It’s difficult to make predictions in an industry where things change on a daily basis and new sites become popular out of nowhere (raise your hand if you knew the word “Pinterest” six months ago, and don’t lie). But there are a few trends that I’ve seen in the later part of 2011, which I anticipate will continue into 2012. Check out a few of my social media predications for 2012:
Google+ Will Grow
One month after it launched, Google+ was cited as being the fastest growing social network with over 25 million members (comScore) and the numbers continue to grow—comScore reported 67 million active users in November 2011. While those numbers are impressive, just a few minutes on G+ will tell you that the current user base is heavily slanted toward digital industry folk. But that will change in 2012. Not because the site will have vast improvements, although it naturally will, and not because some celebrity will start endorsing it, although someone likely will. It’s because Google has the power to make it relevant. Google can modify the algorithm to rank G+ content higher, and to give more weight to articles that have been +1ed by your connections. And this will happen, whether anyone likes it or not. I’m passing no judgment, just stating a simple fact. We’re all going to have to deal with it, whether we’re a G+ lover or a hater, so jump on board early.
Continued Rise of Geo Social
This is beyond Foursquare, LivingSocial, Scoutmob, Thrillist or any other number of local-mobile-social-reviews-couponing-photo-direction apps. People are increasingly using their mobile phones to find information about the community around them—where is the closest pizza joint, which nearby bars are currently having a happy hour, where can you get your skis tuned in a day, what coffee shop has the best espresso in the city. I anticipate user adoption increasing as consumers see the value outweighing privacy concerns. I anticipate increased sophistication in what each app delivers, how it integrates other services and information, and how it connects users with those businesses and consumers around them. Foursquare is the current frontrunner in this space, but Google holds a great deal of location data and is hell-bent on making a social media product successful, so I imagine we’ll see some energy expelled here in 2012 too.
Franchise and Multiunit Focus
Facebook’s launch of the parent-child integration in 2011 indicates a trend that I foresee growing in 2012—an effort to create products and functionality that specifically address challenges faced by franchise systems and multiunit retailers. Several third-party providers already exist (e.g., Engage 121, MomentFeed, Hearsay) that address this specific vertical, but there are still limitations when it comes to the social networks themselves. Facebook’s parent-child was a step in the right direction, yet it still needs some work to ensure consistency and compliance. I anticipate (or maybe it’s just hope) that figuring out how to increase efficiency, improve analytics and streamline efforts across all locations will become a priority in 2012 from platforms and social networks alike.
Dedicated Social Media Resources
Just because the intern has thousands of Facebook friends does not mean they should be managing a brand’s social media. In the second half of 2011, I started seeing more and more brands move past this mindset, and start considering how they can dedicate resources to social media. In 2012, I foresee more of this growth as brands understand how social media integrates into their larger marketing, communications and customer relations strategies. Whether it’s expanding the team, investing in measurement, monitoring or app development software, or developing a content calendar rather than ad hoc tweeting, social media will be taken more seriously in 2012.
There is an analogy here, just stick with me. Remember those moles in Mario Kart Donut Plains that would pop up out of nowhere and scare the bejesus out of you. If you were deft enough to swerve past them, they’d pop right down again without much more than a passing annoyance. If, however, you rammed right into one, they stuck to your face and distracted your driving for a good five seconds or so. That’s what will happen with new social networks in 2012. A bunch of them will pop up, be annoying for a split second and then fall away into the unused social network hole. Occasionally, one will get stuck and consume your life. It’ll feel like it’s around forever, just like that mole, but it too will disappear after a few months (remember iTunes Ping and Google Wave). I can’t even begin to guess what the niches of these networks will be, but I guarantee it will happen frequently throughout 2012.
If the past few years in social media have taught me anything, it’s that everything can change tomorrow without as much as a whisper of warning from the networks. But I’ve watched these trends slowly grow over the past six months, and I am confident that social media is heading in these directions.
What other trends do you think we’ll see in social media in 2012?