“It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen. “
Remember when we talked about social media and mainstream media as two different things? Not anymore. Today, social media is the mainstream media.
True, on Google + we may be talking about the novelty of Google +. And there may only be a few of us puttering around on Percolate or scrolling up and down on Shuush. But despite the never-ending introduction of new social platforms, social media in one form or another has pretty much become everyone’s primary source of content and interaction.
So what does it mean now that we’ve all joined the conversation, mastered the art of engagement and embraced the concept of transparency? Your guess is as good as mine. But one place to start thinking about it might be the following trends.
Influence gets more influential
Initially I thought that Klout was a superficial measurement of influence. And while it still has a way to go – it needs to add Google +, Instagram and others for a start – it represents the next wave in social media marketing: learning to identify and leverage influencers. Already Klout can pinpont influencers by category (sneakers, beer, social media) and geography and help brands connect with them.
Perhaps more telling is the slew of new tools to measure, promote and identify influence. We’ve always had Hubspot, but just this week Edelman launched Blog Level and will no doubt be encouraging clients to use it.
As marketers begin seeking out such influencers it’s only inevitable that more individuals strive to become one. And why not? It’s easier than ever to share expertise, whether blogging, tweeting or answering questions on Quora. And as marketers covet your connections, you’ll benefit further from the validation.
If you’re a marketer you should be developing relationships with all the influencers who can use your product and invite them to play a role in marketing it. If you’re an individual with any specific area of knowledge, share it, engage, build a following and raise your score. It could help with everything from making a few bucks to getting a job.
Individuals are the new filters
We, as individuals, organize the people we follow into columns on Tweetdeck. We place them into specific circles on Google +. We use them to filter the content that comes into our lives. We create our own magazines with Flipboard and Pulse. And eventually (see below on the stream beyond real time) we’ll search, using our categories of friends, for recommendations from their past likes, shares and posts. The challenge of course is how any brand or marketer maintains some degree of control over what it stands for as it passes through those individual filters. We all remember what happens in the first grade exercise where a message gets whispered from one end of the room to another. It comes out as something entirely different than when it started.
For brands and marketers, it’s more important than ever not only to stand for something clear and simple (Zappos and happiness; Jet Blue and service) but to assure it gets passed on and represented accurately (if that’s even possible) by consumers. Clarity will become more essential, along with behavior and tools that mirror what you claim to stand for.
Content generation and sharing gets even easier
Percolate makes it easier to blog by giving users content based on their interests. Instagram has enabled anyone, including the vocabulary-impaired, to fill the stream and attract attention with quickly generated and easily doctored images. Pinterest, a visual bookmarking service has a social component to it that makes it a little like Tumblr, the latter now more popular than WordPress.
What this means, of course, is that more people will generate more content than ever. As they do the stream will rapidly become a waterfall of never ending, rarely memorable digital bits, making it even harder to stand out, get remembered or inspire enagement. I recently saw someone tweeting about how they had abandoned their nightly hour of television to scroll through their Instagram feed instead. He found the images and imagined stories behind them more interesting than network programming.
For those of us in the business of attention and engagement, we’ll find it harder to be noticed. We might get on the radar for a moment or two, but the real trick will be mastering the network effect and getting more people to generate content for us. Quantity as well as quality may be our friend. Burberry has 55,000 followers on Instagram, but if 25 percent of them also generated content and used a hashtag calling attention to the brand it would be even more valuable.
The stream moves beyond the moment
I don’t know about you, but I miss 90 percent of what flows through my social networks. Going back and filtering or discovering stuff that might be genuinely meaningful is hard right now. I can save a tweet, or throw a link into Trunkly, but what if next month I want to search what the 10 top creative directors have shared as links over the past month? What if I want to know what new books have been liked more times by my trusted Facebook or Google + friends?
These capabilities are coming. New platforms like Postpo.st, while still buggy, could make Twitter a far more valuable resource. I know one company in particular that will soon turn Facebook likes into real social currency. When that happens, we will all have more reasons to encourage social response to our products and content.
Wondering what the value of a “Like” is now? Imagine what happens when it becomes a searchable source of recommendations. Don’t think it matters what someone says about you on Twitter a day or two later? Think again. For marketers it means sharpening your engagement and content strategy with an understanding of the long term value of a Like or a +1 along with learning to earn rather than buy them, ideally from people whose influence is meaningful.
C2C rivals B2C as Mesh-type businesses proliferate
We have too narrow a definition of crowdsourcing if we think it’s about soliciting cheap content. Its real value comes from the new platforms that encourage sharing. Sharing tools, apartments, cars and more. If you haven’t checked out Airbnb, (or read Lisa Gansky’s bookz The Mesh) do so. Sure you can find the exotic igloo in Greenland, but there’s a room with your name on it in just about any city.
Fueled by environmental concerns, economic realities and the possibilities of the web this trend is just starting to take off. It will inevitably grow and affect lots of businesses, from car companies to hotels, bicycle manufacturers and toolmakers. And if my familiarity with Gen Y is any indication, there will be an entire generation more open to this way of living and sharing than either Gen X or Boomers.
Brands should create their own versions of these networks. It may be too late for a credit card company to invent Groupon or for a camera maker to think up Instagram. But if you’re a business paying attention to what social media is doing (care to share your breast milk?) then you’re thinking about how to create new business models yourself.
There’s a consistency across all of these thoughts. And it’s this. The individual –content generator, media force, smartphone toter, uber-connector – is driving the bus. She is influencing, searching, producing, accessing, connecting and deciding with more control than ever before. Time to move beyond the basics of social media and learn to be even more creative in the new spaces.
Thoughts? Other trends – personal data, images, visualization – you think are as or more important? Please share.