The Age of Web 3.0
The last few years have seen social media evolve in more ways than one can imagine. The rapid growth of major social media players (in size, shape, and reach) and their increasing use by marketers and businesses makes us wonder "where is this heading and what will it look like in the years ahead?". With the close of H12011, it is time now to take a look at some of the future trends in social media and see what industry experts have predicted for the age of web 3.0:
- Customers will no longer spend precious minutes searching for information. The vast amount of data collected by marketers will ensure the information finds the right customers at the right time.
- According to Gartner, by 2016, 40% of all new Fortune 500 contacts will be sourced from social media.
- The Forrester Research Interactive Marketing Forecast (2009-2014) estimates social media marketing spend to grow up to 3.1 billion in 2014.
- Brian Solis (Altimeter Group) calls 2011-2012 as the 'Era of Social Commerce'. According to Solis, during this phase, social networks will eclipse corporate websites and CRM systems.
- eMarketer's studies show that, by 2014, approximately 2/3rd of all internet users (or 164.9 million people) will be regular users of social networks.
- Tablets will lose their 'niche' status. A study conducted by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) and Frank N. Magid Associates expects 54 million Americans to own or use tablets every day by 2012. This means more people will be accessing social media via iPad like devices.
- Mobile social networks are likely to make between $28 to $52 billion dollars in ad revenue by 2012. With more and more users preferring smartphones to PCs, this is an area that is likely to see exponential growth.
- Privacy Expectations will Change: Freddie Laker, the director of digital strategy at Sapient, foresees a cultural shift in privacy expectations, whereby people will be more open to the idea of sharing their personal details, likes, etc, online.
What Does this Mean for Marketers? Keeping up with current trends and knowing what to expect in the future will open up endless opportunities for marketers and brands. As a marketer, having an awareness of how social media will evolve will not just help tweak your marketing strategies accordingly, but will also keep you informed of your target markets' needs and expectations.
With nearly 750 million active users, Facebook currently occupies the position of the most popular network in 119 out of 134 countries. Statistics such as these indicate that Facebook has a promising future ahead and is not likely to give up its title of 'social networking king' anytime soon. Among the top predictions for Facebook is that the networking giant is likely to go public in 2012. Here are some more:
- eMarketer expects 62% of web users and almost half (47.6%) of the overall US population to be on Facebook by 2013. However, after 2013, the dramatic growth will slow down and the networking giant's growth rate is likely to be in single-digits, says the study.
- Research by eMarketer also estimates significant increase in Facebook's US display revenues (by another 80.9% to $2.19 billion) by the end of 2011; so much that it will oust Yahoo! to take on the position of No. 1 display ad-selling company in the country.
- Predictions for 2012 indicate that Facebook's display ad market will rise to 19.4%.
- F-commerce is set to grow; we expect Facebook to become one of the major channels of online shopping in the future with more businesses setting up storefronts on the site itself.
- According to the Social Media Marketing Industry Report 2011, 75% of marketers are planning to increase their activities on Facebook in the future.
- The growth of the 'Why Don't You Facebook Me' phenomenon shows that Facebook is likely to dominate the future web. In addition to fans and friends, millions of brands and business who are not in customers' 'friends' list will nevertheless establish a strong relationship with them.
- Facebook's recent growth spurt suggests that it is looking to position itself, not just as a website, but as an essential piece of the internet; Facebook-led social web will make online browsing more convenient.
- Following its partnership with Bing, it will not come as a surprise if Facebook becomes a much bigger part of the search market picture.
If 2011 has been a good year (so far) for Twitter, then 2012 will be even better, says eMarketer in a recent study. According to eMarketer's forecasts, Twitter's revenues will reach $250 million by 2012. Although this may not be as much as Facebook, it is still a healthy figure. We can also expect:
- To see a shift from 'tweeting' to 'searching'. The Twitter search tool will function as an easy way to find useful information.
- To witness the transformation of Twitter from a microblogging site to a news powerhouse. With Twitterians being the first ones to report breaking events, the concept of citizen journalism will add to Twitter's value as a news source in the future.
- To see an increase in users: As Twitter usage gains traction, eMarketer expects to see almost 28 million Americans tweeting by 2013.
- 73% of marketers to increase their activities on Twitter in the years ahead.
- The future of Twitter to be mobile: With an upsurge in smartphone users, the future of Twitter may gradually shift from the web to mobile devices. What is that? Mobile is fast and simple, and so is Twitter (its 140 character limit makes sharing effortless).
- An increase in Twitter's role as a customer-service channel: Companies such as JetBlue and Whole Foods are already serving their customers successfully via Twitter. We expect more brands to follow their footsteps in becoming more 'customer-centric'.
CEO Speak: During the CES 2011, Twitter CEO – Dick Costolo, spoke about the company's business plans for the future and said that Twitter will neither go public, nor will it be up for sale. What he hopes is that Twitter will become a successful independent company soon.
A leader in professional networking, we can expect LinkedIn to become more influential in this space. With +100 million users (as of March 2011), the future for this networking site looks promising. However, LinkedIn's rapid ascend has prompted skeptics to ask if the company can maintain its growth rate. This is what LinkedIn's future is likely to have in store:
- A popular site for recruitment, LinkedIn is expected to give other job portals a reason to worry. LinkedIn's growth in the future is likely to depend on the hiring solution segment.
