Trend in Social Media – 2012

Struggle & Contradiction in 4 different dimensions – that is how I can summarize the trend in social media.

  1. Open Web vs. Walled Social Media
  2. Social Media Usage vs. Social Media ROI
  3. Adding Social Dimension to Search vs. Biasing the Search Result
  4. Media Convergence vs. Social Media Proliferation

Having said that I need to admit that in another dimension there is no struggle, no contradiction – it is going up … up … up.

Usage of Social Media through Mobile

Whichever statistics you look at – whatever prediction you see; more people are accessing social media sites through their smartphones and tablets. More social media applications are getting downloaded. This trend is not going to decelerate in the near future.

The State of Media: The Social Media Report – Q3 2011 from Nielsen brings out these interesting facts:

  • Close to 40% user access social media content from their mobile phone
  • Next to GPS, social networking is the most valued feature in a smart phone
  • In last one year, Social Networking App usage has gone up by 30%
  • Social Networking Apps are third most popular app category after Games and Weather
  • Over twice as many people aged 55+ visited social networking site from their mobile phone compared to last year

Another interesting piece of stats appear in eWeek:

Of Facebook’s 845 million users, 425 million of them used Facebook’s mobile apps or its mobile Website in December 2011, up from the 350 million that Facebook reported last.

This clearly shows that mobile usage is growing faster than Facebook’s desktop usage.

1) Open Web vs. Walled Social Media

Till Facebook came in, web was mostly open. Two of the key drivers behind the success of the Web are (1) the ease with which pages can be hyperlinked irrespective of where it is hosted and which site it belongs to and (2) the ease with which you can search a specific page which has been indexed by search engine mainly Google.

However, most social media especially Facebook do not allow Google to search and index their pages. Even if you have access to specific pages in Facebook, you will not be able to search and find those pages using Google. You will necessarily have to login to Facebook and do the search. This is not true for sites like Wikipedia.

But, is that not a fight between Facebook and Google? Anyway, this is true for most sites which require a login. So, what is the big problem?

You may not want to classify this as a problem but you need to acknowledge that this is a big change because people are spending more and more time inside their favorite Social Media which is likely to be Facebook. What you do inside Facebook and what you do outside becomes almost two different worlds with very little linkage.

The question is:

Will this division increase in the coming future and make the web into multiple walled gardens?

Or

Will social media become more open preserving the open nature of the web?

This issue was first raised by Tim-Berners Lee more than a year back but has again become a point of debate because of the coming IPO of Facebook. The views differ from “this is a serious problem” to “users don’t care” to “it is not a big problem” to “we need to do something about it”.

2) Social Media Usage vs. Social Media ROI

Look at these stats:

  • Facebook has more than 0.8 billion users (see Wikipedia)
  • Use of Social Business Software will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 38% through 2014 (see this)
  • Social Network and Blog continue to dominate time online accounting for 22.5% (see this)
  • 57% of the SMB surveyed plan to use social media marketing, an increase of 7% from the prior year (see this)

On every count social media use is not only increasing but increasing very fast. There is also no shortage of expert opinion on the necessity of increasing social media presence like “how social media is indispensable to news reporting” to “why social commerce will take off in 2012” to “why business won’t be able to afford NOT to use social media for marketing”.

This should translate into clear measurable benefit of social media influence … right?

Wrong.

There are several studies which put a dampener on this enthusiasm. Here are 2 of them which paints not so rosy picture of impact of social media.

In addition, experts are trying to figure out how to measure social influence. Can you go by the Klout score? Or, do you look at Kred or PeerIndex?

So, on one hand –

You feel that social media cannot be ignored and you need to be present and invest in it.

On the other hand –

You are worried about how to justify the investment.

BTW: Do you have to justify ROI on email?

3) Adding Social Dimension to Search vs. Biasing the Search Result

If you have to point out one company that is the prime source of the two contradictions mentioned above, it is obviously Facebook.

However, for this point it is Google is the prime mover.

To counter the influence of Facebook, Google has decided to go social, that is, to add a social dimension to everything that it does. Therefore, the search results have started showing so-and-so has either shared or liked this result. It has even started saying that you yourself have shared or +1ed this link.

Is this good?

Because you immediately get the opinion of people you know and probably trust.

Or, is this bad?

Because you are stuck in a close loop where “A” influences “B” and “B” influences “A” creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Only time will tell.

4) Media Convergence vs. Social Media Proliferation

Traditional TV and the internet will probably converge and reshape the way we choose how, when and why we watch television. All of our media devices including our television sets, computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones could come together to offer us more social and sharable television experiences that we can enjoy whenever we want. Many of us are no longer consuming digital content on a single device. We now have two screens when consuming media (TV + laptop, tablet + Phone etc) and the lines between those devices will become even more blurred. Instead, we tweet on our laptops while viewing a TV program, watch another show on their tablet during a commercial or look up lyrics on our smartphones while listening to a song on the radio.

As consumers begin to access digital content from a wider variety of devices — including, most recently, smartphones and tablets — publishers are beginning to offer subscription packages that allow them to access content on all of those devices for one flat fee. Because of the acceleration of print to Tablet swap, the smart traditional publications are already making the transition, but many will get left behind as printed media will quickly become obsolete as time passes.

This is one side of the picture.

