Social Media in 2010

2009 wasn't a space odyssey. But it was the time when social media got a little bit more serious. Whether it was Philip Schofield, Iran, and Stephen Fry dragging Twitter to the masses, or Facebook and Google seemingly taking over the world, social media was the place to hang out with the cool kids on the internet. But, as Echo and the Bunnymen once sang, nothing lasts for ever, and social media will undoubtedly change in 2010. Here's a few stabs in the dark, most likely wrong, as to what I think might happen in the coming 12 months.

Companies ask to show me the money

As opposed to show me the fluffy bunny, which is what social media appears to have been up to this point: there's been plenty of backslapping on a job well done, and wide-eyed wonder at how far social media can go. If that was an age of innocence, that age will soon pass.

Quite simply, big companies have started cottoning onto social media in a big way. Witness Pepsi deciding to spend $20m on social media rather than a Superbowl advert. This may turn out, ultimately, to be a terrible decision by the soft drink company. Or it may be inspired. But it shows that brands and companies want in.

And if the likes of Pepsi are spending that much money on social media, they're sure as hell going to want a return on that investment. Is that return possible? Maybe. Dell would suggest any money spent on Twitter has easily made it back. But then other  companies may not have been so successful.

That also means that brands and companies will be out to colonise Twitter, Facebook and everything else in order to make money. Yes, the more enlightened ones will be there to engage in the conversation. These will probably be the more successful ones. But there'll be a lot more company chatter.

And you know what. Users will probably accept it, especially on networks outside of Twitter. Facebook will step up a gear when it comes to accommodating companies. Twitter maybe less so, but there's potential to be battle lines drawn between the hardcore old school set of users who were there at the start and slightly newer users. Both will still be huge.

Ironically, there may be a few winners here of neglected or niche social network areas that companies don't want to get into because they require too much effort or are slightly too off-centre for their wants. Certainly Posterous, Audioboo and that old stalwart Flickr may profit from this.

PR gets serious

For PR, 2009 was a year of transition where PR was concerned. Traditional PR and online-cum-social media PR nudged ever closer to each other. Personally, I think we can do away with the words traditional and online prefixing PR. It's all part of the same discipline now.

And in a 24 hour social media world, that means getting your message out and updating your social media network as soon as possible. Not tomorrow. Not in a couple of hours. Not after you've briefed the press. Now. People will expect nothing less. They will be watching and waiting, and there will be plenty of people watching any response to see if your brand is perceived to slip up. Which some inevitably will.

In a more generic terms, PR and publicity will need to start discussing social media as a strategy from the very start. It's no good bolting it on as an afterthought. Anything of a reasonable size needs to have some form of social media at its core, as well thought out as any print or broadcasting campaign.

And the companies that succeed will be the ones who know who should be doing what. Even towards the end of the year, social media and the PR aspect was thrown around some companies like a proverbial hot potato.

So, marketing decided it wasn't their responsibility and passed it onto the PR team. The PR department said it was down to the website people to do the social media, the website said it was the communities guy, the communities guy wasn't quite sure how to progress and passed it onto the customer service team, who quickly realised it was a PR matter, and by that time whatever the issue was had taken on a life of its own.

This isn't to say PR that doesn't involve social media will die. Often it'll still be the mainstream media who kickstart something. But there'll be just as much organic growth, and those companies who realise you can't just go "It's the internet, these people on Twitter and blogs and Facebook will be happy for us to throw something at them," will be the ones who do well.

There will be some innovative campaigns that will set the template for how to do online PR. And there will be more fails than ever before, as PR and brands previously not on Twitter or Facebook or engaged with blogs get it spectacularly wrong, or chancer agencies looking to make a quick buck will go about things in a cackhanded way, totally misunderstanding social media.

But above all, it'll be fun to see how PR reacts to this challenge [1].

Stop touching and feeling me

One of the nicest things about social media is, well, how nice people are offline and online to each other, within reason. Bloggers, Twitterers, Flickrers, Audiobooers, and the rest are generally a pretty welcoming scene and that extends to the number of social functions.

That'll still continue into 2010, but a sense of "we're all in this together" may not still be around by the end of the year. Those who've been in social media for a while will be pushing on with projects they hope will make them money. There will inevitably be conflict along the line.

Meanwhile, the more these social spaces grow, the more likely you are to have trolls involved. Etiquette will keep coming to the fore. Aspects of, say, Twitter that are legal but are frowned upon by some will reverberate around the net and some reputations will be destroyed, some fairly, others not.

Outrage (to coin the Express' favourite term) across social media will be swifter than ever before. On occasions it will inspire users to chance the world (an exaggeration, but you get the idea) beyond anything they believed possible. On others, it will be more nastier and unpleasant, and the naysayers in traditional media will leap on this will glee.

