It’s been a decade since the world has enjoyed the ever-evolving phenomenon of social media. I sometimes really wonder how did we spend the 3-5 hours per day that we currently spend on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Whatsapp & Instagram pre-2003 when neither of the networks existed?! Perhaps we spent it reading, chatting on ICQ & MSN, playing ‘Snake’ on our Nokia’s or Pool on Yahoo, watching more TV or simply hanging out with our real social networks!
We have come a long way since then; the human race has exploded to more than 7 billion of us, of which 3 billion are fortunate to have used the Internet, 3.6 billion have mobile subscriptions, about 2 billion have active social media accounts on at least one platform and about 1.6 billion of them access social only via mobile. At this momentum, by 2020 it is very likely that the entire human race will be connected to each other via social and mobile and the “world is a small village” will be a fact and not just be an adage!
While connecting with someone of my own race in Patagonia is extremely exciting, in this blog I would like to think through and share my perspective on what does this mean for brands & businesses from a commercial point of view? How can they leverage this phenomenon of instant, personal, hyper-connectivity with potentially every 7 billion of us? As a social media practitioner & trainer in the region, here are my views on how social media is poised to ignite and force its impact across various industries and business functions in the coming year:
1. Social will not just be about communication & content marketing
For the last decade all that we have been doing on social networks is communicating in the form of creating or consuming wall posts, comments, tweets or amplifying those messages through likes, shares, retweets. Given this impact on two-way, transparent communication, it was but natural that the very first business function that social would impact is that of marketing, advertising and PR. While this would continue to be so, businesses have woken up to the realization that social media can equally impact other critical business functions like Sales, Human Resource, Finance, Customer Service and CSR. In the coming year, I expect businesses to not think beyond a social media marketing strategy but rather “socialize” their business strategy that impacts multiple functions.
2. Businesses will invest in digital boards & social will become a critical topic in the boardroom.
I say this from my personal experience wherein for the very first time I was invited to be a part of the Global Digital Board of one of the largest, regional, luxury lifestyle chains in Asia since they wanted to consult a group of experts on formulating and aligning their social media strategy with their overall business objectives. I foresee many more public, private & family owned businesses take a more structured, top-down approach towards digital adoption and I foresee this having a lot of positive impact:
a. This would send a strong signal and message to the entire organization about the company’s views or outlook on social. Social media would become a critical topic and it’s utility would be debated across various business functions
c. There would be clear cut policies formulated around the usage of social media within and outside the organization
d. Social media would no longer remain a silo’ed division but, hopefully, be interwoven through organization’s fabric
e. Social would be aligned & tied back to business goals and hence would be measured through meaningful KPI’s
3. Businesses will have the opportunity to better segment & profile customer data by integrating social & offline data
This year we saw brands making the most of the newly launched “Custom Audiences” feature on both Facebook & Twitter that allowed them to reach out to their existing database of customers on social. This is a powerful start indeed but I believe many businesses will take the logical next step of correlating their existing purchase/POS data with their customer database and map to their social media profiles to better understand their preferences and purchase patterns. Given that Facebook itself embarked on a similar study in partnership with Datalogix to uncover the correlation between ad clicks and eventual offline-online sales, it’s possible that in the coming year, it may offer some advice to brands from the perspective of conversion but nonetheless businesses should take the onus when it comes to Social CRM to drive loyalty, increase recurring revenue and elevate customer retention.
4. Social will allow businesses to interact with the “crowd” to refer hires, raise funds/investments, co-create & solve research problems
Businesses must constantly ask itself that if we had the power of connecting with 7 billion minds & hearts, what could I do differently? Over the last decade some large brands like Starbucks, Dell, P&G, EarthHour, Wikipedia and PepsiCo. have leveraged the wisdom of the crowds to crowd-source ideas, crowd fund and co-create. If people are willing to participate, cooperate and get involved, why not be humble and create an accessible, structured platform that fosters exchange of ideas and allows people to solve business/social problems together. At a humanitarian level, I can’t think of a better use case for social media!
