It's that time of year again - when analysts and pundits and authors all begin to roll out their list o' predictions for the coming year. And as we march towards 2013, I felt it would be pertinent to see how social media and the world of business will continue to interact with one another next year. 2012 was definitely a year of growth with 66% of small businesses surveyed by VerticalResponse saying they spend more time on social media now than they did a year ago. Usage on the sites will undoubtedly continue to grow - there is no point in, once again, detailing how important social media is to interacting with customers - but how will companies actually use social tools next year? My crystal ball foresees a few things happening:
A Slightly More Personal Touch
Hopefully business owners are learning that they can't use social media as another medium for advertising. There is no magic, mechanical formula to using social channels. You simply have to approach them as a tool for two-way communication. With that in mind, I definitely see more CEOs and owners making personal accounts to interact with their business's customers. Marissa Mayer has been at it since taking the lead job over at Yahoo, using her personal account to plug articles and events for Yahoo, along with updating followers about aspects of her life that have made it into the news. She is forging a personal connection between her followers, herself, and her company. And that is exactly what she should be doing with that account. I expect more and more CEOs will soon begin to follow suit, though how much of themselves they will be willing to put online remains to be seen.
A Blurring of the Borders between Business Websites and Social Media
Currently, there isn't much of a connection between business websites and social media. Sure, there may be a blog with a couple of sharing buttons attached to it, but beyond that websites are typically there to offer a way to gather information and buy a product or service. However, as social media use continues to grow, I would expect a lot of businesses will begin trying to blend their social media presence and their website. This could mean giving customers the option to post what they just bought on Twitter and Facebook, à la Amazon, or it could just mean that websites are going to be a bit more intuitive and streamlined so jumping from a business's Facebook account to its website is not such a shock. Either way, how the majority of consumers use the internet, and what they expect from it, will shape how companies present themselves online.
Higher Expectations for Employees to Play Along
This prediction may not be as positive, depending on how you feel about a company meddling in their employee's social networks. The human element I mentioned earlier is important to a company's social media presence, and one way that this element can be established is by asking employees to both promote and interact with the company online. Now most companies will probably just e-mail their employees and ask for their support, but there is always the chance that some business might take it a step too far and start hassling employees that do not play ball. Some businesses already monitor their employees' social media accounts, and there have been reports of people being fired for badmouthing their employer online. Hopefully any increase in employer meddling will be negligible, but there is an expectation held by many business owners and CEOs that employees will be team players when it comes to supporting the business they work for.
No matter what, 2013 is going to be an interesting year for social media and business. As the amount of time that internet users spend on social networks continues to grow, businesses are going to have to get pretty creative if they ever hope to grab the attention of possible customers.
Of course my crystal ball could have been a bit clouded, resulting in me missing some important points. So if you have any of your own predictions, put them in the comments - I'd love to read them!