Business Time for Social in 2012 (by (titolo sconosciuto))

via (titolo sconosciuto) by Dan Doman)
December 13, 2011 at 10:30PM

It’s pretty clear that large brands and enterprises are approaching social from a much different angle than when Spredfast first started in early 2009.  Wave #1, as we’ll call it, was all about the resident social ninja or a siloed team focused on basic, dare I say arbitrary, objectives.  The whole company may have had just a handful of Facebook pages and Twitter handles, perhaps a YouTube channel, and maybe even a Flickr account.  Managing the accounts was painful, but it could be done with a publishing aggregator, maybe a page management tool, a couple of spreadsheets, and an intern or two.

Somewhere along the way brands noticed that this social thing had promise.  The ninjas were answering customer questions, driving traffic to the website, providing product feedback, driving crowds to events, etc.  It didn’t scale particularly well – which started to become a real problem as customers increasingly opted for social as their primary communication channel. Soon enough everyone wanted their own social voice… corporate PR, customer care teams, product management, the CEO, and even sales were looking to join the party.  Forward thinking brands and agencies hired experts with fancy titles, bought basic software tools, and started a page/ handle/ account for anyone with a corporate email address.  And that’s where we are today….  Brands are ramping up investment in social, and they certainly see a future filled with potential.  But they are overwhelmed with the organizational, business objective, channel, and tactical complexities that are inherent in scaling social.

So, as we enter the New Year and large brands decide to ride wave #2 or just try to avoid getting crushed by it, here are a few predictions (and wishes) for 2012.

The major social networks will focus more attention on the developer ecosystem.  Admittedly this is just as much a wish as a prediction, but I firmly believe that the major four or five platforms are starting to realize that big brands don’t connect directly to their platforms anymore.  Almost every organization with a managed social presence is doing their work via third party software.  It’s not really a choice anymore, but rather a necessity as exponentially more employees, accounts, and initiatives make management nervous and make coordination and measurement top priorities.  What does this mean?  I anticipate the time between publicly released features/ functionality and API availability will shrink dramatically.  If the networks are focused on adoption, I hope they start thinking about product releases in terms of consumer features and business applications, simultaneously. The current lag is without a doubt hurting adoption of the latest features by businesses.

Buying decisions for social software products will centralize and budgets will continue to grow.  Our friends at Altimeter have been saying this for a while and it is officially happening.  If Q3 and Q4 serve as any indicator, organizations are beginning to think about social through more of an enterprise software lens.  Point solutions and tools built for small teams are not capable of enterprise level coordination and management, and larger companies have no use for 50 different disconnected instances with no central measurement.   These tools can make you a handful of beautiful Facebook pages, but they just can’t handle a marketing and customer care scenario that entails 1,000 internal contributors, 450 social accounts (across 6 platforms), 214 locations, and 3 languages.  If you are feeling this pain, don’t worry you aren’t alone… call me and we can talk.

Demand for services focusing on implementation and enablement will explode.  If the scenario above becomes more the rule than the exception, then it makes this point an obvious one.  Large organizations have been buying enterprise software for decades now and they know firsthand the risks associated with adoption, training, and implementation.  They fully realize that you don’t just turn these things on.  They also know that people have grown to love their duct-taped solution, so change isn’t always easy.  For their money, large companies expect that software providers have the people power to ensure a successful deployment.

Social engagement will transition from cheap impressions to more meaningful interactions.  Not surprisingly, the social web has followed an eerily similar evolution to web 1.0.  Unfortunately, the same one-off tactics used to drive traffic in web 1.0 also have been quite effective on the social web.  That’s why we see the modern version of dancing babies, sweepstakes, contests, and polls as an inexpensive way to gather “likes” and “followers”… as if that’s the goal.  We are all guilty of it. Admittedly, Spredfast offers tactical engagement applications to customers if they so desire.  That being said, I think this practice has a limited shelf life as a standalone tactic.  Think about it from the consumer’s perspective – are you more likely to be loyal to a brand that serves up a random poll every time you land on their Facebook page, or a brand that uses that space to answer product questions, troubleshoot, and foster a community around their products or services?  Similar to the way Google helped consumers locate relevant content in web 1.0, I believe the major social networks will continue to find ways to favor what they deem to be engaging content on the social web… and eventually these disconnected tactics won’t qualify as such.

In summary, 2012 is just around the corner and the time is NOW!  We expect brands and companies to push the edges of social business much further than any four predictions could encapsulate.  We look forward to working with you and good luck to all in the New Year!

Have your own 2012 social business predictions?  Share them with me on Twitter at @d_doman.

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