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5 predictions for the future of social media

5 predictions for the future of social media Chris Marentis

Social media's great paradigm shift

Almost anything in life that is new can be exciting simply because it is new. This can be seen in a new relationship, a new television series, a new musical group, a new job, or even a new line of shoes. People love to jump on bandwagons and get hyped up about the latest cool thing. However, eventually the novelty wears off and the true merit -- or lack thereof -- of something will emerge.

Social media is growing up

When social media arrived on the scene, it was all the rage with technology early adopters and Millennials. Today, even grandparents are using certain platforms regularly. The importance of social media today by no means can be disputed. But, that importance is no longer simply because it is new. Rather, it is because social media offers something truly useful to the world. This move from novelty to purpose will transport social media to a whole new place in society and in marketing campaigns over the next few years.

We have already seen social media change in many ways. The move away from focusing on "going viral" to creating meaningful engagement (even if with a smaller audience), the shift away from a seemingly sole reliance on Facebook as the cornerstone of social media marketing, the realization that "just being there" isn't enough, and the awareness that content is more than just words have all set the stage for what is to come next.

Today's consumers see social media in a new light. While it started with young generations with personal updates, we've seen new and exciting applications like a way to add dimensions of engagement with television or radio to multiple business applications. Consumers are using social media channels to amplify their voices to their own networks.

Social media 2020: What will it look like?

While purely speculative, it is fun to anticipate how marketing tools will evolve in the future. In looking at the evolution of social media to this point and the current landscape of internet marketing, we can get a sense of the trajectory of some big themes emerging. The following are five predictions for how this once futuristic experiment will weave into tomorrow's world of marketing.

Social media makes big data even bigger

Big data essentially refers to the conglomeration of as much customer-related information you can get your hands on. The concept behind its importance is that the more you know about your customers, the more you can connect with them -- and therefore make them more loyal customers. For example, if we can combine proximity data with search history and purchase history with social media comments or discussions, we might be able to orchestrate addressable messaging to drive a prospect into a store or click and call without being "interruptive" to that consumer. It's the ultimate marketing paradigm where we are able to message as an ongoing discussion, in a personal way.

The key word here is "connect." What else is social media about if not connecting? By marrying personalized customer information with the power of social media, you can create incredibly targeted and robust data-driven marketing interactions in real time. Imagine taking a customer call where you can offer better help in less time because of the wealth of information available at your fingertips via your CRM. Or, imagine walking by a Starbucks and receiving a tweet with an offer for your favorite latte!

Right now, much of the interaction data in social media platforms are closed, not able to be mashed up in order to get a more complete picture of a customer. This data silo-ing that exists today will change over time, predicts Dev Basu, founder and CEO of Powered by Search. "As data becomes more commoditized, platforms will open their data. That will create huge new opportunities for social marketing." In fact, author and social media writer Mark Schaefer estimates that by 2020, data will increase 600 percent, 75 percent of which will be created by customers, not businesses. Finding ways to mash up and use these data will create huge opportunity.

Mobile and entertainment will morph

You already know that mobile is set to overtake desktop as the primary means of accessing the internet this year. The movement will not stop there. We've moved beyond smartphones and connected tablets to cars. Imagine your car dashboard with a touchscreen browser. Imagine no longer. The Tesla Model S is just the first generation of mobile internet in your vehicle. But don't stop there. Wearable technology, like Google Glass, changes the way we think about constant connectivity. In fact, they just announced broader distribution and sales channels of Google Glass, and it will not be long before major eyewear brands license the technology.

In this, you have your marching orders -- make sure all of your content, all of your sites, and certainly all of your social media platforms are ready to take advantage of this shift. For social media, this means not just posting text heavy content, for example, but utilizing video, tappable post elements, and other tools to increase the richness of the customer experience and interaction with you. In fact, you should look beyond text-focused social media platforms and consider adding some that are more visually centered to the mix. Your complete strategy should engage users in the mobile experience and encourage them to generate user content (pictures, videos, and reviews) and to share it.

Marketing programs will reintegrate

Smart marketers have long worked to integrate marketing efforts across media vehicles and channels. Through the early years of social media, its inclusion as a marketing tool was most frequently an aside or an afterthought. Long gone are the days of "Oh, hey, I guess we should have a Facebook page." Social media (and by that I mean far more than just Facebook) will be a critical element to content-based marketing strategies and programs.

