Social Media 2010: A brave – and more segmented – new world
by Dan Solomon
As we set sail into 2010, we can take away from 2009 one concrete fact: social media has changed the game when it comes to how organizations interact with audiences. Facebook and Twitter may have achieved ubiquity last year, but that doesn’t mean the status will remain quo – if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the game will continue to change, and those that adapt the quickest will find the most success.
Social media is far from mature, but in 2010, the sector will evolve from adolescence to young adulthood. The landscape has been so unwieldy – and expanding so fast – that it is due for a consolidation and retreat into niche sectors. The coming year will see continuing aggregation of social media activity onto core platforms with the supporting tools sector seeing increasing growth, particularly around the Twitter platform.
Of course, this will all be driven by user behavior. And because there isn’t an infinite audience out there, not every new social network will grow to gain 20 million users. And if a platform does not gain share fast, it will stall and die. But even with – and maybe because of – consolidation and scale comes specialization and niche focus. Each of the major platforms will create opportunities for users to form niche groups and communities that limit access and thereby limit clutter.
As such, these communities are rapidly becoming more exclusive as people trim down the groups they participate in to reduce the amount of updates they receive. Throughout 2010, users will accelerate the pace of organizing and filtering their networks into groups and lists and become more selective about who they are following, friending and scanning in the media. Those networks that enable users to find and connect with people and companies that add value to their lives will thrive.
What does that mean for organizations that are trying to reach their desired audiences through social media?
For the most part, it dictates that marketers and communicators have to deal with fewer social networks. But in certain cases, there will be smaller niche networks that are relevant to a particular audience or customer segment – and 2010 will be about determining the best places to reach target audiences, as well as figuring out what messaging strategies drive results.
Certainly Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn will be relevant. But even with the giants, there is consolidation and niche focus happening. As 2009 drew to a close, MySpace indicated it will adopt Facebook Connect in 2010, effectively capitulating in the war for top social media site. MySpace will focus on its strength, music and entertainment.
Social media won’t be any less social, but just as we do not engage with anyone and everyone in our offline lives, we will also seek to get more value out of our social networks, filtering out the clutter.
As I discussed above, we’re likely to see more deliberate use of social media by consumers. But the ultimate goal for savvy media professionals remains the same: reach audiences in meaningful and – hopefully – profitable ways. As such, the marketing and communications industry’s greatest challenge is to identify ways to interrupt or insert messaging into or next to personal message streams.
Facebook already has advertisements, but the failure of their intrusive ad platform, Beacon, was a shot heard around the digital world. The users’ message was clear: certain kinds of privacy are critically important. While the details of their lives were being exposed for all to see, no one wanted their browsing behaviors across the Web bundled with profile data and made available to marketers and communicators. People want to be able to do anything, post anything, or read anything. They just don’t want anyone to track, record or sell that information.
Twitter is expected to launch a paid advertising service in 2010 and start charging companies for a special layer of features including user feedback and metrics. As long as specific behavioral data is not captured and shared, a new advertising model for Twitter should see no trouble.
In the end, the challenge is not technological. Corporations and organizations will engage in these interpersonal conversations with varying degrees of success. Some will try to push their message through without understanding the context of the conversation. Others will play by the “rules” of social media and authentically engage, letting the users pull the company into their conversations. Which path a particular organization takes will say everything about their understanding of their customer or audience.
Dan Solomon is CEO of Virilion, a full-service interactive agency with offices in Austin, Boston, New York, and Washington DC. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 654-0810.