Social Media Marketing Predictions for the Near Future
Today, the social media landscape is nothing if not unsettled. Google is drastically changing its business model, and a linchpin of its strategy is Google+, a platform Google aspires to take beyond what we currently think of as a social media network. Facebook is about to launch an IPO; how the new ownership dynamics will affect the firm's strategy is anybody's guess, but earnings pressure and accountability to stockholders will now have to factor into its business plan in a big way.
On the hardware side of the social media equation, we're in the middle (or maybe the early stages) of a shift from anchored interaction to mobile interaction: judging from what I observe on the Chicago tollways, people are already spending more time on smartphones than they could possibly spend on desktop computers.
So, when I grow weary of the day-to-day grind of marketing finglerless leather gloves and payment gateways online, I like to speculate on the future of social media. Where are we heading? What will the landscape look like in 2015, when the platforms and technology issues I just touched on will have shaken out? Here are a few thoughts.
(BTW, my crystal ball has always been a little dusty, so please share your predictions! Maybe if we all put our heads together, we can gain a measure of clarity that helps us plan our marketing correctly, starting today.)
1. Universal Platforms Won't Last
Facebook and Google are trying to everything to everybody. Their vision is to have everybody logged in all the time to do everything, from search to social sharing and from gaming to serious business. This can't work:
- No single platform can be good at everything
- For this plan to work, only one network can survive
- Users will always want platform options
2. Platform Use Will Be Driven by Content Format
By 2015, the one-size-fits-all social network will be an obsolete business model. Instead, we'll see networks grow around various types of content. The game is already over in video. YouTube is the winning busines model. If you want to watch video, share video, or talk video, YouTube will be the place. It's already got the brand recognition, user base and technology -- all it needs is a layer of social sharing and engagement tools.
Along the same lines, Pinterest could become the platform leader for image sharing, and if not Pinterest, something like it. Facebook is in the driver's seat right now, but I can't help but think that users are going to drift away. Privacy and content ownership are big deals for personal and professional users; the latter issue has taken a back seat, but I think that will change as soon as the novelty wears off and companies start paying attention to intellectual property issues again.
Music and other audio content? More problematic. How cool would it be if Apple layered on a strong social media component to its superb audio storage, delivery and sharing system? This could happen, but we'd still need a strong alternative because a lot of people just aren't going to use Apple technology.
Textual content? Original content will continue to live on websites and blogs, so here, social networks are all about finding and filtering. Today, finding content on any of the popular platforms is easy; filtering content down to what is relevant and useful is extremely, extremely challenging. Whatever network figures out a solution will be the big winner, and my money is on Google -- not Google+, but its traditional search engine, which will give us the ability to drill down to the content we're looking for based on content quality, author authority, social endorsements, recency, and a ton of other factors. This kind of functionality will make social platforms obsolete for finding textual content.
3. SEO and Social Media Will Merge into a New Discipline
SEO and social media marketing have always been intertwined, but now they are almost fully welded together. Because search engines offer so many search options,keyword rankings takes on less and less meaning all the time. Today SEO is less an exercise in ranking as it is an effort to optimize visibility for different types of searches. By 2015, we won't talk about "SEO" and "social media marketing," nor think of them as discrete marketing specialties. Instead, I believe "search visibility optimization" or some other term along that line will describe the marketing discipline of connecting qualified searchers with quality content.
Specialists in this field will be working on traditional search platforms and social platforms -- wherever people search for content. The techniques employed will be analytical, as they are now for SEO, as well as engaging, which of course is central to social marketing. Today's social specialists will need to become much more proficient in applying analtyics to their work; today's SEO specialists will need to consider brand awareness and thought leadership into their strategic calculations. Everyone will have to pay much more attention to user device preferences, because how people search, what types of content they look for and consume, and how they engage will vary tremendously based on whether they are using smartphones, tablets or computers.
I would love to see conversion rate optimization (CRO) fused to the new SEO-social combination as well: you can connect as many searchers as you want with content, but what good is it if they don't take action? Unfortunately, I don't see this happening by 2015, but ...
OVER TO YOU
What do you think social media will look like in three years?
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