2012 social media predictions: Part One

No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to list over two thousand predictions for social media. If I did, however, I would be almost certain to get some of it right.

Instead, I’m going to list my predictions for the year ahead. Which means I’ll probably get most of it wrong.

However, just to lend some semblance of order to this post, I’m going to do it in three sections. These are: part one, in which I look at what I pretty much randomly said about social media last year with a cat sitting on my lap, and decide whether or not I was right or wrong (probably wrong, right?); part two, in which I also look back at the aggregated post I did last year, in which I looked across several predictions to see what the consensus was this time last year, and again see how they panned out (or not); and part three, in which, with a cat sitting on my lap, I give you my potted view on what the year ahead holds.

So, onward and downward…

Part One: What I Said About This Time Last Year With A Cat Sitting On My Lap

Here’s what I said, in brief, and my take on whether or not it happened…

Confidence

What I Said Then:

How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

What I Think Now: I’ve seen quite large developments over the past year, such as continued Facebook changes, the temporary disappearance of SocialMention and the seemingly permanent disappearance of TweetCloud. However, not all of these have been bad, so for example Delicious has been revived, and Google+ has offered a good, new, stable channel (albeit not a platform).

And actually, I don’t think confidence has gone down. Perhaps we’re just reaching Gartner’s plateau of productivity, in which we’ve figured out how to use this stuff, and are going ahead and just using it, with our expectations more realistic than they were last year.

Monetisation

What I Said Then:

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook.

What I Think Now: I think monetisation is still an issue, but not a problem. This is because people are conveniently forgetting about it. (Here, I’m referring to the value companies place on their social media efforts rather than valuations of Facebook etc).

If you asked someone today how much value their website creates, and they weren’t running an ecommerce operation, they very probably would have no idea. But, at the outset of last year, I felt fairly sure people would be asking about this more and more for social media because they were all strapped for cash.

Twelve months later and the economic situation is probably even worse, but I think social media could be becoming one of those things you just ‘do’, like websites.

This is actually probably not a good thing because it means companies will be even more lax with their pennies. As an aside, I have to say, the way comms are run by the vast majority of companies out there makes my jaw drop, and this is why monetisation probably isn’t a problem, because people just don’t measure it. This benefits the people running the comms because they conveniently sidestep the difficult issues. But it just ain’t right, surely…

PR

What I Said Then:

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.”

What I Think Now: There are actually some clued-up agencies who are walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

It tends to be one or two individuals in a team who really ‘get it’, and who I sit down with and take them through it all. That, plus training for an entire group, seems to work well.

But yes, on the whole, I think PR is getting its act together. It’s doing this by bringing in specialists, or developing its own in-house resource, or working with digital agencies. Which makes it harder for freelancers…

Freelancers

What I Said Then:

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means.

What I Think Now: It’s still tough out there. I’ve been successful in winning new business, but find retaining it very difficult.

As a freelancer/contractor, what you tend to find is that you get involved with individual projects without any real, long-term, strategic involvement. People are not interested in integrating across platforms, so you might get a Facebook gig that has no input from a web team or Twitter channel, which kind of defeats the purpose of social media.

Last year, I did wonder whether I would continue with this work.  I’m actually astonished I made it through this year without going utterly insane. Some would say I didn’t.

Digital agencies

What I Said Then:

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around.

What I Think Now: I haven’t seen any evidence that this has happened. We still have dedicated digital operations such as We Are Social, 1000Heads, Razorfish and so on, alongside PR agencies that have their digital teams.

I guess that, if anything, what I’ve noticed is that a lot more companies, whether PR, comms or client-side, have their own in-house capabilities now. Which does make my job harder, it has to be said. See previous point.

Effectiveness

What I Said Then:

15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

What I Think Now: This is related to the monetisation issue. People simply don’t seem to think about the money. So, they aren’t disappointed. It’s a bit like the smoker who read so much about the damage smoking causes, that she stopped reading.

I think people are probably not as disappointed with social media now because they realise it’s not going to make everyone stupidly, instantly rich, popular, or influential. This is a good thing because it means we’re a bit more realistic. But it’s bad because I’m basically just in it for the money and fame.

Facebook

What I Said Then:

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon.

What I Think Now: Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon.

This is even with the advent of Google+. The critical difference between the two networks is that Facebook is a platform on which other people can build their apps, whereas Google tries to second-guess what people want by giving them apps to play with. So Facebook has long legs and Google+ has little tiny stumps. Facebook will continue to dominate.

Dashboarding and curating

What I Said Then:

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis.

