When the New Year came around, everyone pitched in with their predictions of what the future holds. Unfortunately, not having broadband throughout this period, I hardly had time to add my thoughts.
So, belatedly, and in no particular order, here’s what I think:
Twitter will become more mainstream. I’m probably late in saying this, but I’m still going to say it anyway. Everywhere it seems people are joining in the Twitter party. I saw a very nice post today by Steve Waddington with a great analogy by Jonathan Hopkins which pretty much sums it up – see left.
But I did say figures are important just now, so how about this: a ten-fold increase in Twitter useage in the UK throughout 2008? Or how about Dell announcing it attributed one million dollars to its Twitter initiatives?
Also, for the record, I keep seeing people saying they don’t know what it’s for. Well what’s a phone for? The advantage of Twitter is that it doesn’t come with a user guide. Perhaps that’s what confuses people. It sure used to confuse the hell out of me.
Friendfeed will start to emerge as a useful tool. I think Friendfeed has mostly been the preserve of weirdos like me who move instinctively toward shiny things then drift away again, but I think that, as people increasingly use RSS-enabled resources such as blogs, microblogs, social video/audio/networks etc, they’re going to look at ways of consolidating all this. Friendfeed does a nice job, and whereas it has a vaguely Twitter-like feature in that you can post directly to it, Friendfeed also makes ‘threaded’ conversations much easier to follow.
Measurement will become really important. It’s already important and there are various ways to go about it, but at the end of the day you’re still trying to quantify the largely unquantifiable: how influential is a blogger (depends on who reads them and whether their readers’ behaviour changed to any appreciable degree); and how do you value a relationship? Relationships by definition need time to be nurtured, and only then can you start to reap rewards and yes, this is also a problem for PR generally.
Nevertheless, there will be some very worried people holding the purse strings in 2009 and they will need some calming down. It behooves (yes, behooves) us well either to develop smarter ways of measuring, or explain the qualitative nature of what we do.
Companies will encourage their employees to talk amongst themselves more, via internal communities. The AT&T Enterprise 2.0 report bore this out, and I’ve come across other anecdotal evidence to suggest this is the case. It’s certainly a great initiative, to create small-world networks across companies which encourage internal comms and organically grow centres of excellence (or at least enthusiasm which gets you halfway there). However, to go back to the ‘measurement’ issue, companies will need to evaluate how effective their internal relationship-building measures have been.
Companies that create goodwill in hard times will be loved in good times. 2009 is just a number, and 2010 will come around. Now is the time to cultivate relationships and establish some sort of space online, because this will see you through the hard times and help you reap rewards when the good times come back.
Companies will have to think about where social media sits. This is a toughie. To go back to the phone analogy, I do see some structures where a ‘social media team’ is given the task of outreach – that is, they need to be versed not just in how to use the tools, but to become subject matter experts as well. To my mind this is the wrong way around. It’s a bit like, say, the consumer team tapping the ‘social media team’ on the shoulder and asking them to do outreach for, say, tins of spam, simply because they know how to use the phone, then the tech team asking them to outreach about blade servers, so they suddenly have to become experts in spam and servers. It’s too much, and so everyone needs to learn how to use them at least to a degree. But the dilemma then becomes one of resource. Does everyone suddenly do everything – that is, answer support queries, development questions, financial enquiries? Clay Shirky did say ‘Here Comes Everybody’ but companies cannot operate in this way. It’s a challenge of unstructured comms vs structured enterprises, and I honestly don’t know where the answer lies here.
Companies will have to accept that the new generation of employees will be using these tools – and, as importantly, so will their clients. I remember the first time I was ‘allowed’ to use email at work. Now I would be amazed if I weren’t able to – in fact, I wouldn’t be able to do my job properly, nor would most people. The next generation of employees are already on Facebook, Myspace, Bebo etc, and they’re going to expect to be able to use them too. I’m not sure this will be a sudden happening in 2009 but increasingly we’ll be seeing new waves of graduates come into the workforce who have already spent the past, what, three or four years using social media.
As I said, most of the predicting has already been done, but I just had to get these out. Let’s see what really happens, and then I can come back a year later and demonstrate how wrong I was.