Because of the dominance of Facebook, the other side of the picture is slightly obscure and not clearly visible. There is no doubt the Facebook is huge compared to all the other rivals. But, look at some of these statistics:

  • LinkedIn 277% More Effective for Lead Generation than Facebook & Twitter (see this)
  • YouTube hits 4 billion daily video views (see this)
  • Twitter is the most popular social media channel with content marketers (see this)
  • Google+ Hits 100 Million Users and may reach 400 million by year end (see this)
  • Pinterest Becomes Top Traffic Driver for Retailers (see this)
  • Tumblr is the emerging social media player nearly tripling its audience in one year (see this)

Granted, these platforms put together may be smaller than Facebook but you have to admit that there is proliferation happening in social media with niche players emerging. The problem is they do not talk to each other. Therefore…

Though –

Different media are converging.

The problem is that –

Social media are diverging and they are not interoperable…the walled garden effect that we had talked earlier.

Will we see a Social Media Black Swan in 2012?

No, I am not talking about Black Swan the movie; I am talking about the “Black Swan Theory” proposed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Till the black swan, a member of the species Cygnus Atratus, was described scientifically by English naturalist John Latham in 1790, people thought swan could only be white.

Similarly, there are unexpected and unpredicted events happen in technology evolution which takes us by surprise. The event has a major impact and we try to rationalize as if it could have been expected.

Are we going to witness any such event around Social Media in 2012?

Google+ is supplementing your search result

Have you noticed that your search result has started showing what your connections in Google+ are recommending?

This indicates the true potential of Google Plus.

There are few recent interesting developments which indicates slow and steady rise of Google Plus

  1. Going from invitation only to open to all – see this
  2. For business – limited trial with Ford Motors and few others – see this
  3. Google Plus search – see this

Actually, the rise in last few days is anything but slow. Visits to Google Plus increased by 10 times. The site received 15 million U.S. visits, up from 1.1 million the week before and its ranking went up from 54th to 8th in just one week in Hitwise’s Social Networking and Forums category.

In fact, in terms of % traffic, Google+ (0.55%) is not very much behind MySpace (0.60%) and LinkedIn (0.66%).

Social Networking has Low Influence on Buying Decision

Sometime back Forrester concluded that Social networks will have very little influence on ecommerce.

Here is one more recent survey from Cone Trend Tracker, which tends to confirm this hypothesis. Before deciding whether to purchase, consumers go online but only 12% solicit opinions from their social network(s).

What impacts purchase decision?

Here are some interesting tidbits from the survey:

89% – will check online for medium to high value purchase

87% – gets reinforced by positive information

85% – additional recommendation online helps decision making

81% – ubiquity of internet as a reason for doing online research before purchase

80% – may change their mind based on negative feedback

69% – will give more weightage if the reviewer has actually used the product

68% – will go online to verify a product/service recommendation when they will own it for many years

64% – will check online for new / unfamiliar product

Multi-factor knowledge acquisition

What do these stats indicate?

We have entered an era where we can take in disparate and often contradictory pieces of information and arrive at a decision. We can build our understanding or find an accurate answer to a question we are asking. The beauty of this process is that the individual pieces of information may be partial and may even be erroneous.

Our brain is able to resolve the contradiction and make sense and learn from this cacophony. This is the best way to combine what computers can do well (index and search) with what human can do well (make sense from multiple, incomplete and even contradictory set of information).

This process is like multifactor authentication where more than one piece of information about user identity is used to get more secure authentication.

Why Web 2.0 does not work inside Enterprise

I am writing this post with the hope that you will prove me wrong – you will point out all the fallacies in my argument. These are the collections of views that I have come across, on why web 2.0 concepts and tools are not much of use inside an enterprise.

 

Incompatibility – Structured approach in enterprise vs. Self-organizing approach in web 2.0

There are fundamental differences between how an organization works and the basic principles of web 2.0. Every organization has a clearly defined hierarchy. Goal setting and responsibility allocation is normally top down. Most activity has a clearly defined deadline.

In web 2.0 all these are suppose to happen in a voluntary – self organizing manner. It is not clear how these two mechanisms can coexist?

 

Web 2.0 hype – Solution in search of a problem

Any technology enthusiast will naturally be excited about wiki, blog, social networking etc. As a result, the first question that gets asked is “what Web 2.0 tools can we use within the enterprise”? This is followed by the question “where can we apply these tools”?

This is the wrong way of approaching any problem. The right way is to start with a business problem and search for the best way to solve that problem. The search may lead to specific web 2.0 technology or it may lead to some other solution which is better than using any web 2.0 tools.

However, in most organizations, the starting point is technology to be followed by a search for problem. If a suitable problem is not found then something is invented.

 

Small size of community

All web 2.0 usage statistics indicates that only a small portion of any community becomes an active contributor. Others are only passive reader and the ratio is typically 1:100. To make any of these initiatives successful, significant number of people has to contribute. (See this interesting article – New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets)

To get a significant number of contributors, one of the two thinks has to happen. The first possibility is to select a subject or an area where there is a large community already in existence within the enterprise. Such situation is not very common.

The other possibility of success is when the size of the enterprise is really large, may be more than 100,000 people. So, for a typical organization, the chance of success of web 2.0 initiative becomes very low.

 

Limiting impact of the organization boundary

Typical social networking technologies work well in a social situation. It is about establishing link between people you know and expanding the chain through existing links. It is about expanding the horizon.

Therefore, the whole process will lose its effectiveness if it is bound by the enterprise boundary.

 

Conflicting need – Security restriction vs. Open access

In recent times, enterprises are highly conscious even paranoid of security needs, both physical as well as electronic. More and more checks and access restrictions are being implemented.

Such a restrictive environment is in total conflict with the open culture and free access required for web 2.0 to succeed. So, how do you even start implementing it in the current environment?