It’s that most wonderful time of the year … time to predict the future as we close out the year! I think my 2011 social media predictions were pretty solid, so I’m going to take another stab at it for 2012. Here are the five social media trends I think marketers need to be aware of in the next year as we grow and change along with technology and consumer demand.
Content curation was so last year. In 2012 we’re going broader; we’ll be talking about a marketing discipline called “Content Marketing.” It’s actually not all that new; in fact, some social media pundits have been talking about it for years. But 2012 is the year content marketing is hits the social media trends list and the mainstream, because content marketing is now a concept that executives can finally sink their teeth into.
Content marketing is essentially the same thing that social media gurus have been discussing for quite some time, which is that brands must “be the media.” But “be the media” is a scary concept for a CMO or CEO, because they think that media = expensive. Because corporate execs are finally beginning to understand how writing blogs or creating video can enhance SEO, lead generation, customer relationship management, and more, budgets seem to be loosening to allow marketers to create, as well as curate, content as a marketing strategy.
As such, we will be looking for marketing staff with more and varied skills. We’ll need people with great editorial skills; who can write blogs, white papers and slide presentations; and who can conceptualize and perhaps even edit video. If the marketing staff has those capabilities, the costs for content marketing get absorbed into the department and no longer represent a scary line item.
And if our marketing staff is also our content creating and curating team, we also need to think about hiring for our department in a different way: people who are in social media roles most likely need to be the customer they’re serving, or at least must be able to walk comfortably in their shoes. A 45 year old man likely won’t be the content marketer for breastfeeding supplies. Brands will be looking for content marketers who match their demographic, which may open up new corporate job opportunities to subject matter experts in a variety of disciplines.
Influence in 2012 might be defined by Klout, or Kred, or PeerIndex. It doesn’t matter. The point is that anyone who is looking to court customers is wanting to understand who’s who, else they wind up in a morass of names, unable to know whom to court to help them spread the word about their product or service. Influence-ranking services such as those above, as maligned as they are, are merely trying to help marketers cut through the clutter of tweets and blog posts to figure out who they should talk to. 2012 is not going to be the year that a perfect tool emerges, but it will be a year for broad adoption of the ranking tools and lots of C-suite talk about “influence” in general.
Personally, I think the future of social media influence is in a combination of online and offline factors. For example, how do you augment someone’s influence score if they’ve written a book? Or if they’re the president of their kids’ school PTA? Or if they have an extensive speaking career? Any of those factors would indicate that those individuals have opportunities to spread messages to groups of people who likely trust them and rely on their opinions, yet this is in no way reflected in any of the online influence scores. Because of this disconnect between online and offline influence, I’m not putting my money down on any of the influence rankers at this point. I am, however, using them all personally to understand how they work, and selectively relying on them to advise clients, though my rolodex of bloggers whom I know personally is still a far better asset. After all, social media is still about relationships, and there’s no substitute for getting to know the people you are hoping will help you promote your brand.
Convergence of Marketing + Technology + Data
Perhaps the most important of the social media trends to come, tighter integration between marketing, technology, and data is at topic I predict we’ll hear a lot about. New positions like “Marketing Technologist” and “Marketing Scientist” will emerge; within marketing departments people will learn these new skills and take on new roles.
Imagine what would happen if you, the marketer, had someone on staff who could create technology to meet the needs of your content and your promotions, who understood Facebook Connect and maybe even iPhone development, to boot? What if that person were a WordPress expert too? The future of marketing does not include waiting for the IT department to figure out what a WordPress plugin is. Marketers are going to take technology into their own hands and either train or hire people within their own departments who can move much more nimbly and creatively than traditional tech departments can.
