Consumers to Suffer from Social Media Indigestion in 2009

Pete Blackshaw's Predictions Spell Good News for TV, Handwritten Notes

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Pete Blackshaw
Pete Blackshaw

If you suggested to me a year ago that I would be regularly and compulsively checking a frenetic, ostensibly friend-anchored instant message platform called Twitter, I'd probably inspect your eyes and promptly "de-friend" you. Then again, such was the unpredictable nature of 2008, a topsy-turvy year marked by yet another suite of consumer megaphones, more media screens, "billions and billions" of never-predictable conversations and an economic curveball that made the 1987 stock drop look charitable. Which begs the obvious question: What's in store for next year? Here's my list. And remember, don't shoot the messenger.

SOCIAL MEDIA CREATES INDIGESTION
Many of us are going to wake up in 2009 wondering "what did we eat?" and "why did we devour it all so fast?" We impulsively adopted everything from hastily assembled Facebook friends and Twitter followers to groups, apps and widgets (usually while shadowing others, such as uber-early adopter Robert Scoble), yet rarely revisited them. Many of us will feel compelled to join the social media equivalent of Weight Watchers, eager to trim the excess and rediscover a modicum of don't-follow-everything discipline. Meanwhile, a new wave of "diet" apps and services from the still-revenue-hungry social media entrepreneurs will flood the market: "For $10 a month, we'll promise you a downsized, manageable, and authentic Friends list." In 2009, less may well become the new more.

BACK TO THE FUNDAMENTALS, EVEN TV
The economic downturn will drive new realities of scarcity. We'll rediscover timeless truths: friendship must be earned, fame is fleeting, exaggeration begets backlash, it always pays to listen, an open door beats a closed door and credibility is our most enduring marketing asset. We'll need to make more choices and we'll need to do much more dot-connecting between existing activities and attributes like TV, customer service, product performance and conversational output. TV will remain a focus because viewership in aggregate is actually going up, so continuing to understand how social media extends and enhances that experience (and sources content in reverse) will be mission critical. We'll start the year talking about mobile as a stand-alone activity, but the "back to basics" approach will more appropriately cast it as yet another screen for content delivery.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pete Blackshaw is exec VP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services and author of 'Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000' (DoubleDay). His biweekly column looks at the relationship between marketing and customer service in the age of consumer control.

THE RE-COURTING OF CONSUMER INTIMACY
Social media will continue pushing beyond one-trick hits and buzz-building to more operational considerations like customer service and employee empowerment, but 2009 will also be the year we rediscover the appeal of living, breathing connections. Our industry research will find that real conversations with consumers, empathetically executed, can yield returns that trump the most sophisticated precision targeting. Brands certainly won't hit the Zappos.com gold standard but many 800 numbers will move from the locked closet of invisibility to visibility and we'll see lots more moderated chat on sites. Also, expect to see more companies using Video FAQs versus text or even doling out good old fashioned hand-written notes and letters. Intimacy touches emotion; emotion powers conversation.

DIVERSITY FINDS NEW VOICE
Prompted -- and inspired -- by 2008 voter dynamics, President Obama, the first family, and his administration, diversity will make a notable shift in marketing circles from a peripheral "nice to have" to a "must have" -- and there will be a deeper recognition that getting this right is inseparable from competitive advantage. Expect to see Hispanic marketing notch up to new levels and more nuanced discussion of other minority segments. Dozens of new blogs will emerge on these topics and a few agencies will carve out unique value propositions here.

CONFERENCES GET DOWNSIZED
In 2009, it will be harder to justify attending industry conferences. Budget pressure will depress participation and marketers will increasingly get comparable returns from online-enabled events, webinars, on-demand podcasting and iPhone downloads. While the growth in popularity of video conferences, even multi-video-screen collaboration, will not replace the benefits of live interaction, the 80/20 need will be well serviced by substitutes. For conference organizers, pressure will be on to maximize the total experience. Oh, and one of the biggest ad industry conference organizers, AdTech, will likely vote for my ouster as advisor for making this prediction.

ETHICS AND REGULATION BACK IN FOCUS
A new administration coupled with dramatic erosion of trust and confidence in institutions will put a new spotlight on advertising industry regulation. The scope will extend beyond the behavioral targeting scrutiny to social media and word-of-mouth ethics where the disclosure and transparency lines continue to grow murkier and fuzzier. Expect more AAAAs and ANA conferences to proactively talk up self-regulation.

WIKIPEDIA TAKES BIGGER STAGE AS TRUST BROKER
Wikipedia will continue to define/shape brand reputation, aided in large measure by increasingly above-the-fold search results for general brand queries. Brands will continue pulling out their hair trying to sync Wikipedia descriptions with desired brand positioning. Wikipedia editors, meanwhile, will continue driving total transparency around product deficiencies, history with activists, executive and supplier ethics and any negative publicity. Brands will not even come close to cracking the code on influencing Wikipedia in 2009.

THE REPACKAGING OF (COERCED) GREEN
For many brands that shined bold light on green products claims, we'll see a noticeable retreat on the rationale that consumers won't pay a premium. On the other hand, major green innovation and R&D (and, eventually, ad messaging) will emerge from sectors like auto where government bailout requirements leave no other choice. Social media activists, meanwhile, will continue driving transparency around who's measuring up to claims and who's not.

TRICKLE DOWN DIGITAL INNOVATION
Some of the best digital innovations in 2008 will source from government agencies looking to match or jump the bar set in the Obama campaign. Government sites, responding to "better, faster, cheaper" overtures from the top, will be easier, more accessible and more service oriented than most corporate websites. Every government agency will have an online-video channel and it will become cool again to talk about CRM.

MOBILE MADNESS ARRIVES
Mobile devices, PDAs and iPhones will meet everyone else's predictions of anyway-anywhere access, but it will also lead to some curious side effects. A growing number of accidents will prompt calls for even greater driving restrictions with mobile devices. Fewer conversations will take place on airplanes and bathroom advertising will see reduced effectiveness rates as eyeball attention will shifts from stall billboards to PDA screens.

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