This time last year, I wrote about the 10 ways social media will change 2009, and while all predictions have materialized or are on their way, it has only become clear in recent months how significant of a change we’ve seen this year. 2009 will go down as the year in which the shroud of uncertainty was lifted off of social media and mainstream adoption began at the speed of light. Barack Obama’s campaign proved that social media can mobilize millions into action, and Iran’s election protests demonstrated its importance to the freedom of speech.
This guest post was written by Ravit Lichtenberg, founder and chief strategist at Ustrategy.com – a boutique consultancy focusing on helping companies succeed. Ravit authors a blog at www.ravitlichtenberg.com.
Today, it is impossible to separate social media from the online world. Facebook reached 350 million users last month — 70% of whom are outside the US — and it accounts for 25% of the Web’s traffic, according to Pew nearly one in five people on the web use Twitter or some other service to check status messages, and 94% of enterprises plan to maintain or increase their investment in enterprise social media tools. The social media conversation is no longer considered a Web 2.0 fad — it is taking place in homes, small businesses and corporate boardrooms, and extending its reach into the nonprofit, education and health sectors. From feeling excitement, novelty, bewilderment, and overwhelmed, a growing number of people now speak of social media as simply another channel or tactic.
So what will social Web bring next? What will “being connected” mean? What will the next experience be for the 2 two billion people who are connected to the Internet? Here are 10 ways what we’ve called social media will evolve in 2010.
Social Media Will Become a Single, Cohesive Experience Embedded In Our Activities and Technologies
By this time next year, social media will no longer be “social media” — it will be an integrated, unquestionable component of your online and offline experience. Last year we spoke of cross-platform integration across media sites. Open APIs and OpenID made that possible, and even LinkedIn announced last month that it too will finally open its APIs. 2010 will be about integration and a single, cohesive experience across platforms as well as across products and devices — Web, mobile, TV, and video — will become near-inseparable experiences.
Users will access content from any device or platform, co-create and mashup their photos, videos and text with traditional content while interacting with each other. Publishers will create new kinds of content for the connected world, and the last years’ lull in good entertainment will finally be lifted. This trend will cut across all of our activities — from playing games to shopping to emailing and texting — nothing will be lost; everything we do will be gathered and streamed together, allowing people to view their world of activities as if it were projected in front of them, open to change, review and input at any point in time from any device or online tool.
Social Media Innovation Will No Longer Be Limited By Technology
With Web technology maturing and the near-elimination of previous barriers such as closed platforms and discrete logins, companies will now look to innovate the way they use existing technology, rather than focus on technology enhancements themselves. We will see a move to leverage existing assets — content and capabilities — in new ways, turning information to wisdom and insight to action. Whereas once user research required focus groups and usability tests, companies will utilize the Web’s capabilities to achieve the same. Naturally occurring conversations will be utilized in product innovation and design, and companies will create incentives for people’s attention and engagement while repurposing and analyzing content and engagement in new ways that will deliver valuable input.
Mobile Will Take Center Stage
Worldwide, the iPhone alone accounts for about 33% of mobile web traffic and IDC predicts the number of mobile web users will hit one billion by 2010. As the technological barriers come down, people will increasingly use their phones on-the-go to access social networks, search, read content and find location-based information. Our phones will be used as a central hub and beacon — enabling a slew of new capabilities and experiences.
Expect an Intense Battle As People and Companies Look To Own Their Own Content
2009 marked the year of open Web, and divergence of content, making content available anywhere, anytime, by anyone and to everyone; it was the year content exploded across the web, platforms and devices. The issue Google solved so magically — content find-ability — will become all but moot in the coming years. Instead, content relevance and quality will become the key focus. In 2010 we will start to see convergence as companies take measures to own their own content, its location and its cost. Last month, Rupert Murdoch announced he may opt News Corp out of Google, instructing it to de-index its publications from the search engine and giving exclusive rights to Bing for a fee. This means that content publishers will be able to determine where they make their content available and at what cost.
With the growth of user generated content and the dwindling relevance of search results, people will gradually shift their trust from large aggregators like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, and move to searching and finding content at specific locations and, eventually, creating and integrating their own content hub into the rest of their personal digital experience. “People don’t realize that everything they do — on Facebook, Ning, Google and with their credit cards — is being collected, tracked, analyzed, owned and monetized by these companies who provide (so-called) free services. It’s not a healthy model.” Says John Faber, COO of af83, a Drupal development house and co-founder of the upcoming DrupalCon.
Enterprises Will Shape the Next Generation of What We’ve Called “Social Media”
It was easy to forget that enterprises and large institutions are the originators of some of social media’s pillars: listservs, forums, intranets and collaboration tools. As social media became a public domain, enterprises have been cautious participants, predominantly in the product space, with few visionary leaders like Zappos, IBM and Dell. But cautionary they are no more. With a reported average of 25% increase in funds allocation toward social media activities, in 2010 we will see a surge in adoption of social media across product, services and solutions companies.
Having the need and the funds, enterprises will determine the next generation of social experiences. They will push enhancements that meet their needs, specifically around monitoring, automation, alignment with the sales cycle and integration with existing systems, expanding social “media” to encompass the ecosystem of social computing across solutions, and making them actionable for the company. Jive, blueKiwi, Remindo and Sharepoint support companies internally. Most recently, Salesforce.com released Chatter, designed to turn the corporation, and CRM, social. With its APIs opening later this year, “Chatter can become a new layer over its Force platform, already being used by 68,000 customers, enabling companies and developers to leverage the Salesforce infrastructure in a secure environment,” said Bruce Francis, VP corporate strategy Salesforce.com.
