We’re only two months in, and already it’s been an exciting year for social media. Facebook’s IPO, the popularity explosion of Pinterest, and Google+’s integration into every Google search- it’s been an exciting few months, and things are only going to get more wild. While predictions are always hard to make, I truly feel that the following predictions will come to fruition during 2012 ( and if not during the year, shortly afterwards). Be sure to let me know what your personal predictions might be in the comments section!
1. The emergence of “secondary” platforms will rise; Businesses will have to narrow focus
Quick: Think of many social media platforms as you can. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ come to mind quickly. Dig deeper: Foursquare, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Linkedin. And yet that still doesn’t scrape the surface: Myspace, Viddy, Tout, LiveJournal, WordPress, DeviantArt, Bebo, Friendster…the list continues into the hundreds. The point is, the landscape is feeling awfully crowded lately. While it’s extremely unlikely that anyone’s going to overthrow Twitter or Facebook any time soon, there’s no doubt there’s been a second tier of social networks that have developed. These sites aren’t a direct competitor for the big guys, but they work to complement them. Look at something like Pinterest, which uses Facebook and Twitter posts to help drive more activity to it’s own site. The big shakers in this field for 2012 are looking to be the afore-mentioned Pinterest, as well as not-quite-mainstream-yet pages like Quora. With this explosion is going to come a lot of sharp competition, as companies fight tooth and nail for a #2 spot.
An interesting effect of this rise of social media networks is that companies will have to narrow their focus to the sites that can drive the most traffic to their business. It’s going to become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to post effective content across a dozen different social media platforms while some will surely be able to ( large corporations, such as Coca-Cola, shouldn’t have a problem and they’ll certainly want to stake their claim before a prankster does), many small companies are going to find that the more channels they focus on, the less effective their overall message will be. We will surely see some membership numbers drop, as businesses reel back and focus their effort on dominating the social media channels that have proven to be effective.
2. Gamification and geo-gaming finally takes hold
The irony of 2011 was that as social media was being taken more seriously, it started to play more games. Spearheaded by apps like Foursquare, more social media platforms started to implement scoreable points, badges, and prizes for participation. Foursquare alone saw an incredible boost in the previous year by 2011’s end, the network saw 4 million check-ins per day, and over 600,000 merchants using the business tools available. We have Iphone apps that reward users with points for doing a certain task, and letting them “level up” like a role-playing game for doing the task often enough. Even businesses like Ford have gotten in on the deal, offering badges to people in their social network experiment. This blend of work and play will continue into 2012 and beyond, but the biggest question will be effectiveness. Currently, the central idea of Foursquare is that people check into a business/restaurant/venue, sharing their location with all of their friends ( “Aubrey is at that restaurant? Maybe I should check it out then!”). Savvy businesses offer discounts or special coupons to people checking in, and savvy consumers leave tips at locations they’ve been, but it’s still a system of people racking up imaginary points and badges without any real incentive ( besides bragging rights, of course). 2012 and beyond will be about monetizing the check-in. The first company to truly link something like Foursquare with a real-world incentive program ( outside of coupons) will be sitting on a gold mine.
3. Marketing goes mobile
There’s no doubt about it- people are using their mobile devices to check out websites, blogs, and social media platforms more than they’re using the computer. It’s all about accessibility -who hasn’t looked at Facebook while waiting in line bored, or pulled up Twitter on their Ipad while lounging on the couch? Social media networks are not oblivious to this either- when Twitter famously updated their network’s layout, there was a mobile app waiting to go almost instantly. Facebook’s Timeline update was incorporated into the mobile app before most people had accessed it on a computer. Even this past year’s Iphone IOS update incorporated Twitter accessibility for almost every feature of the phone. Even Facebook, during the filing of its IPO, explained that it saw the explosion of mobile use as a threat to its substainability, since it doesn’t yet have advertisements on the app ( something that they are working to fix for this year).
What all this means for 2012 is that it will be very rewarding for smart marketers to keep mobile accessibility in the front of their mind. All content will not only need to be viewable by mobile consumers ( and viewable in a proper design layout), but it’s imperative that it will incorporate the social aspect as well- letting mobile users like, retweet, pin, or share it. All of this good news has a dark side, however, because as mobile use increases, you’ll see….
4. ….Mobile security threats
Phone processors are becoming exponentially more powerful every year, and tablets are selling like hotcakes. It’s only a matter of time before you start to see the same malware, phishing, viruses, and hacks that social media’s desktop cousin has to deal with on a daily basis. It might even be worse- Trusteer, a well known security firm, estimates that mobile users are THREE times more likely to enter their login information into a mobile phishing site than a desktop one. Even experts are predicting that 2012 will be “Cybercrime’s Hell Year“. All of this points to mobile security threats being one of the biggest potential threats to anyone on social networks- businesses and consumers alike.
5. Google+ will change their strategy
There’s no doubt about it- Google+ was the first major legitimate threat to the empire of Facebook. Sporting some fresh ideas, and financed by the Google’s deep pockets, it certainly got people talking when it debuted last year. In under three months, Google+ sported over 40 million users, and was growing fast. unfortunately for Google+, it was only state-of-the-art for a very short period of time. Perhaps inspired by the fire lit under them from the new competition, Facebook would go on to implement some of Google+’s best features, and then zoom right past them with groundbreaking concepts like Timeline. When the dust settled, Google+ was firmly in Mark Zuckerberg and Co’s rearview mirror.
Which is a shame, because Google+ has a lot of potential. It was built from the ground up supporting small businesses, and Google has aggressively attached company Google+ pages to search results. It’s been much more accommodating to developers than Facebook ( who’s forced API change left many coders scrambling at the last minute to adopt to Timeline). It has plenty of unique apps and fresh ideas to bring to the social media table. But all of this means nothing if there’s no one to market to. The Wall Street Journal announced today that Google+ users spent an average of only three minutes per month on the network, compared to Facebook’s 6- 7 hours. Google+ is looking at a very big uphill battle.
I don’t think Google will pull the plug on the network just yet, at least not in 2012. They’ve invested too much time, money, and effort into the project- but they’re going to need to do something, ANYTHING, to distinguish themselves from the Facebook behemoth. Continuing to court developers is a great idea, and possibly opening up customizations levels further than Facebook. There’s a generation of social media users who don’t remember the robust customization options that Myspace offered- now’s the time to carry that torch, and it starts with granting developers more abilities to get creative. Google has distinguished itself as the open-source phone option, in comparison to Apple’s Iphone, and they’ve made a significant splash against a seemingly unstoppable giant. The same philosophy, when applied to their social media platform, could have similar results. Google+ could also do well to back off the strange and questionable privacy practices. Many users have found these more “evil” than Facebook’s, sullying a potentially good reputation before it even got off the ground.
Whatever Google decides to unveil for the platform, they better think of something and act fast. 2012 can be the year they pull it all around, but the longer the wait, the harder the fight.