There will be arguments. There may be blood. But friendship will survive.

Blogging isn't dead but it has evolved

With so many social media users moving across to Twitter and other more instant services, the death cries for blogging will echo far and wide. But blogging isn't dead, it will just be rearranging itself.

Largely this will take the form of group blogs or affiliated blog networks. Individual blogs will get started, but the networks will have a wider reach in terms of readership and these will be the ones that bloggers will, naturally, spend more time writing for. This is where Posterous can step in and help the busy blogger who still wants to retain an individual presence.

And while plenty of lazy commentators will continue to look to the (rather excellent, admittedly) Huffington Post as proof, or otherwise, that blogs can challenge the mainstream media, there will be plenty of smaller group blogs or networks that rise and become fully-fledged internet publications in their own right [2]

These might be blogs that inadvertently end up providing a more popular alternative to existing media, they may have existing media firmly in their sites, or their growth and popularity may be a happy accident.

And as some of these get bigger, so the big companies will come sniffing around, scenting another payout. But there will be very few that will make big money, with profits being more modest. Inevitably one or two will overstretch themselves and crash and burn. Others will soar. And blogging will be as strong as ever.

It's the live, stupid

What 2009 has shown, beyond any doubt, is the internet is now well and truly a global watercooler. Look at social media interactions during X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. Look at how social media turned Susan Boyle from a TV phenomenon into a global superstar. Look at the response to Michael Jackson's death. Look at Iran (although this last one is perhaps a tad misleading).

Breaking news, sport, and must see TV will be three areas that will continue to grow. Despite experts predicting the death of traditional TV, viewer numbers for the X Factor and Britain's Got Talent continued to rise. The likes of Doctor Who and Flash Forward pulled into the social media crowd. People wanted to discuss and comment on what they were seeing and they wanted to do it now.

So, TV, news, and sport will continue to get more social. Expect to see the likes of Cover It Live  - in essence no more than a souped up chat tool, but an incredibly smart and brilliant souped up chat tool - really come into their own.

Expect to see plenty of companies trying even harder to tap into Twitter, Audioboo and especially Facebook, post-privacy changes. With Twitter and Facebook more searchable on Google and Bing, it'll never be easier to pass comment in real time, and then see other responses. And TV... well, that could just grow and grow.

Get mobile

If live events get bigger in 2010, then mobile will play a huge part in that. Smart phones are now no longer the preserve of the social media and geek elite. Twitter clients, iPhone and Android apps, and all manner of things are making mobile the place where the development is taking place.

Mobile, I'll confess, isn't exactly an area I'm hot on. But I really should be. Because application after application will make the world quicker and smaller and potentially easier. And, unlike plenty of areas of social media, there is potentially serious money to be made here.

Two events to chance the world (well, Britain at least)

Social media could well come into its own this year with two huge events that will be covered on and offline, and especially on social media, like never before.

The UK General Election will be the first social media election. It will be different from the States. Obama tapped into something new and on the cusp of being huge. Now that cusp has well and truly been passed. Any attempt to ape Obama's tactics will be seen a cynical.

Plus, all political parties have members who are good with social media or who don't get it at all. Or those like Nadine Dorries who attempt to engage but completely misunderstand the point (and there will be members of other parties who are as bad, but she's the most obvious example I can think of).

But social media will be a key battleground for all parties, and the commentary and coverage on the internet will be like nothing ever seen in politics.

If I have one wish, it's that social media will improve politics, hold our elected MPs to account more and cut out the petty sniping and horrible personal political rows that make politics a hugely off-putting area. I'd be a lot more engaged if it wasn't for the disgusting, petty, braying nasty behaviour I've seen from all three main parties.

I fear that's too optimistic.

And then, post-election, assuming the Conservatives win it, it will be interesting to see how prominent right-wing bloggers get on now they are the party of government. And how the opposition parties rally using the internet.

Then there's the World Cup, the big event of 2010, and one where fans all around the world will be using social media like never before. The internet may actually break under the level of expectation. And it will all be glorious.

I hope.

And finally...

There will be lots of other success stories and failures. The big players in social media will become bigger as the sector consolidates. The medium players will either become bigger or stagnate.

But there will be a few unexpected players who storm into the mainstream public conciousness. Perhaps it's a website or an iPhone app that hasn't even been invented or launched yet. Or perhaps it's something like Foursquare or Qype that catches the public imagination. Or perhaps its something different.

Whatever, it's going to be an interesting year.

[1] See also: Eurostar

[2] You want an example? Something like the Domestic Sluttery site has the potential to do this.