ROI Will Be Measured — and It Will Matter
Return on investment on social media activities has been challenging to most companies this year. Surveys show only 18% of companies say they saw meaningful return on investment from their social media activities while the other 72% report modest, no return or inability to measure the return on their investment in social media. While the definition of ROI is evolving to better fit the world of relationships and networks, the ability to demonstrate ROI in hard numbers — not in followers or fans — will become a baseline business requirement in 2010. Already, both traditional firms and startups are working feverishly to demonstrate they can turn hype into science. But, only those companies who will be able to analyze and predict hard returns on investments will last.
Finally: Real, Cool and Very Bizarre Online-Offline Integration
Virtual worlds, games and avatars were just the beginning of the online-offline integration. In 2010 we’ll see a greater push on this front as distance and physical walls will matter even less. Augmented reality — already integrated into Yelp’s latest geo-tagging enabled application — will allow users to find relevant information and people depending on their location; Twitter360 will help people find each other, connect and see updates by location all while on the go through their mobile device. People will be able to scan products on shelves but process the sale online; you’ll never need to ask for a business card again at events — and you may actually get promotions and discounts that match your interests.
Many “Old” Skills Will Be Needed Again
An economic downturn coupled with the surge of social media eliminated many traditional marketing and PR roles. But this year, we’ll see the return of professionals to the field. Enterprises will turn back to marketers who specialize in understanding customer psychology and who are experienced in addressing these both offline and online. Research and development divisions will turn to customer experience professionals to draw on user needs and ideation as part of their product improvement and innovation process, and sales and support will continue to deliver services online. Expect to see job postings for social media managers, social media psychologists and social media executive administrators to help manage the infinite tasks involved with communities and social media campaigns.
Women Will Rule Social Media
2009 revealed the growing role women play online. Women make 75% of all buying decisions for the home, and 85% of all consumer purchases. Social networks have at least 50% female members, and it is women ages 35-55 who make up the fastest-growing population on Facebook — not the expected Gen-Y population as previously anticipated. Previously limited by organizational hierarchies and job demands, women today are free to create, express and promote themselves using social media channels. Innately excelling at communication, relationship building and multi-level attention, women will take the reins on their careers and network becoming both a sought-after consumer segment as well as driving business strategies for social-media-connected companies.
Social Media Will Move Into New Domains
As social media becomes integrated into our experiences online, it will have an impact on verticals such as nonprofit, job training, education, and health care. University of the People — a UN-backed initiative to offer free education in emerging markets — is using the power of distance learning and virtual collaboration. Obama’s campaign for job training also highly relies on the power of online interaction. “The top 10 companies to work for are going to become learning companies. Instead of having 10% of time to philanthropic activities, they’ll spend 10% of time on learning or teaching,” says Chris Heuer, founder of Social Media Club and director at iStrategyLabs.
“Sites like I’m Too Young For This, and Know Cancer Community prove that no topic is too complex for social collaboration. These site help people connect and share information previously only available to their doctors,” says Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications, a consultancy that works with companies to introduce social media capabilities into employee benefits and health care communication. “Companies who integrate social collaboration and conversation into health care find they have more knowledgeable employees and patients who can make smarter choices and improve the quality of their care.”
Social media as we knew it even 6 months ago has changed. By this time next year, it will have become fully integrated into everything we do online and offline. By the end of this year we’ll see a move toward greater control over content and companies will fight over social media land grabs in preparation for the future.
By next year, we will no longer speak about social media technology but about what we’ve been able to do with it. We will discuss power of ownership and only accept quality, relevant content. As we move to automatically accept a narrowed selection of the mass content online, we will begin to crave larger reach again and the natural process of chaos and order — constriction and expansion, convergence and divergence — will repeat itself in an ever-accelerating pace.
Whether you are an individual, a startup, small business or a large corporation, an online presence and an ongoing conversation with your constituents is a baseline requirement — and will take time and expertise. Companies are diverting resources and rethinking their traditional outreach strategies. “Whether you’re recruiting, looking for investment, trying to get buzz — you need to be visible,” says John Nogrady, director, emerging business at Microsoft bizpark, and serial entrepreneur. Brian Zisk, founder of SFMusicTech, which is taking place in San Francisco this week, says “If you’re out there as a genuine contributor in the community you can reach out to many people. Take the FooFighters’ free Facebook concert, or Zoe Keating — a local artist with over 1.2 million fans online. Their ability to connect with their fans was made possible because of the Internet.”
As you read this, it may seem far reaching but so did a presidency won through the power of online community not too long ago. Whether you are a novice finally giving in to the pressures to “get on social media,” someone who is highly experienced, or a visionary already looking for the next big thing, you will play a role in social media in the coming year even through your simple, daily actions. And as the social media wave dissipates into the vast ocean of connected experiences, the term itself will become an entry in dictionaries and encyclopedias and we will embark on a new era of knowledge, accessibility and experiences unbound by distance, time or physical walls.
Photo by Francois Bouly