Connecting the Dots of This Year's Trends

Reflections on Smaller Screens, Smarter Streams, Mobile Sharing and Video Daring

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Earlier this year, my wife Erika asked me, very delicately, about my inclination to share jogging stats on Twitter and Facebook.

It was a delicate subject because my near-compulsive NikePlus app usage was actually starting to net results, culminating in my first 10K race since college.

"But the actual minutes per mile? Is that part really necessary?" she lovingly probed.

Such are the digital curiosities that pervade our lives. Digital brings countless benefits -- speed, productivity, utility -- but it can also make us blush when we look in the mirror.

For me, 2012 was a year of digital irony, digital opportunity and a wee bit of digital excess. The year saw smaller screens, smarter streams, mobile sharing and video daring. We increasingly checked in (to places), checked out (of laptops) and tuned in (to new forms of content distribution).

Hard to quit: Still watching TV content, just not on TV.
Hard to quit: Still watching TV content, just not on TV.

While my day job is to make sense of these changes, the dots seem to connect most intuitively at a personal level.

Apps continued to capture both my imagination and frustration. I downloaded no fewer than 100, usually on the back of serendipitous surfing or word-of -mouth. But, as happened in 2011, very few won a second date. The ones that clicked generally made me feel like a better, smarter publisher, or had really clear service benefits.

Pic Jointer, which bundles multiple images in a single photo, was among my favorites. Word Lens -- an amazing camera-based translation app -- helped me save face with the kids' French homework.

SkiTracks, which diagnoses slope movement, made me feel like I had Lindsay Vonn's Olympic trainer in my pocket. Tune-In Radio brought me closer to my KROQ-obsessed youth in Los Angeles. Spotify wowed, but also made me a tad self-conscious of cheesy-music temptations being exposed to all.

Sporting-event apps made big progress in 2012, and attending my first French Open would never have been the same without the official app.

That said, I was underwhelmed by most of the Olympic apps. They never quite captured the feeling of "real time," and the video restrictions really got under my skin.

Olympic Efforts
Let's stay with the Olympics for a moment. My Swisscom cable package afforded me a global smorgasbord of Olympic content from Germany, Italy, France and the U.K. I loved it, and I developed a newfound respect for Olympic sports you rarely see in the U.S. And I must say, watching near commercial-free Olympic programming via local BBC channels bordered on being surreal.

On this point, let me add that I've yet to run away from TV. I'm just getting the content from alternative distribution channels. I devoured "Downton Abbey," "Mad Men" and "Homeland" (season one) exclusively via iTunes.

Among gadgets, my now ubiquitous iPad keyboard topped my favorites, and it's quickly rendered my laptop a second-class citizen.

I'm still working through the pros and cons of being a five-iPads family. IPads have unmistakable benefits, and certainly buy peace on road trips, but they also filter out the scenery.

I stepped up my digital-book purchases, and found the Kindle reader for iPad crazy convenient. Best read of the year was Max Hasting's World War II book "Inferno," which I downloaded thanks to an online-video promo.

I broke 11,000 followers on Twitter, but I rarely generated more than a handful of retweets, and too many of them came from vendors. The best tweets I read were typically hand-picked by my Twitter-savvy boss.

I bounced in and out of Pinterest, but just couldn't compete with the home-decoration crowd. I'm taking a second look at Google+.

Facebook continued to delight and plow deeper into my online repertoire. It warms my heart that a simple photo of my mom, now struggling with Alzheimer's, took the 2012 prize for total likes. And I love the fact that dozens of members of my extended family have circled around a private group.

At the same time, I felt dissonance over live check-ins. I mean, do I really want folks to know I'm away from my family? I also tightened my privacy controls.

I continued to draw insights from my global travel. Indeed, there's nothing theoretical about the mobile stampede, especially in emerging markets. Indonesia blew me away on social penetration. India continued to inspire with mobility and online community management. And China humbled me with the growth of Weibo and the fusion of social media and e-commerce. I came to appreciate Berlin, Barcelona and London's budding digital startup culture.

This year was not without frustration. GPS driving apps sometimes took me down the wrong roads (in the Swiss Alps, no less). I once endured unbearable plane-boarding gridlock because a tech geek in the front of the line had a dysfunctional QR code.

My efforts to opt out of email never seemed to bring peace, and I often felt helpless in a pool of passwords. And let's not even get started about the recent flood of LinkedIn recommendations and testimonials.

I could barely keep up with the buzzwords. The digitally vogue term "bespoke" especially got under my skin as I could never quite figure out how to use it in a sentence.

Hotels still continued to disappoint with spotty and always uneven wireless service, and "free WiFi" at airports came with just too many strings.

Reflections on Leadership
All year I pondered sometimes ambiguous tension points I refer to as "digital dualisms." A good example is "local vs. global" or "leadership vs. management." The answers are never obvious, but you can't be an effective digital leader without understanding them.

Work kept me incredibly busy, but I did manage a few external speeches at venues such as LeWeb (Paris), ANA's digital confab and the Word-of -Mouth Marketing Association's annual summit.

In every speech -- internal or external -- I always came back to a very simple theme: Trust your inner consumer.

We're all passengers in this exciting and sometimes confusing journey of digital and social transformation. We touch, smell and feel the changes ourselves. In the end, our own consumer experiences and instinct will lead us to vastly smarter and more enlightened marketing choices.

I've always believed that , and always will. Good luck in 2013.

Pete Blackshaw is global head of digital and social media for Nestle. He's the author of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000."

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