What I Think Now: I’ve had a lot of success demonstrating this to people,  because they really have understood how important this is.

I would say this time last year, hardly anyone really took dashboarding seriously. I just could not convince them. A year later however, by taking some time to demonstrate how quickly and effectively you can set up a dashboard, I’ve now helped several clients with this and they are very well informed about what’s being said about their clients online. I actually think it’s wilfully negligent not to know this nowadays, and any agency that does not know this will, sooner or later, be very embarrassed indeed.

Success

What I Said Then:

Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work.

What I Think Now: Again, this ties into the monetisation issue. It depends on what you mean by ‘work’.

There was a brief period during the year where everyone was gassing on about ROI for social media. That noise seems to be distant and quiet now. I think this is because people are thinking that social media is something they just need to do. But this is a pity because if they take an integrated, strategic view, with everything joined up and working together, then you really can work along the chain sequence and figure out how it all contributes to real, monetary value. So maybe that’s where companies should be going, says the social media strategist.

So this ends part one. This post actually turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, so I’ll do part two in a bit…

Which are the most important social media metrics? (Hint: they’re nothing to do with social media)

I could write a book on this one. But there’s little point because a) I don’t have time to write a book, and b) other people have already written them.

So, I’ll be brief, not least because this is a blog post and not a book: the most important social media metrics are nothing to do with social media.

I’ve done a LOT of thinking about measurement. There are many, many things you could measure, but most of them are totally worthless. I guess the most frequently used measurements that are worthless are the obvious ones, such as followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook. OK, so they’re not completely worthless because you can gain insight from them, especially if you compare them with competitors. So, you can argue that the number of fans on Facebook is your reach, which is the equivalent of good old circulation, and that by comparing your page with the competition, you get an idea of how many people you potential reach in the ‘marketplace’ of conversation.

You can also do the same with other metrics that represent reach for other platforms, so, followers on Twitter, subscribers on YouTube, and so on.

So maybe not totally worthless. But certainly not unique to social media, and not a viable business KPI either. So let’s look – briefly, again, this is a blog, remember – at both of these.

First up, what can you uniquely measure in social media that you cannot measure anywhere else? Well, that goes to the heart of what social media offers that other media cannot. My take on this is two metrics that, as with all metrics, have plus points and minus points, and they are sentiment (how people  feel) and engagement (how they interact).

Sentiment analysis can hurt. Click image for source.

Sentiment is important because if you find lots of people are talking about you, but they all hate you, then you have a problem. But sentiment is tough to measure. If you leave it to machines, they can do lots of analysis but get it wrong (try getting a sentiment measure for  Black Friday on SocialMention for example – go on, try it, you’ll be surprised). If you leave it to humans, they can do less analysis and on the whole maybe get it more right, but can still differ between individuals (ie the person who just got married, got a pay rise and ran their first 10K the previous weekend might have an overall brighter outlook than the person who just buried the pet rabbit the night before). It’s also a difficult metric to action. How, exactly, do you improve sentiment?

Engagement is important because it’s pretty much what social media is for, that is, the two-way conversation that you just cannot do with any other medium. Here, you really can measure it, not least because Facebook’s new public-facing ‘People talking about this’ metric is measuring almost exactly that, and you can tie this in with, say, Twitter replies, comments on YouTube channels, and comments on blogs. Plus, you can do something about engagement, simply by encouraging people to interact. You could even argue that engagement affects sentiment, in that the most engaged brands tend to have the highest sentiment.

But as soon as you really analyse engagement, you start to see that most brands score dreadfully. And perhaps this is why people don’t measure it!

So sentiment and engagement are key social media metrics, but sentiment is tough, and engagement exposes the weakness of most social media programmes. And they don’t key into what your business is about.

And what is your business about? Well, generally it’s going to be one of three things: raising revenue; cutting costs; or increasing customer awareness. If you can do all three then you’re laughing, but really, everything your organisation does should address at least one of these imperatives. Communications generally, and social media specifically, should not be exempt.

So these really aren’t social media metrics at all. They’re business metrics that you apply to social media.

The question is: how do you measure them? Actually, I’m going to stop here and leave this as a question. I have some ideas, but I’d like to know: how do you measure whether you’ve improved revenue streams? How do you know if your social media has cut costs at all? And whereas raising awareness is probably social media’s natural home, how have you measured this?

If you don’t know, then you’re not really measuring properly. For every objective that you set in social media, comms or any other aspect of your work, you need to ask yourself which of these three imperatives you’re addressing. If none of them, then stop. Which is what I’ll do now.