A new year on the calendar means new hope, new opportunities, new products, new trends and, most important of all, new budgets for many marketers. And while you'll get served your share of predictions for the year ahead, here are five things you can bank on happening in social media.
- The Face of Facebook Pages is Changing. Again.
The new Facebook Timeline began rolling out to individual user profiles last month and is designed to be the "journal of your life." Timeline is also coming to Pages, likely soon. While it's unclear exactly when it is coming or how similar it will be to what we've already seen, we should expect the rollout to begin early this year.
While brands' core strategy of creating content and messaging fans in their own newsfeed will not change, the content journey and user experience most certainly will. Facebook has already removed the restriction that prevents non-fans from interacting with Pages, and it would not be surprising to see them do away with "like gate" landing tabs as well. If that is the case, the approach to applications will change significantly and will be accessible only via paid media or engaging wall post messages.
In their place, expect to see the proliferation of open graph applications that aggregate on the Timeline. Spotify, Rdio, Yahoo! and The Wall Street Journal gave us a preview of how verbs and objects can take over a newsfeed meaning that the most important verb this year might just be "build" (as in "build an entirely new application to support our brand on Facebook").
- Google+ Is Not Going Away
If Facebook accounts for 1 in every 7 minutes spent online (according to comScore), that means there are six other minutes still up for grabs! New platforms and technologies continue to pop up on a seemingly daily basis. Last year saw the emergence of Tumblr and Pinterest with millions of users, not to mention the long-awaited arrival of Google+. Despite the steadily growing importance of Facebook and Twitter, you cannot ignore the potential of Google+ to impact your SEO and media business. That is , if Google is something that is important to your target consumer (hint: It is ). Google+ just passed the 65 million user mark, with a quarter of that coming in December.
Investing in building and maintaining a Google+ Profile for your business or brand won't require as much time to "do right" as, say, Twitter, but that doesn't mean it should be a carbon copy of your Facebook Page, either. With different features to try out, take advantage of the opportunity to reach new and existing consumers with unique content. We can also expect Google to roll out an enhanced, integrated Analytics offering that will help us better understand the user journey across and beyond their network. We've been saying all along that you cannot evaluate the impact of New Media tactics using Old Media metrics, and Google is poised to take a giant step forward in answering our ROI questions in 2012.
- Paid and Earned Media Work Best Together
The days of building your Facebook fan count and Twitter following without paid media support are over, plain and simple. This isn't really news. However, if your media strategy is strictly focused on fan acquisition to "get X million fans by the end of the year," then you are still missing out on the potential of what brand-consumer relationships can do for your business. Sure, total fans and followers matter, but only in the context of having as many active fans as possible.
What if I told you that less than 5% of your fans, on average, actually see any of your content and engage with it in some way? Wouldn't a richer goal be to increase your number of active fans from 5% to 10%? Only a media strategy that combines fan acquisition and fan engagement tactics can make this happen. Thanks to Facebook's improved Insights tool, enhanced premium ad targeting and Sponsored Stories can drive fan growth AND participation in 2012.
- Social is Mobile and Mobile is Finally Social
It feels like we've been waiting and waiting for the "mobile revolution" to hit social marketing, when in reality a mobile evolution has already reached a critical mass.
Twitter has become a go-to platform on the "second screen" while in the home as well as on the primary screen when outside the home. According to comScore, Twitter grew 59% last year and now reaches more than 10% of internet users worldwide. Location-based services like Foursquare, photo quick-hits like Instagr.am and many other mobile applications require either Facebook or Twitter for amplification and sharing. Android and iPhone sales are driving Google+ and Twitter sign-ups at an astonishing rate. No matter what trends emerge in mobile, from check-ins to search to money transfer and payments, social is already at the center. Good marketing these days means giving your consumers what they want -- information, customer service, coupons, access, coupons, a voice, personalized experiences or just to be heard -- wherever they are.
- Move Fast, Or Move Out of the Way
Giving your consumers what they want no matter where they are is synonymous for giving it to them when they want it. Doing so will require a paradigm shift in how you plan, act and react. In the time that you've been reading this, anywhere between one and a thousand people mentioned your product or brand in a social context. And while you may have missed it, their friends and the people they influence certainly did not. That is the power of social.
The old media-planning model where budgets and allocations are set a year in advance just doesn't work anymore. Consumers don't care when your budgets are finalized or when you have to have creative locked down. Thanks to social media, we have access to insights and data almost instantaneously, meaning real-time marketing is the new imperative. We must be flexible, agile and responsive, able shift directions, change the message, move money around and operationalize it all not in months, but in minutes.
In 2012, the integration of linear and digital will continue to change the rules and blur the lines across your marketing department. Thinking about social media marketing is now the responsibility of every marketer at every level within every company. Separate groups, teams and agencies won't cut it anymore because if you expect to change how consumers think about or purchase your product, then you have to change the way you market that product.