Big social media trends for 2011 (part one)
I’m often asked in meetings to predict what the next big social media PR thing will be. I reply, with a grin not unlike that of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, that if I knew that, I wouldn’t be in this meeting. We chuckle (not for long but politely) then move on. Chuckling aside, I must confess, the transition from 2010 to 2011 has given me reason to pause, reflect, and take a guess at what the new year will bring – and, more importantly, what people in communications should do about it. So here goes – my 10 big things for 2011…
1. The wisdom of groups
It seemed that 2010 was the year that we re-discovered the age-old technique of group buying. Groupon went global, and in doing so it released a pent up demand for getting together and buying stuff that we may not necessarily need but might at some point. Gathering the collective wisdom of crowds will only become more critical in 2011. We’ve seen the growth of social media conscience sites like Jumo that connect people and organizations working to improve the lives of others. Kickstarter created a new way of getting creative projects off the ground using crowd financing. For 2011, I expect much, much more of the same. I anticipate companies will embed the principles that underpin these services into their businesses. They’ll find ways to better connect their customers, partners, suppliers and employees using social networking tools. The challenge will be to ensure that the brand objectives play a distant second to meeting the needs of the people they’re trying to connect together.
2. Would the last reporter to leave please turn out the lights
The decline of journalism as we knew it is well documented. But while that old models decline; this surely creates new opportunities for people who can tell compelling stories (such as journalists). We live in an age in which everyone can publish – but just because they have the tools, doesn’t mean companies can create good, compelling content. I see 2011 as the year of the brand or corporate journalist. These folks will become the new objective voices of our organizations, creating interesting content on behalf of their companies and sharing it with the world. Their web content – be it blog post, photo, video, or whitepaper – must be objective and inherently good enough to warrant sharing. Those companies that get this right should expect their audiences to consume, interact with and, most critically, share their stories. Those that continue to deliver the Cluetrain Manifesto’s “…facile corporate happytalk” should anticipate a different outcome.
3. Complex things made simple(r)
In an age where people see more than 34 billion bits of information each day, something had to give. And it did this year. In 2010 we saw apps such as Flipboard, Pulse and Paper.li take our myriad of complex data streams and re-package them into form factors more reminiscent of magazines than RSS readers. It was also the year of the app. Though cruelly described as the ‘strip mall’ of the Internet (versus the web’s open prairies), it is clear that people like apps. Thirdly, those amazing infographics visualizations that make complex data easy to digest also came into full bloom. In 2011, I expect this quest for simplification to continue with the app experience increasingly crossing back to the Web. Websites will be redesigned around their audiences, with social networking in mind. After all, no one wants to have a relationship with a dictionary. The patience for buggy, beta or complex sites will wear thin in an age where people have more options than ever before. Add to this the desire for a seamless experience across all devices – driven by the rise and rise of mobile – and we’re going to see a new era of ease-of-use.
4. Marketing is participation
2011 will see the proliferation of the community managers – those people that keep our shared-interest networks together. One lesson from 2010 – as learned the hard way by companies such as Nestlé and BP – is that managing an online community is not a simple task. While many companies have created social media presences on twitter and Facebook with a view to sharing their happy news with keen fans or followers, these channels need editorial direction, management and investment. A study by our sister brand Beyond told us that the top two reasons for following a brand on Facebook were to find offers and discounts and to demonstrate love for products. But love alone isn’t enough to keep people from clicking. Just like a television channel, twitter and Facebook need programming, new content, and interaction – fundamentally a unique reason to keep someone coming back. Whether the community is for employees, customers, prospective hires or journalists, you can’t underestimate the skill required to run this environment. Nor can you ignore the fact that these properties are increasingly the first point of contact for your brand. Ensuring your best people oversee your businesses’ most critical online relationships will only become more important as the year goes by.
5. The customer is always right
One of my favourite quotes from 2010 comes from Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, Facebook’s (disclosure: client) Mark Zuckerberg, who said, “There’s going to be an opportunity over the next five years or so to pick any industry and rethink it in a social way…we think that every industry is going to be fundamentally re-thought and designed around people.” While there’s no surprise the person who created the world’s biggest social network espouses this view, it’s hard to deny the logic. We live in an age of unprecedented access to information and choice. Smart companies realize this and are building their business strategies specifically around their customers, employees, partners and prospects. They’re also realizing that simple customer acquisition is no longer the end game. The old sales funnel logic doesn’t apply. In 2011 the point of sale is the beginning of a new relationship through which the customer – empowered by community or network – should become an advocate. In doing so, old customers help reduce your cost of acquiring new ones. In support, 2011 will be the year that social media evolves from being tacked on to your marketing efforts to becoming fundamental to your business strategy.
Tune in tomorrow, gentle reader for the next five big social media trends for 2011…