"The groundhog is like most other prophets; it delivers its prediction and then disappears." ~ Bill Vaughan
It's that time of year again when we have to dig out our crystal balls and do the obligatory blogging of predictions for next year. As a futurist, here's a few top-level guesses based on the technology, trends, and the direction we're naturally drifting, for 2012 and for the future of the social web:
Companies are going to start understanding one of the core elements of social media. Sure, they do 'a little' already, but be prepared for every niche commodity and his dog to see the light of day. They have to or they'll fail, and watching those of us out here making the headway is going to educate them. If they don't get it in 2012 they'll miss the boat.
Social media ROI is not about numbers of followers, it's about engagement, evangelism, and good will. Businesses is going to genuinely start to see the real opportunities of letting B2B and B2C customers behind the curtain and the advantages in sharing what they do.
In the very near future just about everyone will be able to see a place for themselves in the social space. They'll realize that ROI depends upon what you are trying to accomplish with your social media campaign, and that channels are a tool toward accomplishing that. Social CRM will go 'prime-time', and I'm glad we're already here.
All the digital heavyweights are making a play for your living room. Apple, Netflix (especially in the UK), Hulu, Amazon, Google...
It started with Warner Bros. offering The Dark Knight through its official Facebook page, and now brands are really starting to see the real results driven value in having a custom eStore in their social channel.
Look at Starbucks. They have a captive audience of nearly 27 million people in Facebook. They add one tab, that's a lot of coverage. Who needs to direct people anywhere else? There's less and less need for a destination site when there's the potential for people to click away by clicking on yet another page. Why not do it directly in the social channel? We've built store fronts for clients selling everything from souvenirs, to wine, to concert tickets and it's always boosted sales massively.
In the next year your favorite social sites are going to become some of the major channels of future online shopping, maybe (eventually) even giving Amazon a run for their money. Even better if we can gather recommendations from our friends and get trusted input in our purchases. As reported by Internet Retailer, an online study showed that a massive 68% of consumers with Facebook accounts say a positive referral from a Facebook friend would make them more likely to buy from or visit a retailer. The future of social-shopping is very bright indeed.
Social is an integral part of the marketing mix, and the big companies will be leaning on it more and more to keep their customers in-the-loop. Best Buy, Macy's, Target, and Wal-Mart publicized their Black Friday deals early to their Facebook fans. Amazon and Toys R Us ran contests, giveaways and flash sales to coax consumers into "liking" their Pages. Best Buy created an event page for Black Friday and got nearly 28,000 people to RSVP as "attending." The future is shopping.
The back-bone of the web is changing all the time. Flash is on it's way out. @font-face is on it's way in. HTML5 is going to get more widespread and designers will find ways to make it rock our world (for better or worse). User experience will continue to grow as a paramount concern. These are technical certainties, but it all goes far beyond the code we see on the surface.
Web 3.0 will be, for want of better description, a self-aware web. Already, if we 'opt-in', we have an integrated social media experience. We tag pictures, register our thumbs up with e-commerce sites and publish them to Facebook, we have our Twitter feeds publishing on our Linked-In and Facebook profiles , we give a casual +1 to a button on a niche site about the new Avenger Movie and Google might soon be generating us a Spark for Marvel Comics.
Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are collecting this (and other) information about each any every one of us: Our likes and dislikes, our interests and preferences. A massive, and some might say scary, amount of data attached to each and every one of us. This, as defined by the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, Tim Berners-Lee (who coined the phrase), will be called The Semantic Web. This is Web 3.0, where machines will become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers.
Soon, we'll not need to search for information in the way we do now. Instead, data is going to find us based on the collected pool of information about us. 2012 will see the web, no doubt driven by search giant Google, moving more and more in this direction. It's all about the data, and if we embrace it without a skeptical back-lash the right information will be served to the right people at the right time, saving us all a lot of effort and energy. Imagine the applications for this within, and because of, social channels. The semantic nature of social networks is going to allow us almost unimaginable targeting to whatever we see as our perfect demographic.
We are going to have amazing targeting power in the future, and 2012 will move us closer. Just look at Facebook Social ads, and that's only the beginning.
Anyway, that's a few to begin with, more in Part 2. As per the groundhog, I shall now disappear.
I'd love to know what you think, and if you see any patterns forming you'd like to add?