Here is what didn't: At the end of 2011, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn remain the top social networking sites, despite the entrance of Google+ into the fray. Geolocation tools moved sideways, neither faltering nor becoming mainstream; Foursquare may have tripled users in 2011, but only 5% of Americans use geolocation tools. And despite claims of social fatigue, privacy concerns and frustration over constant Facebook changes, no one abandoned social media--today 61% of those under 30 years of age use social media daily compared to 60% a year ago.
What changed in 2011? The last nail was put in the coffin for those who believed social media was just for the young--use of social media among baby boomers is up 60% in one year. More important than demographics is how intertwined the digital social and real worlds have become for many; 58% of teens have had an experience in social media that made them feel closer to another person, one-third of employees use Facebook while at work and one British survey found that people would give up indoor plumbing or coffee before Facebook. And while last year at this time Google, Yahoo and Facebook earned almost equal shares of US online time, today Americans spend roughly 50% more time on Facebook then either Google or Yahoo.
So, what will happen in 2012? Nothing will change and everything will change. Here are some of my expectations for the coming year:
Social Business gets seriousOf course, social media will remain a platform for communications, but 2012 will be the year when it becomes evident how much social media will transform business. To date, social commerce strategies have been about grafting Web 1.0 commerce into 2.0 platforms, but a "Shop" tab on Facebook is not a social business model. For example, it's interesting consumers can search for a flight within a tab on Delta's Facebook page, but there's nothing remotely social about the experience.
In 2012, true peer-to-peer commerce and social data models will begin to make headlines. Look for car sharing to get mainstream as OnStar, GM and RelayRides bring peer-to-peer car sharing at scale, and watch for mainstream media to pay attention as peer-to-peer lending in the US approaches $100 million per month by yearend. I also expect we'll see retailers and streaming media sites make a move in social cobrowsing; people thousands of miles apart will be able to shop together or watch a movie simultaneously and make these experiences almost as social online as they are in the real world.
Brands get more control in FacebookConsidering it is 2011's hottest platform for marketing, Facebook remains a frustrating place for many brands. For most of 2011, it seemed Facebook was not all that eager to work with brands other than to sell advertising, but in the past couple of months there have been signs Facebook is listening to the needs of social media marketers. In November, Facebook Insights improved the data available to administrators of brand pages, and just this week comes news Facebook is piloting private messages between brand pages and fans.
As more companies integrate Facebook into their core business processes and services, Facebook will be pressured to make the platform more hospitable for brands. Facebook will need to improve everything from spam protection to phishing prevention to secure user authentication. One new feature I expect (and hope) to see in 2012 is for Facebook to give brands control over the ads that appear on their Facebook pages (for a price, of course); it's asking a lot for brands to build mission-critical features and applications on the Facebook platform only to have these social business services adjacent to ads from competitors.
The fans/followers arms race endsI'm surprised at how many marketing and communication professionals do not understand Facebook EdgeRank and still believe that every Facebook post made by a brand is posted on every fan's wall. That isn't remotely how Facebook works, which is why the race to buy fans with game freebies, contests, and sweeps will, I expect, be less prevalent next year than in 2011. In the same way Marketers learned that buying email lists was ineffective, they will learn the same thing about "buying" fans in social media.
In 2012, the brands that succeed in social media won't be the ones who add tens of thousands of fans in a single day with a promotion; instead, the winners this year will earn fans the old-fashioned way--with strong business relationships, great service and products, and social business applications that deliver true value in social media. I anticipate that in 2012 we'll see more case studies that validate strong brand and business results from smaller subsets of consumers rather than case studies that trumpet the accumulation of large numbers of meaningless fans. (I hope this turns out to be a true prediction and not merely a wish on my part.)
The slow-motion social media valuation bubble burst continuesThe bubble is already bursting for social media valuations. LinkedIn is 40% off its post-IPO high and with a PE ratio 7000% greater than Google's, LinkedIn will either need to post spectacular profits or face even more downward pressure. GroupOn's stock has been recovering in recent weeks but still remains 25% off its November high (and it has no PE ratio since it has no "E" yet.) And Zynga, possibly the most anticipated social IPO other than Facebook, has seen speculation of its valuation drop as much as 50% in recent weeks.
In 2012 we'll see this pattern repeat: great anticipation of sky-high valuations; then the launch of social IPOs at more reasonable prices; quickly, speculators bid up those shares; but eventually sanity takes hold and prices sink. Just as in the dot-com bubble and burst, we can expect social firms to take years to develop their business models and produce the stable streams of income necessary to support higher stock prices. Look no further than the experience of Web 1.0 success story, Amazon--its stock stood at $107 in December 1999 but did not surpass this price for almost another decade.
A new economic "privacy divide" begins to form along generational linesIt is no secret that young people have a different view of privacy than their older peers. Until now, the generational gap in privacy attitudes primarily affected the rates at which older and younger people adopted and used social networking, although some economic benefits are already accruing to those willing to embrace social media; for example, one recent survey revealed that 16% of employees found their current jobs in social media.
In 2012, the differences in privacy attitudes will create a wider economic divide along generational lines--a separation between social business haves and have-nots. As the Sharing Economy grows, those willing to engage and share more widely will gain access to a greater variety of peer-to-peer products and services compared to those unwilling to embrace transparency. Whether it is access to homes on Airbnb, loans on LendingClub or cars on RelayRides, the doors to new social business models will be most open to those who are most open.
Google+ Continues to LagHitwise recently announced that Google+ had its third best week, but the headline hid a sobering fact about G+ traffic: whenever Google+ rolls out a new feature, traffic spikes as people visit to check it out but then traffic declines until the next G+ feature is launched. To date, G+ is not showing the sort of stickiness or growth curve that would cause one to think it will pull time or users away from Twitter and Facebook.
While some social media pros suggest Google+ will grow because it is friendlier to brands or essential to SEO efforts, it is not brands but consumers who will decide if Google+ is a winner. I predict Google+ will continue to grow slowly in fits and starts, may become important in certain niches, and will require large brands to maintain presence and monitoring in 2012. While it will not follow Google Wave into obsolescence, neither will Google+ battle Twitter or Facebook for share of time or traffic next year.
Welcomed and Damned: More Social Media FilteringWhen Facebook altered its news feed a few months ago, you might have thought the company deliberately severed users' personal friendships. The reaction to Facebook's new filtering methodology was so ferocious, some started predicting the beginning of the end for Facebook. (This prediction, like every other "Facebook is dying" prediction, quickly proved false.)
While users may not like the sound of it, the fact of the matter is that we are going to need our social tools to do more of the work for us. None of us has the time or capacity to consume and consider every tweet, post, checkin, and like from our ever-growing networks. In 2012, look for Facebook, Twitter and a host of startups (such as Bottlenose) to improve filtering, giving each of us a view of the things we most want to see while excluding the junk we'd otherwise ignore. (Twitter just made a big step in this direction with the launch of its #Discover feature.)
Some will scream about the automated filtering but in the end, the right personalized filtering tools only make our social media experiences better. As filtering improves, the losers won't be consumers but brands that lack relevance, because who really signs on to Facebook to find out what their favorite antiperspirant or gasoline brand is saying?
So, what are your predictions for 2012? Think I am on the mark or off base? Please share your thoughts and comments!