Brands will focus on mobile interactivity because that is where consumers spend more of their time. The key change I see coming is changing expectations of what consumers want from social media. Social media analyst and entrepreneur Bob Zukis says social media needs to serve a broader purpose than just networking. Where is this going? Social is a layer of a campaign versus a separate channel. "Mark-up" data around user generated content will become important for both platforms and brands that want to make this content more visible.

Let's put it this way -- instead of looking at social media as simply a way to communicate and sell to your customers, you should look at it as a valuable way to connect and build loyalty with your customers. Doing this within the context of a layer on top of all your marketing efforts (online, offline, in-store) makes social marketing central, not separate to your brand communication. Stop promoting to them and start relating with them leveraging your marketing communications efforts all the while. What better way to do this than via social media?

Content marketing will grow -- with help

It is no secret today that content is the currency of visibility. It is through relevant, useful, and informative content that companies can reach customers and even increase SEO results. However, the challenge for many businesses -- especially small businesses -- is bandwidth. The ability to easily and efficiently create and publish content has traditionally been a big stumbling block to content marketing.

Technology can help businesses facing this challenge in the form of modern content management systems. Yesterday's CMS tools were large, cumbersome, and expensive -- and only for the big guys. Today's (and tomorrow's) CMS tools, on the other hand, offer a variety of sleeker, simpler, and easier-to-use options, making them viable for any company serious about producing and utilizing social content for marketing purposes.

Even better, new technologies will emerge that will help businesses automate content creation tasks by empowering and equipping employees and other customer facing entities to easily create/acquire, format, and publish content actors platforms. This leads us to the last concept...

The power of your network will deliver

Brands that win in the future will be able to "power up" their network of employees, franchisers, or dealers to increase visibility and sales. We will move from the "wisdom of the crowd" to "the power of the crowd." As the internet becomes a crowded, content-filled place, it will be increasingly hard for businesses to be visible on social media. Coordinated strategies, particularly national to local marketing, will provide an advantage to businesses that can mobilize their networks first.

Andrew Shotland, founder of Local SEO Guide warns "that while the majority of consumers will ignore privacy issues in exchange for product and service benefits, a valuable, vocal minority will flock to businesses that proactively respect and protect their privacy." As you power up your network, brands will have to make important decisions on where they will stand on privacy and how they want to use it as a marketing differentiator. 

These changes are not really radical so much as they are a logical evolution of social media today. They are happening in part because fads come and go but also largely because social media has finally found its place in the smart marketer's tool belt.

What does this mean for you?

There are two things that any company that wants to take advantage of these changes should do. First, make sure your business is "in the game." Do not wait until you feel like you know all the answers before you allocate budget. Get a head start on your competitors by increasing your investment in both mobile and social today. This will give you time to learn more and master your skills and ability to implement programs that really work.

The second thing you should do is develop a process for capturing metrics, reviewing them, and using them. All three of these elements must be included. Metrics are of no use to you if you do not act on them. You must know what is and is not working so that you can adjust your efforts and get the maximum return on your investment.

I have one additional surprise that is a little more "macro" view. In the "atomized web," with everyone living in close-knit communities, everyone becomes an entrepreneur. Walk into any Starbucks and you will see a high percentage of the people running their little enterprises out of the coffee shop. Office space is changing to accommodate completely new workplace solutions. With social media, what was big (big box) becomes small. The "local" store is back, but it is not based on proximity; it's based on community and connections.

The time is ripe -- go forth and connect

The great paradigm shift of social media is well underway. Marketers everywhere can expect social marketing to become central to their overall marketing communications effort. Smart marketers will be learning how to get the most from these new tools to give them a competitive advantage.

Chris Marentis is the founder and CEO of Surefire Social.

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For nearly three decades, Chris Marentis, Founder and CEO of Surefire Social, has been responsible for driving innovation and sales growth for large media and e-commerce brands as well as start-ups. With a long-history of counseling local businesses...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Justin Belmont

2014, May 19

A really interesting outlook on how social media will grow and evolve, Chris. Social media is becoming much more about building connections and loyalty with customers, and I'm glad that you mention that change. Prose Media places a lot of emphasis on the importance of businesses increasing their visibility on all growing social media platforms, including mobile, and you do a great job of connecting that need to how social media will continue to change.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2014, May 12

"The move away from focusing on "going viral" to creating meaningful engagement (even if with a smaller audience)"

Going viral is nothing more than a side-effect of creating content that connects with people. Some things obviously appear to a wider audience, but your content can still go "viral" within your own industry and reach as many people as you could ever hope. The key is focusing on what gets people's attention and resonates with them.