10 ways social media will change in 2011

The focus will be not on technology itself but on what it enables and what it jeopardizes, as well as our collective vision for the future.


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With more than 550 million people on Facebook, 65 million tweets posted on Twitter each day, and 2 billion video views daily on YouTube, social media has become an integral part of our lives. But this is just the beginning.

For the past two years, I have been forecasting the evolution social media will undergo. Key trends for 2010 included social media integration across applications and devices, lowered technological barriers, mobile pervasiveness and social media ROI as a focus. It is safe to say that these trends became reality, and I expect these will continue and materialize in new solutions, applications and case studies in the year ahead.

2011 will also be marked by developments that will shape the fabric of our behavior, culture and identity. They will challenge us to consider important questions about the future of our experience as connected people and consumers. Here are key trends to watch in the coming year:

1. Social media will be supersized.

Following the success of social media Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors and application providers, and fueled by Apple envy, in 2011 we will see a surge of service providers bundling social networks, engagement widgets, video, mobile capabilities, cloud services and analytics. Ad agencies, for example, will offer bundles that include layers of creative strategy, campaign management and advertising deals all handled through a central dashboard; telecommunications companies will offer video tools for businesses and consumers with greater bandwidth, storage and syndication; learning management systems (LMS) integrators will add engagement, archiving, training and collaboration tools for a deeper and more engaging academic experience. By the end of the year, using today’s à la carte solutions will seem as efficient as buying a pocket knife with only a bottle opener in it.

2. Companies will integrate social feedback into their decision-making processes.

In 2011 we will see a growing number of companies go beyond using social channels merely to build awareness and provide support. They will use the social engine to inform strategic decisions and to execute the organization’s objectives, marketing plans, product roadmaps and more. It’s not just about technology; it’s about a fundamental shift into an age of leadership with a new type of executive who behaves and operates in new ways, said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com. Expect to see a rise in companies that, by yearend, will be recognized for socially informed innovation, customer focus and work environment, much as Zappos and Amazon were a few years back.

3. Mobile will become our gateway to the world.

2010 marked the year in which infrastructure, technology and design finally intersected in the mobile space. For the first time, sales of smart phones outpaced desktops and laptops. iPhone and iPad applications were downloaded more than 7 billion times, and research shows e-mail access is on the rise on the iPhone while declining on the computer.

With that foundation in place, mobile device users will deal with content, companies and the Web more on their phones and iPads than on their computers. IT and service providers will create solutions based on our mobile consumption and use behaviors.

Mobile will become an extension of who we are, said Philippe Suchet, CEO of MyShopanion, and the recipient of the Web2.0 Summit 2010 award for most innovative startup in the mobile shopping category.

Prepare for an explosion of connected experiences across all points of interactions: social shopping on the go, easy paperless transactions and check-ins, watching (and creating) videos with friends abroad, and in-class learning and collaboration.

4. Video will be everywhere.

With plummeting video delivery costs and highly accessible and flexible video management platforms (like Brightcove, Ooyala, and the open-source platform Kaltura (disclosure: Kaltura is our client), custom use of video by enterprises online and on mobile devices is on the rise.

Consumer engagement with video will also continue to rise. In October alone, 5.4 billion videos were viewed—2 billion of these on Facebook. People today can shoot and share HD videos from their phone. The user experience is getting to the same level as broadcast or professional media from an image quality standpoint. Image acquisition is changing content production, said Brett Leonard, renowned writer and director and pioneer of fragmented technology in the movie industry.

Companies and consumers increasingly will rely on video to provide information and behavioral cues that are not otherwise present in texts, tweets and status updates, making video a critical component of the public perception of brands.

5. The next big online social network will not be a network at all.

Social networks have transformed human access capabilities much as modern transportation and the telephone did more than 150 years ago. But they are also changing the structure of our relationships—flattening our naturally varying levels of intimacy in real life.

In the coming year we will see the rise of dynamic, engaging, easy-to-use community platforms and applications like Diaspora, Path and Looppa (disclosure: Looppa is our client) that will better mimic how we manage relationships. People today look for more personalized, authentic, private information where we make a social contract around a topic or context that is beyond the reach of search engine results and Facebook crowds, said Dave Blakely, director of technology strategy at IDEO.

For consumers, this means the ability to create smaller, more intimate, context-specific communities using their existing social graph and livestreams. For companies, this means the ability to facilitate a custom-branded, dynamic and engaging experience on their online properties in ways not possible on Facebook. Every company should think of itself as a media company, said Tom Foremski, journalist and thought-leader.