I’m also seeing a trend towards marketers who are becoming masters at data analysis; smart marketer Dan Zarrella is one of the best known in the genre of Marketing Scientist. Some companies, like my client (and SME colleague Ilana Rabinowitz at) Lion Brand Yarn, are starting to install analysts within their marketing departments. At Lion Brand they have a staffer devoted to gleaning insights out of Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; they use the data generated to determine what content to provide within each of their platforms, to develop better promotions and events, and to figure out which products are resonating within various consumer communities.
Just as with content marketing, above, smart marketers are going to figure out how to train or hire for the skills they need to make savvy social marketing decisions, rather than waiting for budgets to be approved or for help from other departments internally.
Legal Challenges Within Social Media
Let’s talk for an honest minute about one of the pitfalls of the crazy growth social media has experienced over the past few years. It’s a bit hard these days to figure out who’s shilling for whom and what are the rules, exactly. In order to quell some of the confusion, a couple of years ago the FTC laid out some very clear guidelines for blogger disclosure, and though there’s been continued debate about how to comply (do we really have to indicate a sponsored tweet?), disclosure is now the norm, not the exception. So good on you, bloggers and brands, for making that happen. And keep it up.
However, I predict that in 2012 a new legal menace is going to rear its ugly head, and it’s largely due to the plethora of bloggers who have cropped up and devoted themselves to reviews and giveaways, many of which are created and run in ways which do not comply with FTC and state guidelines. The law and how it handles this new, vast world is going to be one of the most important social media trends we see. In case you missed it, I’ve recently written nearly 1,800 words on the topic of Sweepstakes and Contests in these very pages, and I encourage you to check it out. In a nutshell, it says that most bloggers, and therefore brands, are doing it wrong: there are rules, and they’re not being followed. Ouch.
To be perfectly frank, I admit to welcoming some state or federal scrutiny on giveaways practices because I feel it will raise the bar for participation by bloggers (and brands) and help blogging get back to what it once was: storytelling and resources, not simply crass commercialism. I’m quite sure I’ll hear differing opinions on this score; please bring it on in the comments.
Nope, this is not the kind that Congress is endlessly debating. It’s the kind you’re going to need now that your social networking information is being used by all sorts of outside agencies and companies to judge you in ways you never thought possible. Like insurance. And loans. And law enforcement.
Insurance companies are already using social media to validate claims: if you say you were in a car accident one night but update Facebook to say you had a fantastic evening, you may be sniffed out by your insurer. This will go even further in the coming year(s) as your social updates as well as your network may be part of the evaluation when you look for new insurance or apply for a loan. On the law enforcement side, social media can assist individuals and communities in the case of a disaster or accident by monitoring community social activity, looking for calls for help, and evaluating needs as information comes in from across the range of social networks. We also know that cops and agencies are using publicly-shared social media data to help fight crime which could lead to challenges in privacy rights and changes in how the social networks protect (or don’t protect) individuals’ data. Even charities are getting into the act of co-opting individuals who may or may not be entirely aware of how their images and social connections are being used.
While privacy and security concerns have obvious implications for individuals, there are correlating considerations for marketers as well. If you’re selling products or services in a way which could potentially use customers’ social connections to enhance your offering, you’d better get working on it quickly before new startups step in to fill the void. Even if you personally don’t love the idea of using social connections in that way, trust me, someone else out there is going to do it, so you might as well protect your brand and figure it out.
What’s Not Here: Google+
I actually have a sixth prediction: that there will be dozens of 2012 social media predictions posts which include Google+. Yet I’m not really including it here, because it’s simply a platform, not a trend or movement. Brands will use Google+ as well as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, video, etc. to implement any or all of the above trends in one way or another. There is no question that Google+ will likely be a major force for brands in 2012, particularly now that brand pages have been rolled out and it’s seems pretty clear that good SEO for brands in the future will involve Google+ in some way. So keep your eye on this one, but don’t call it a trend, use it as a tool.
So friends, how did I do? Did I get social media trends for 2012 right in your eyes? What major trend did I miss? As always, I’m totally up for the debate and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Image source: flickr.com (Bruce Dupree via aafromaa)