Social Media 2012: 11 Trends You Should Watch

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It’s easy to get caught up in today’s trends or even focus on the next six months. Some of 2009’s biggest trends included an increased emphasis on real-time search and information distribution, while distribution of marketing content in widgets and other pieces of portable content that worked across devices and social spaces also saw its stake rise. Plus, there were great improvements in social-media monitoring and analytics. And most notably, marketers finally acknowledged that social media was more than just a fad, with almost complete adoption by all major marketers.

Here are the top 11 predictions for what social media will look like in 2012 (based on a full presentation which is available on my blog). Some of these items exist today in their early stages, but this list is about what I believe will become the norm in 2012. Ultimately, share of voice, point of view and community influence will be more important than brand ownership — and marketers will need to get over it if they want to stay relevant in 2012.

1. Privacy expectations will (have to) change
There will be a cultural shift, whereby people will begin to find it increasingly more acceptable to expose more and more of their personal details on different forms of social media. Sharing your likes, dislikes, opinions, photos, videos and other forms of personal information will be the norm and people will become more accepting of personalized experiences, both corporate and personal, that are reacting to this dearth of personal information.

2. Complete decentralization of social networks
The concept of a friend network will be a portable experience. You’ll find most digital experiences will be able to leverage the power of your social networks in a way that leverages your readily available personal information and the relationships you’ve established. We’re already seeing the beginnings of this with Facebook Connect and Google’s FriendConnect.

3. Our interaction with search engines will be different
Real-time information in Google search, e.g. from Twitter, blog results and user reviews, will be more prominent. Google’s Social Search will change the way we interact with search engines by pushing relevant content from our personal networks to the front of search results, making them more personalized. The importance of digital-influencer marketing will increase significantly.

4. Rise of the content aggregators
The amount of content online is growing at an exponential rate, and most online users have at least three online profiles from social networks to micro-blogging to social news sites. Our ability to manage this influx is challenging, and content aggregators will be the new demi-gods, bringing method to madness (and make a killing). Filtering and managing content will be big business for those who can get it right and provide easy-to-use services.

5. Social media augmented reality
Openly accessible information from the social-media space will be used to enhance everyday experiences. For example: the contacts book in your phone links to Facebook and Twitter to show real-time updates on what the contact is doing before you put in the call, real-time reviews from friends and associates will appear in GPS-based mapping services as a standard feature, and socially enabled CRM will change the way companies manage business relationships forever.

6. Influencer marketing will be redefined
As social media continues to permeate more and more aspects of not only the way we interact with digital media but also other channels such as digital outdoor, commerce or online TV, we will see the significance of influencer marketing grow dramatically. As a basic example, the inclusion of Twitter in Google search results or Google’s soon-to-be-released Social Search will permeate search results with content that will not be managed by Google’s infamous PageRank but by social influence and relevance to your social network. Discovering people that can help you to reach your desired consumer will become exponentially more effective and important.

7. Ratings everywhere
In today’s world, having a commerce site that doesn’t have user ratings could actually prove to be a detriment to sales. In the near future, brands and businesses will more frequently place user ratings and accept open feedback on their actual websites. User ratings will become so common that marketers should expect to find them woven into most digital experiences.

8. Social media agents
Managing the customer experience offline and online is already a key concern for marketers and customer-experience advocates. As businesses continue to support customers by monitoring and engaging in the social media space, tools to optimize this experience will become more important. Expect to see a certain percentage of responses handled by natural language engines that can respond to basic commentary such as “my service is down” or “I never received my package.”

9. Riding the (Google) wave
It’s still early days as Google Wave is still primarily limited to developers but it has the potential to revolutionize collaboration and engagement. Wave offers marketers a unique way, at minimal cost, to allow consumers to engage with each other in way that is miles beyond anything we’re currently using. Savvy marketers will develop extensions for Wave that evolve its unique communication toolset into a rich brand experience that is immersive but allows for new levels of interaction from crowdsourced storytelling to crowdsourced product design.

10. Thinking beyond “nowness”
In 2009 we became very focused on the real-time nature of social media. The implications behind consumer feedback and interaction around brands using tools like Twitter or Facebook’s news stream caused marketers to re-evaluate the power of social media tools in parallel to “traditional” digital-media channels such as search. Looking into the future we’ll need to try and evaluate what’s next and the likely answer is based on the next evolution of the web as we know it: the semantic web. In a semantic web world, search engines, for example, will anticipate the best search results we’re looking for based on what they know about us (such as all our public social networking profiles). There will be an opportunity for marketers who push the limits of their imagination to anticipate what marketing will look like in this next stage of the web and creating new and compelling experiences that we’re only touching the surface of now.

11. Social media everything and the return of digital media
Social functions will become so commonplace in digital experiences that the thought of not having socially-enhanced experiences will seem illogical. Digital media by its very nature is inherently social. I hope we’re not talking about social media in 2012, and we just refer to everything as digital media again.

(This post was originally posted on AdAge’s DigitalNext Blog.)

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Freddie Laker

A veteran digital marketer with experience working with some of the world's biggest global brands. He now focuses on providing interim leadership to PE-backed firms.

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