As they become more social, on their own turfs, companies will once again own their customer relationships and brand in a new way. Ultimately, they’ll build greater community value for both the company and its customers.

6. ROI will be redefined.

When it comes to ROI, it seems that companies want to cook gourmet risotto but most are still busy washing the rice. Although 2010 was filled with ROI discussions and some strong case studies, Forrester research shows that most companies still have no clue how to meaningfully measure ROI.

As brands move this year from being on social media to using social media, ROI metrics will finally evolve beyond counting likes and comments. Aligning with actionable business objectives and their corresponding metrics will be crucial to being able to demonstrate repeatable contribution to the bottom line. Companies who hire social media strategists with proven marketing analytics background and business strategy experience will have the upper hand and will place first in the race to cracking the ROI code.

7. Psychology is shifting.

In the coming year, we will begin to see evidence that we are witnessing a growing psychological plasticity.

We have changed the importance of time, geography and age and the assumption of how the world works. We have new levels of cognitive flexibility, which is creating a new way of thinking about the world and about ourselves, said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and co-founder of A Think Lab.

Once feeling powerless to fight against personal and cultural injustices, today people know they have the power to voice their grievances, the tools to bring about change and the ability to take control of their experiences.

As the constructs of relationships, privacy and our ability to influence others evolve, we will face important questions: How do we respond to the changing definition of relationships? How does the elimination of behavioral cues, only available face to face, impact our ability to connect? How does our need for emotional balance get addressed in the face of constant change?

In the coming year, companies wishing to succeed should start to set practices and create a charter to understand the intersection between technology and psychology. Focusing on behaviors is no longer sufficient.

8. Citizen activism brings back purpose and power.

With the power made possible by social technologies to connect, inform and mobilize, we will see a surge in citizen activism. Value will come from being able to facilitate groups as a human infrastructure, says Andrea Saveri, a thought leader and researcher at the intersection of foresight and strategy.

Wikipedia and Mozilla FireFox are early and ongoing examples of the value of the connected human infrastructure. Many more, including Causecast and OpenIDEO, as well as lesser-known projects like It Gets Better, will light up the grid. By yearend we may each join a group of people we have never met in order to take part in bringing about change.

9. Social business intelligence will heat up and so will privacy.

As we become ever more connected and reliant on giants such as Apple and Google to funnel our most personal information, the field of social business intelligence—and, with it, our privacy—will move to the spotlight. Wikileaks‘ eruption on the social media waves and Do Not Track are just previews.

Every company now looks to tap into the boundless user data. Though personalized, targeted experience can be extremely valuable in helping companies and consumers cut through the clutter, the line between perceived use and abuse can be thin, as data mining and targeted ad delivery pioneer RapLeaf saw in past months.

In the year ahead, we will witness (and be part of) major data virtualization initiatives designed to map our activities, preferences and choices. Mechanisms designed to triangulate our mobile, online and physical information will yield more accurate information than our Social Security numbers can. We will see fierce regulation battles and hear about companies who use our data to test boundaries and our trust. When done, Tom Cruise’s shopping scene in “Minority Report” will seem as sophisticated as scenes from the 1970s TV show Time Tunnel do now.

10. The role of the social media strategist will be changing.

The glory days when social media strategists rose to stardom overnight (and, too often, with little relevant experience) are finally over. Social media roles today focus on tangible, results-driven capabilities.

In 2011, social media strategists will need to contend with more actionable, and often mundane, tasks such as selecting and piloting new tools, integrating social widgets and analytics, helping educate the organization, and integrating social-based thinking into the organization.

Some of the most interesting social media work will come from new-media digital agencies, smaller innovative companies, international companies that are just entering the field and late-to-adopt sectors such as health, finance and insurance.

In the year ahead, we will see more of the same: more users on Facebook, more videos, social media widgets, tools, devices and applications. But it will also be a year of important accomplishments and fundamental shifts in our thinking, behavior and psychology. As social media and social technologies integrate deeper into our daily lives and across vast audiences, our areas of focus will begin to transform.

As we finally surface from and overload of social media stimuli, the questions we will ask in the coming year should not be about technology but about what it enables, what it jeopardizes and about how we, as the connected collective, want to shape the years to come.

This post has been modified from its original version for Ragan.com.

Ravit Lichtenberg is founder and chief strategist of Ustrategy LLC. Read her blog here.

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