- The launch of the 'Apply with LinkedIn' plug-in for employers' websites is something to look forward to. We expect this to be introduced sometime in the near future. The company claims that that this app will allow job seekers to apply for various positions using their LinkedIn profiles as resumes. Experts project a 20% annual growth rate, with LinkedIn likely to become a $500 million company by 2015.
- Analysts at JP Morgan are of the opinion that LinkedIn, with its current 16% penetration of the professional network market worldwide, is just at the beginning of its growth curve; the company is projecting the site's member base to reach more than 250 million by the end of 2015, which would suggest a 42% penetration rate off the current professional market.
- What distinguishes LinkedIn from other networking sites is that it currently owns the professional networking space; while imitators will come and go, we don't expect LinkedIn to face major competition anytime soon.
- So far, 2011 has been a successful year for LinkedIn; however, the company does have the task of keeping shareholders happy. This means we can expect to see the introduction of new services in the future.
The CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, is optimistic about the company's future. Investments in hiring solutions will continue, he said. Meanwhile, the company does have acquisition plans in the pipeline, especially after 'ringing the bell on the New York Stock Exchange' earlier in May.
While the road ahead for the 'big three' (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) shows great potential, the smaller players in this space have lately been 'in the news' for various reasons. Let's sneak a quick look into the future of the other players in social media:
- Social Media Today recently chalked out a list of social networks that are on the rise and those witnessing a decline. Tumbler, Weibo, Reddit, StumbleUpon are poised for growth, while Friendster, Ning and Hi5 may have some difficult years in store.
- The initial few months of the year saw skeptics predicting the decline of MySpace; however, recent developments including its acquisition by Specific Media and the entry of Justin Timberlake as MySpace's de facto creative consultant has made the social media world sit up and take notice. The networking community seems to be closely watching for further developments.
- Foursquare recently become the first location-based network to surpass the 10 million user mark. In addition to this, the social location startup raised a $50 million funding round with the solid backing from its existing investors. What does this growth spurt mean? Company founders said that they will 'try a ton of new things' including expanding globally and adding more features for businesses and venues that are using Foursquare.
- The New Entrant: Google+
Although Google's Buzz and Wave were not as well received, the unveiling of Google+ shows that the search giant latest attempt to go social is not only bold and ambitious, but is also set to redefine the future of social media. Despite invoking mixed reactions, Google's latest project has definitely created considerable buzz among the big players. While there is a lot of speculation on how it will evolve, let us look at what is facing Google+:
- Following the launch of Google+, one of its main competitors, Facebook announced something 'awesome'. Facebook, in a deal with Skype, launched a video chat service in early July. The networking community is eager to see how this move, which is expected to strengthen Facebook's position in the social networking market, will impact Google+.
- Now that Google has made its big move, the big question is if it can convince loyalists to make the switch from existing social networks.
- Google's efforts to become more 'people-centric' may finally pay-off. In addition to innovative features such as 'Circles', 'Handouts' and 'Video Chats', the company's mobile application for Android devices shows its futuristic approach to social media.
- Though Google+ has a long way to go, many industry specialists are calling this the 'next generation social network'. According to popular venture capitalist Fred Wilson, there's space for Google+ to sit alongside its competitors as an alternative for those who don't want a Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr style experience.
According to Google, this is not the final product, but more of a constantly-evolving entity. As Google slowly rolls out the invites (Gmail style) we can't wait to see how the new entrant impacts the networking landscape.
Meanwhile, as more and more brands leverage social media for marketing, there will be a greater need to have a deeper understanding of human conversational behavior. We expect marketers to increasingly rely on social media monitoring tools to know what is being said about them in the digital space. Our research suggests that the social media monitoring field will witness some interesting developments ahead:
- An audio option as part of a social media monitoring dashboard suite could be a future trend.
- The use of unpaid social media monitoring tools will increase.
- In addition to sentiment and volume analysis, competitor monitoring will become one of the major requirements of companies.
As Facebook gets closer to the 1 billion mark, industry experts foresee the networking giant to witness huge growth in Asia. Until recently, Facebook had little to worry as far as competition was concerned; yet, with the recent introduction of Google+, the equation appears to have changed. Although, Google's new social media tool is currently on trail, the networking community expects it to revolutionize the social media experience. On the other hand, Facebook's launch of its video chat, even before people could fully familiarize themselves with Google+, shows that timing of Facebook's announcement is more than a coincidence. Meanwhile, Google will have to keep an eye on Twitter. We expect the microblogging site to emerge as a relevant and updated source of information, besides evolving as a social search tool. For Google, this could mean less search users. We wonder if this will prompt Twitter to break the 140 character limit. While we wait for launch of the 'Apply with LinkedIn' app, it will be safe to assume that smaller players like MySpace will not be left behind as expected earlier. Foursquare, which until now, was in the same league as the smaller players, will be a tough competitor to Facebook Places and Google Latitude. It will be interesting to watch how the big names react to this.
That said, M-commerce has been termed as one of the biggest emerging trends in social media. The recent spurt in smartphones' sales means marketers will leverage the tremendous potential of smartphones for M-commerce in the future. We expect M-Commerce to take consumer-engagement and user experience to the next level.
Social media is dynamic; although the above predictions are the outcome of extensive research and opinions of social media experts, it will not come as a surprise if the road ahead has some unexpected detours.