13: Where Is It All Going?

Social media is "the new world of communications" that is rapidly evolving. Just as the Internet underwent many dramatic changes in its first decade, so will social media undergo many significant changes.

If brands have learned from their mistakes on the WWW, it should be clear that they need to approach online social media in a more formal and planned manner, developing a long-term strategy and making a long-term commitment.

They should also be well aware that merely having a presence in social media is not likely to have significant results: it will take significant time and effort, and in the early stages the effort will far exceed the reward - but there will be a long-term payoff.

A specific word of warning, echoed throughout the book, is that the superficial metrics of reach are insufficient: the number of followers in each specific channel is less significant than the impact they have on the network as a whole.

Social media is about deep engagement with a relatively small number of individuals rather than a one-way broadcast to the multitudes. Get that wrong, and you will not only fail, but do yourself considerable long-term damage.

New Ways of Using the Platform

Facebook and Twitter are still essentially the same as they were when they launched. There have been minor changes and additional features, but not a real version upgrade in term of their core functionality. There are various ideas on this matter, and a broad range of suggestions as to the nature of the next generation of social media tools.

The multitude of opinions can be decided into three camps: predictions based on the behavior and interests of consumers who use the tools, of businesses who pay for advertising/data from the tools, and of the developers who provide the tools. Those ideas that serve the needs of all stakeholders seem most likely to emerge and succeed.

One such suggestion involves the use of social media through search. Search engines presently prefer Web sites, and their attempts to include blog posts, forum comments, and audiovisual media has been unsatisfactory: they do not index much social content, the index it very poorly, and they index it very slowly. A person who wishes to search social media must seek out a specialized tool to do so.

When search engines become more proficient in indexing social media, this will have a dramatic impact on both the usefulness of search and the popularity of social media. It will create a larger user base for social media as every Internet user will be exposed to and drawn into conversation, and it will cause business to regard social media as a critical item rather than a side show.

The author also suggests "as bandwidth available to homes and mobile devices increases, the way we use video will change." Real-time delivery of entertainment video and ubiquitous WiFi will enable people to access video from any location or device; video will supply the missing component that enables workers to telecommute effectively; and it will enable people to interact with one another for non-commercial purposes, removing the awkwardness of the keyboard.

(EN: I'm a bit surprised video enthusiasts are continuing to cry about bandwidth, given that transmission speeds have largely been solved, except for the mobile platform, for well over a decade. I strongly suspect that there are more fundamental reasons that video has not caught on - specifically, that it's good for a small number of things and very clumsy for many others. Some of the problems can be addressed, such as making video content easier to search and scan, but others are just the nature of video: a slow delivery method chained to a timeline with content that cannot be searched.)

A few quick bites follow:

(EN: The last seems most plausible, though not particularly revolutionary. The first two seem highly unlikely - real-time chat has always been a niche tool and people are already overwhelmed by the volume in their inboxes and are likely to prefer keeping the flood of social media chatter separate.)

The Mobile Opportunity

There's a great deal of excitement (EN: hype) about the potential for mobile devices to become the preferred method of personal computing and to become an omnipresent element in every waking moment of a user's daily life. The ability to access information and perform tasks are periodic needs, but the ability to be socially connected is much more constant and compelling. As such, mobile with social is very likely to gain adoption than mobile without.

The author notes the problem of standardization: each mobile device has unique capabilities and the need to develop device-specific versions for a wide range of platforms is an expense that overwhelms the potential revenue. The author feels this is a major cause in the lack of investment by firms and interest by consumers in the mobile platform.

The use of web browsers on mobile devices is an unsatisfactory compromise. Browser applications are not as usable as device-specific applications, and there is still disparity in what the browser on each phone will support.

There's brief consideration to tablet computing as a better alternative to the mobile "phone" - its larger screen and keyboard make viewing and inputting information better, and the web browsers on tablet devices are far more compatible with standard presentation technologies used on the internet in general. (EN: However, it's a mistake to consider tablet devices as part of the mobile world - they are portable, but so is a laptop computer, and the way in which they are used is more analogous to notebook than to phone.)

More Random Stuff

The author comes unraveled at the end, straying through a few random topics before signing off:

Privacy must become more granular. People need the ability not only to specify intended recipients of a given message or post, but also to prevent any unintended party from viewing content meant for others. Presently, they do this by using multiple sites and aliases. For one service to manage all communications, which would be a convenience to the user and a boon to the service itself, it must provide the ability for users to easily classify each piece of information that they post so that it can be brought to the attention to only those people who would take interest, and shielded from others whom the individual does not wish to see it. (EN: Facebook already does such, but technical problems and procedural missteps have made private content public on enough occasions that user trust has been severely damaged.)

Social media "inside the firewall" is highly desirable to enable companies to contain interaction among its employees for business purposes. This provides a safe haven for discussing sensitive or secret information, enables employees to be fluid in their interaction, and enables the firm to better monitor their ideas and activities. (EN: Technical issues are often cited, in that walled gardens lack functionality, but it is generally more a matter of corporate culture - where communicating openly brings repercussions for minor missteps or invites interlopers whose contribution is congestion, it does more harm than good.)

The author's stance is that adoption o social media by corporations will be a "grass roots" effort pushed not by the organization, but by employees who wish to use collaborative tools in their professional lives. (EN: That's not been the pattern I have witnessed, and until the culture changes, I don't expect employees will be very insistent on being permitted to weave the rope that will be used to hang them.)

There is also a need for a consolidated tool that facilitates all communication by an individual. Rather than using separate applications for email, chat, and video conferencing - and rather than visiting Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to communicate via different services - there is a need for a universal client that is able to send and receive information in multiple media, via multiple services. An individual should be able to compose a message in their media of choice and then choose which channels and people should receive it.

Your work life and your social life will blur. You will use the same applications and the same accounts for all communications and be more integral and transparent to all audiences. (EN: This notion of complete openness blurs the line between integrity and discretion - per earlier points, not all things are for all people, and there is still the need in our culture to be discreet. Sharing everything with everyone isn't integrity, but indiscretion, and there's a significant difference between withholding information and lying that people who propone transparency seem to completely ignore.)

The closing note is that "most of all, social media in whatever form is here to stay," coupled with the threat that if you do not adopt it, you will find yourself excluded from social interaction and miss out on opportunities.