new way of thinking about the world and about ourselves,” said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center and co-founder of A Think Lab.
Once feeling powerless to fight against personal and cultural injustices, today people know they have the power to voice their grievances, the tools to bring about change, and the ability to take control of their experiences.
As the constructs of relationships, privacy, and our ability to influence others evolve, we will also face important questions: How do we respond to the changing definition of relationships? How does the elimination of behavioral cues, only available face-to-face, impact our ability to connect? How does our need for emotional balance get addressed in the face of constant change?
In the coming year, companies wishing to succeed should already start to set practices and create a charter to understand the intersection between technology and psychology. Focusing on behaviors is no longer sufficient.
8. Citizen activism brings back purpose and power
With the power made possible by social technologies to connect, inform, and mobilize, we will see a surge in self-organized and managed citizen activism. “Value will come from being able to facilitate groups as a human infrastructure—not from technology,” says Andrea Saveri, a thought leader and researcher at the intersection of foresight and strategy.
Wikipedia and Mozilla FireFox are early and ongoing examples for the value of the connected human infrastructure; many more, including Causecast, and OpenIDEO, as well as less known projects like It Gets Better will light up the grid. By the end of the year we may each join a group of people we have never met in order to take part in bringing about change in completely new ways.
9. Social business intelligence will heat up…and so will privacy
As we become ever more connected, and rely on giants like Apple and Google to funnel our most personal information, the field of social business intelligence, and with it, our privacy, will move to the spotlight. Wikileak’s eruption on the social media waves and Do Not Track are just previews. Every company now looks to tap into the boundless user data being collected in the cloud. While personalized, targeted experience can be extremely valuable in helping companies and consumers cut through the clutter, the line between perceived use and abuse can be thin at times, as data mining and targeted ad delivery pioneer RapLeaf saw in past months.
In the year ahead we witness (and be part of) major data virtualization initiatives designed map our activities, preferences, and choices. Mechanisms designed to triangulate our mobile , online, and physical information will yield more accurate information than our social security can. We will see fierce regulation battles and hear about companies who use our data to test boundaries—and our trust. When done, Tom Cruise’s shopping scene in Minority Report will seem as sophisticated as scenes from Time Tunnel in the 1970’s.
10. The role of the social media strategist will be changing
The glory days when social media strategists rose to stardom overnight (and too often, with little relevant experience) are finally over. Social media roles today focus on tangible, results-driven capabilities within the organizational structure and processes. Hiring managers are more informed and better connected, making it easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In 2011, social media strategists will need to contend with much more actionable, and often mundane, tasks such as selecting and piloting new tools, integrating social widgets and analytics, helping to educate the organization, and integrating social-based thinking into the organization’s process and culture. Process design, stakeholder management, strategic planning, and ability to manage large projects within complex environments will all be required.
Strategists looking to remain inspired and work at the cutting edge will have to look outside the today’s leading corporations. Some of the most interesting social media work will come from new media digital agencies, smaller innovative companies, international companies who are just entering the field, and late-to-adopt sectors such as health, finance, and insurance.
In the year ahead we will see more of the same: more users on Facebooks, more videos, more social media widgets, more tools, more devices, more applications. But it will also be a year of important accomplishments and fundamental shifts in our thinking, behavior, and psychology. As social media and social technologies integrate deeper into our daily lives and across vast audiences, our areas of focus will begin to transform.
Companies will begin to overhaul their internal structures and decision making processes even if at a fairly superficial level at first; Consumers will seek to make sense of their evolving relationships, always-on connectedness, and to redefine value and meaning.
As we finally surface from social media stimulus overload, the questions we will ask in the coming year should not be about technology but about what it enables, what it jeopardizes, and about how we, as the connected collective, want to shape the years to come.
(Disclaimer: Companies marked with * are Ustrategy clients.)