It's nothing short of amazing how businesses have expanded, new industries have been created, and cottage industries have become multi-million (or billion) dollar integrations into the larger Borg-like entities of Google, Yahoo, and the like under the banner of social media. What makes it amazing is the fact that the segment is still defining itself, even as it grows beyond niche networking into an all-encompassing, integral piece of digital life. And it's just out of its diapers.
It's been both wonderful and frustrating to watch the evolution from the first implementation of MySpace to the current space of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+, just to name the biggies. But in the last year or so things have started to gel, to coalesce, to become more integrated. Instagram and Pinterest gave way to picture sharing being integrated on every network. Then came Vine, and video sharing spread. Hashtags made the jump from Twitter to the socialverse at large. And then there's SnapChat, a whole new can of worms.
There's momentum now. The floundering is all but over, and the future will come quickly. So what can we look forward to in 2014? How should I know? I'm no psychic. I can make some educated guesses though, based on the trends and progressions of the past year (and insight from some thought leaders - hey, we all need input).
Facebook Will Slow Down
It's not rocket science, just normal business cycles and generational differences. Facebook has been on top of the social scene for years, but they're becoming mom and dad's social network. A recent article mentioned that in Europe teens won't even admit to having a Facebook profile, it's so uncool. Facebook surely will remain a top player, but watch for major growth from other sites to give competition in numbers. As a business, that means you can't keep clinging to Facebook as you only online presence. Time to branch out.
On the flip side, Twitter will grow this year. In the wake of a successful IPO and with revenues now urgent for shareholders' sake, look for new opportunities on the site.
Images and Videos Will Dominate
No, I didn't steal that headline from last year's article. I realize that pictures and videos are already the hottest thing on the web, but this year they won't lose any steam. The question is, will sites that are image-centric (Tumblr, Path, SlideShare) continue to grow, or will their functionality become obsolete as the Facebooks and Twitters of the web integrate images more and in new ways? If you haven't leveraged Vine or Instagram for video promotions in your company, this is the time to do it.
SnapChat will Shake Things Up
SnapChat may have inadvertently started a revolution this year. Even if the company were to go belly-up today, their model is one that is already sending reverberations of fear and hope throughout the internet. In the face of the most intrusive breach of personal privacy ever known in our country, if not the world (the NSA scandal, of course), SnapChat created the unthinkable, at least to a digital marketer: an erasable internet.
Unless they get squashed before the general public knows what they are and embraces the idea, it could spread like a virus in 2014. A good virus for you as a person, a deadly one for marketing a business online. Imagine no data to crunch in determining who does what online. Shooting in the dark, to put it mildly. Watch this development closely, because regardless of how it shakes out, I predict a big change coming in this area.
I've been saying it for at least two years, but this will be the year that Google+ goes mainstream. They've already quietly climbed to the number two spot behind Facebook for number of users, and they stand to gain from Facebook's likely losses this year. If you haven't read my reasonings for G+ domination before, here's the nutshell version.
G+ is simply an arm of Google search, which is the central piece of a gigantic empire. Google Docs, Maps, Drive, Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, and Android, just to name a few. They're all integrated, and they're all tied to the primary activity on the web: search (through Google). No other network can come close to even thinking about the reach Google has in the big picture. Your self-driving car will come from them. We'll all be wearing Google Glass in a few years. G+ will be our hub for all things online eventually. Wait and see.
The company may still be around for a while, but their usefulness has been expended now that location-based services have become ubiquitous across social networks and apps. Does anyone really check-in with Foursquare anymore? I thought everyone had already moved their check-in rituals to Facebook or G+, but I could be wrong.
The Free Lunch Ends
Perhaps the biggest impact to businesses when it comes to social media in 2014 will be money. Social media has long been considered the "free" way to market, although the good marketers have known for some time that budgets are necessary to have maximum impact. And why would you want less?
All of the top 100 non-celebrity Twitter accounts use targeted marketing to reach their audience according to one study, and that involves spending money. The same findings also revealed a fact that is almost sacrilegious to the social marketing gurus: targeted educational content distribution is more effective than conversations for building a following. So there.
In your social media marketing budget (because we already established that you need one, remember?), the top three considerations should be hiring a social media manager, purchasing advertising, and getting the right tools for the job. The best tool you can use is top-notch social media management software that will simplify much of the required work into generating some reports and making some tweaks in your system. It's like hiring three assistants for your manager, only much less expensive.