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…

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Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter – again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. 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?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

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. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

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.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

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. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 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’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

2009 is just a number

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:

Jonathan Hopkins's Twitter analogy

Jonathan Hopkins's Twitter analogy

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.