Companies are trying to figure out social media like it's 1999-when they were trying to figure out the Internet. Augie Ray, senior analyst at Forrester Research, recalls when companies were sending out press releases announcing the launch of their corporate Web site. A decade later, companies are launching their Twitter handles and opening up Facebook pages, setting the stage for a more aggressive social media approach in 2010. As more companies incorporate this new channel into their enterprise strategy, the demand for profitability, accountability, and authenticity continue to be primary concerns.
Looking back on the predictions the firm made for 2009, Ray reports that several did come to fruition:
- Social technology did become universal — or, at least, gained universal awareness — as public channels such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs continue to popularize the medium.
- Static advertising did give way to flexible marketing campaigns as more and more consumers got involved in social media, thereby forcing marketers to react much more quickly.
- Email is closely tied with social media, acting as the central hub where disparate social channels filter into. However, speaking anecdotally, Ray anticipates that as social applications become more sophisticated (e.g., Twitter on a mobile device), there will be less of a need to rely on updates through email.
Of the predictions made in 2009 that didn't necessarily come true, Ray points out that small steps were made in each direction, but failed to achieve an "overwhelming tidal wave" of adoption:
- stricter regulations may have come more so in the form of industry-specific policies, and not so much on the broad general usage. The Federal Trade Commission's did recently pass a new law requiring bloggers to disclose whether they've received free merchandise or payment for items about which they review or endorse.
- virtual goods maintain strong adoption in Asia, but cultural differences have not been adopted on the level it needs to be in order to be a legitimate new revenue channel.
For the predictions that didn't meet their full reality in 2009, Ray says they may require more than just another year. This year's predictions include a new list of six expectations for the upcoming year:
- Social councils will gain budget and power: The first, and perhaps most contentious, was the notion that 2010 would be the year social media organizations in companies will gain the budget and power they need to implement actionable strategies. Critics argue that this level of maturity won't appear, at the earliest, in the latter half of 2010, if not 2011.
"The message here is that organizations that get what this means for the future-that it's not about technology, but the objectives and the consumer experience-and can really execute against that," Ray says, "will be creating a significant competitive advantage in years to come."
- Listening platform insights go mainstream: No longer is what a company says on Twitter only applicable to those on Twitter, Ray says. As consumer adoption increases and social media becomes mainstream, what's said on any channel becomes important to a company's entire audience. Therefore, social media insight will play a critical function to the entire enterprise-customer service, product development-not just the social or interactive marketing department.
- Increased focus on metrics: Forrester finds that the average company rates their social media measurability a score of 4.5 out of 10. "2010 is going to be the year companies view [social media] less as the end, and more as a means to an end," Ray says. Therefore, it's not just about having followers and friends, but about realizing that these people are an asset. In fact, ignoring these individuals can be more detrimental than not having them at all. "We're going to see how social media is really driving mission critical results," he says.
- Twitter will become profitable or acquired: This prediction has already been validated by recent reports that Twitter has earned $25 million from its search deals with search engines Microsoft's Bing ($10 million) and Google ($15 million), according to a report by eWeek.com. This goes to further prove the viability of this channel-Forrester points to the popularity of this channel as a venue for customer service and discounts.
- Facebook will resolve privacy concerns: By protecting user interests around privacy, Facebook be protecting their own. Even so, Forrester finds it unlikely that these snafus will cause the social network to lose market share.
- Cross channel integration, namely on mobile devices, is a social imperative: "We've got to increasingly begin to think of mobile not as separate device," Ray says, "but as integral to the entire experience consumers have sharing information and learning about brands." Technology and software are improving, which means customers are coming in many different directions. Companies have to ensure that the experience they deliver extends across all platforms.
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