Haydn Shaughnessy | 12/20/2011 @ 7:17AM
2012 is primed to be the year of social. In particular we can anticipate a blitz of publicity around social business. But social media too still has room to surprise. Talking with a group of people recently including Lloyd Armbrust at OwnLocal and Tom Smith of Global Web Index (and reading his blog) I picked out four megatrends that will shape social as it truly comes of age.
The growth of the transmitter ecosystem
Facebook, Twitter, Google have brought many more people into the online conversation. They’ve pretty much minced the barriers to creating online content – which is also good news for brands that are smart enough not to throw too much money into too many channels.
But another part of the story is that more channels create a larger need for content. Many millions of those people now active online are not, however, content producers. They are sharers and curators.
We have a content discovery challenge and we have curators to manage it. The importance of their role is on the rise.
But does this mean we are migrating from a peer-to-peer conversational network, to a more top down one, where we become increasingly dependent on those curators with large follower groups? Does that make Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus top down networks?
Tom thinks so but I have my doubts. Blogging too was very top down and I sense, by way of contrast, a strong peer culture in Google Plus.
Around the time Facebook became famous a well known blogger told me – why do I need Facebook? I know how to set up a website. The answer of course is that Facebook, then Twitter and now Google Plus provide you with the tools to communicate and the audience to talk with. Bloggers had to go out and find that audience and it was uphill for those who came even slightly late to it. There is no uphill in 2012 but there will be a growing role for the transmitter ecosystem.
The age of global
When American broadcaster ESPN wanted to extend its remit outside North America, it bought cricket blogging site cricinfo. So now a major US network is big in a sport that Americans don’t follow in a country half a world away.
One of the most telling examples of a new emerging global culture can be found in a sport. When website cricinfo set up initially it was a placid English affair. But cricinfo pioneered live blogging of cricket matches and began to make the web relevant to sports fans without national boundaries or national broadcasting rights getting in the way. The site eventually found a market in India where cricket is treated almost like a religion.
Separately, PlayUp is now building out the social network for global sports fans, more of which tomorrow. One of the beauties of cricinfo, and the same applies to all sports, is that reporters can follow and report on the tweets of celebrity sports people or tweet themselves from the training ground or nightclub. When English players misbehaved in New Zealand during the recent Rugby Word Cup it was global news immediately. A club bouncer uploaded CCTV footage to YouTube. Content is instant, continuous and pervasive. There is no reason why a national boundary or national broadcasting rights should exclude me from engagement.
In the start-up community even Silicon Valley start-ups now want to hire talent from wherever, as long as it’s the best. Nairobi and Instanbul are, along with numerous other cities, start-up hot spots attracting American and European interest. The start-up is suddenly a global culture.
There’s a new internationalism that segues with what is happening in the economy: more global, multi-polar, more equal – see this thread on Google Plus which discusses whether Google Plus is responding quickly enough to this desire to engage with global audiences. People care about this new globalism whether it arrives at their desk through sport or business or fashion or food. We need to work out how to become global online citizens.
Social media vertical and local
I think the next wave of social media will be in verticals and local. That trend is already visible in music and fashion. I don’t mean simply that there are more music and fashion bloggers but that refining social media marketing, working the nuts and bolts into place, is taking place in vertical markets. In country music for example pioneer Jessica Northey has near to 200,000 Twitter followers and a growing client base for Finger Candy Media who role is to make the musician the social media star. Expect to see more writing on the specifics of making social work in specific sectors.
At the local level founder of OwnLocal Lloyd Armbrust tells me that his alliances with local newspaper owners are beginning to bring local businesses in small town America into the web in an accomplished way. Most small towns lack SEO or online content expertise. OwnLocal offers a suite of SEO and related social tools to rural and semi-rural business owners via local newspapers, as well as daily deals functionality. WordPress owner Automattic invested in OwnLocal back in October – giving WordPress a leg up into highly-local-social. Local has been difficult to crack but Lloyd tells me the smartphone is making it easier. Many small merchants do not own computers but they do have a Droid.
The emergence of brand driven social media
The general consensus on branding in social networks is that it can easily become an interruption. But that’s not necessarily even half true. Tom points out that:
The fastest growing markets for social network adoption are in places like China, Indonesia, Philippines or Brazil where lower per capita GDP mean that many of the brands that consumers identify with are out of reach in the real world but now completely accessible via social networks.
In those markets, engagement with brands is an important feature of the aspirational society. Audiences might not be able to buy branded goods yet but some of us dreamed about buying Levis when we were younger (yes true!) or Chanel. An emotional, aspirational connection with brands is available to people through social media, which is quite counter intuitive and perhaps taking brands back to their golden age.