There is no easy answer to the question, "What will be the next Twitter?" Yesterday, it was Friendster and then MySpace; today we are hooked on YouTube, Facebook, and, undeniably, Twitter -- our friendly neighborhood microblogging buzz juggernaut. So who has staying power and what is next on the horizon for big digital breakthroughs?
In the past, there was an apparent distinction between one-way media and collaborative media. Today, the lines have been blurred. Imagine complete communication with your social circle, no matter what website you are visiting, what project you are working on, what game you are playing, or which TV show you are watching. This is the true promise of social media.
There is a lot of innovation that will take place over the coming years, and we will see new tools enter the market that have the power to make individual viewing experiences social. In the meantime, no marketing campaign or engagement these days can be created and sustained without considering the potential of making a social connection.
At the IPG Emerging Media Lab, we have identified five players that we feel will truly carry the promise of social media forward. But first, a look at the platforms that are bringing social functionality into their core reason for being:
Mobile social networks
It makes sense that the most significant consumer channel to be affected by social behaviors, after the web, would be mobile. Facebook, Twitter, and a number of other social networks have migrated to mobile phones, most effectively in the form of applications that not only allow you to access your profile but leverage Wi-Fi, GPS, and other addressability functionality to help you connect with data and people. Without a doubt, location-based mobile networks are the next wave of social. (We'll come back to that shortly.)
Viewing parties, viral sharing of video content, and chatting while viewing video online are becoming commonplace. As a result, CPMs are decreasing because of this social behavior -- advertisers don't always have to pay for reach, sometimes they can win it. Hulu, Boxee, and Joost are all based on this premise of content sharing. With Yahoo, Chumby, and OEMs duking out the widget-to-TV riddle, within a short period of time we may be living via our TV sets again.
Digital out-of-home social
Digital out-of-home solutions combined with the power of location-based services will soon allow for two-way communications to be leveraged when we're outside of our homes -- whether in bars, restaurants, stores, or downtown. In turn we'll see more social activity and behaviors emerging in the public sphere. Augmented reality, RFID solutions, and biometric interactions in stores are also creating new touchpoints that extend CRM and transforming the retail purchase funnel.
So which companies are poised to take over the Twitter throne with this social fever bursting? Here is a hint: They are mostly all old friends with new tricks that we think are lined up to do it right. We believe the heir to the Twitter throne will be a mega platform that acts as the digital Velcro in holding these social features and tools together. Enter Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, stage left.
It has undeniably been a great year for Twitter. But it's been an even better year for Facebook. From April to July, Twitter grew by 4.2 million users in the U.S. During that same period, Facebook grew by more than 20 million users. Time spent on Facebook.com exceeds Twitter.com by a factor of about 3,000. But it's Facebook's positioning beyond Twitter replication that deserves the most attention.
With Facebook Connect, Facebook is moving away from being a site and toward becoming a platform on which much of the web will run. The number of sites currently using Facebook Connect in some form is astounding.
With Facebook's expanding domain in mind, some of its other efforts take on new significance. Facebook is playing with the concept of micro-payments. It has "Pay with Facebook" services, though they are currently limited to a handful of items that can be purchased using a credit card tied to the account. It's likely that Pay with Facebook will roll out as a payment platform to sites using Facebook Connect. Facebook is also planning a roll-out of Facebook credits, currency equivalent to a mere penny, which will be leveraged in social bookmarking and sharing.
Despite Facebook's smart plays that threaten some of Google's territory, the company has continued to innovate in areas that will make it an essential feature of our lives for many years to come. Techies have heard of many of their new products, but most marketers, and certainly the general public, are not yet aware of all the goodies coming out of beta from the search behemoth.
As a Google spokesperson told us, "The web is better when it is social, and people's experiences on the web become richer and more useful when social functionality is integrated in more places. We're always looking for ways to help people connect with each other and work together more efficiently in our own products and across the web." Translation: There's money to be made in connecting social behaviors to search, and Google's going to be there every step of the way.
Here are three of Google's latest projects:
- Google Wave. The first open source, real-time chat platform. It's part email, part IM, part collaboration tool, part search engine (it's Google after all!) that all happens in your browser in real time.
- Google Friend Connect. You've likely heard how important it is to add social elements to your website. But other than a link to Facebook and Twitter accounts, most of us can't spend the time or money to build a more comprehensive social component on our sites -- yet. However, Friend Connect lets sites add a "dash of social" just by copying a few bits of code. It's plug-and-play social.
- Google Latitude. The hope of location-based technology is that it will enable us to locate our friends' locations (when they allow this) and make the world a little smaller. You'll know when your friend is in the area and can meet for a coffee. For marketers, identifying location is key to delivering targeted messages in the right place and right time to the right customer. Google Latitude could be the gel location-based social has been waiting for.
We all know that Amazon is the biggest kid on the block when it comes to ecommerce solutions. And Amazon has been at the forefront of utilizing social behaviors to propel its commerce engine from the beginning. It made its first foray into social through its product ratings feature, and now users can share their own product images, see who viewed the product and later purchased it, submit a manual, tag, help others find similar products, peruse communities' lists of similar products, and use the ever-popular tell-a-friend component. New video reviews, podcasts, and other types of media content are appearing on the site everyday to help move product and leverage community behavior.
This all serves as a backdrop to the larger Amazon machine at play. Its Amazon "Web Services Solutions" are quickly becoming the white-label standard for large and small businesses. Quietly, Amazon has mastered cloud-based solutions, from computing capacity tools (Amazon EC2) to storage solutions (Amazon S3), its crowdsourcing play (Mechanical Turk), and the more-well-known fulfillment solutions (Amazon FWS). Take a look at the full breakdown here.
From an investment perspective, Amazon has been actively making some strategic purchases that show the company is paying close attention to trends in consumer behavior. Some of these include the acquisition of SnapTell, a company that makes mobile image recognition marketing applications and technology. Image recognition will change the way consumers behave in store and will most definitely affect the path to purchase.
Another positive sign was the recent purchase of Zappos, a social media darling of the retail space. Zappos is well known for leveraging modern employee management techniques with social media constructs that drive revenue. With the big guns of Amazon behind it, Zappos can certainly own the online shoe business.
Earlier this summer the news spread that Xbox was bringing Twitter and Facebook to the gaming and media console. Shortly thereafter, Netflix subscribers noticed an update that allowed them to watch movies in "party" mode -- that is, you can now have Steven Seagal nights with your friends all over the world, each from your own living room, represented by your avatar and communicating through a microphone. As Ad Age wrote, "By incorporating these social networking tools into their gaming device, Microsoft is uniting a passionate community that comprises hundreds of millions of people and, in large part, revolves around its brand. Just think about all the possibilities this creates." We agree. Microsoft may yet have its say in making our living rooms the social space of the future.
And what about a dark horse? We've named the big dogs, and we expect it will be their time for awhile, especially given a tough economic environment for startups. But there is a potential, smaller heir to the Twitter throne: the location-based mobile networking service Foursquare.
Forget figuring out something brilliant to say via Twitter; now you can just "check in" at locations across your city to notify your friends where you are, get free coffee or beer, and earn virtual badges of honor. Foursquare is one of several social mobile location-based services (Brightkite and Booyah Society are a couple of others). But with a fresh injection of cash, a growing number of cities and users, an emerging business model, and its clever rewards system, we think Foursquare could be the next social platform we're addicted to (and are convincing our moms to use).
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