5. Social CSR will become a reality and make corporate charitable acts an inclusive, participative process
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has moved on from being just a corporate buzzword to a business reality – many businesses have an internal division that identifies initiatives that resonate with it’s internal values and many nations are contemplating new legislation that would encourage/enforce corporates of a certain size to shell out a certain portion of their profits for CSR. If it is that critical, then why not make it an inclusive and participative process and social media is a great conduit to achieve that. Businesses can involve their customers, fans & followers in numerous ways:
a. To co-contribute funds for a particular CSR initiatives
b. To invest their time & effort for a particular CSR initiatives
c. To contribute ideas & suggestions to further improve the impact of existing CSR initiatives
6. Businesses will be able to uncover the ‘Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ through social media
Eminent author and revered management consultant, the Late C.K.Prahlad had articulated a vision that would allow businesses, large or small, to engage the poorest of poor through profitable ventures (and not through charitable business models!) In his thought-provoking book that was published a decade ago, he had shared case studies of companies from emerging markets in Brazil, Mexico and India who have created profitable business models by targeting the under-served and unloved segments of the market, who may not necessarily be not brand/value conscious. I believe social media can further amplify this phenomenon. Given the confluence of social media and access to it through mobile, we will see many enterprises engage this segment through personalized, market-specific, products to unlock value and uncover the fortunes that lay at the vast bottom of the pyramid.
7. Social will continue to be consumed more on mobile than on the desks
As mentioned in the opening segment of this blog post, about 50% of the world’s population is an active mobile user about half of them access social media actively – that’s about 1.6 billion out of the 2 billion social media users. This quick rise of social media usage through mobiles is further corroborated by the fact that popular social media networks like Facebook & Twitter generated about 66% and 85% of their latest quarterly revenues from mobile ads respectively; the skyrocketing valuations of WhatsApp, WeChat & SnapChat indicate a similar trend. Brands need to accept this reality and ensure that their business models incorporate social & mobile tightly as fuel & propel each other.
8. Brick & mortar businesses will weave social elements in their physical premises to add a layer of convenience to customers
Whilst eCommerce is scaling quickly and allows businesses to sell their products to virtually any of the 200+ countries in the world, it still constitutes only 6% of total revenue from the retail segment. Globally retail businesses are expected to clock in US$22 trillion worth of revenue and off which eCommerce firms are expected to generate only US$1.316 trillion. But given the shifting trends in retail including that of “showrooming”, it is timely that retail businesses figure out opportunities to enhance the in-store customer experience through social media driven elements such as check-ins, photo booths, personalization through iBeacons or social-media driven trial kiosks. For a lot of businesses, the customers would still want to come to a store to touch, feel & try a product before buying but that should not stop them from education, entertaining & engaging them before & after the sale. It is vital that retail businesses transition each customer/prospect into the famed “customer loyalty loop“.
9. Consumers will be able to pay for products & services through social, be it online or offline.
This is one aspect that I am personally excited about. I think its high time that as a customer I should be able to buy products/services through a Buy button on all social networks; I should be able to pay at brick & mortar businesses through a social app on my mobile device; I should be able to remit or transfer value to my friends/family through a click on a social network. A dozen companies have been trying to solve the same problem across the world and over the last two years we have seen huge progress not just on the technological front but also on the regulatory and user acceptance fronts. Look out for companies like Stripe, Square, Venmo, TransferWise, Xoom, PayLah!, Dash, fastacash (disclaimer: our client) to make social payments a business reality and brands like Apple Pay & SnapCash to make it a popular practice
10. Advertising on social will no longer be a silo but will be integrated with other channels such as TV, Print, Radio & OOH
In 2015, the world will spend nearly US$593 billion on advertising as a whole and digital (social & mobile inclusive) will constitute about 39% of the pie; in Asia while digital ad spend is growing rapidly, its relative share of the pie is lower than its globe share. Given that most businesses are expected to still spend more on offline as compared to digital, social and mobile ads, it still makes sense to tell a brand’s story across multiple channels – one does not need to tell the same part of the story on every single media but rather adopt a Transmedia approach to create a coherent, synchronous approach. Given social’s ability to target better, create interactive experiences, carry out A/B testing at relatively lower costs, I expect businesses to adopt a “digital first approach” to test out their campaigns online before rolling out their expensive offline campaigns. To carry out transmedia campaigns well, it is critical that businesses have clear allocation & attribution models to evaluate each medium and it’s potential impact on other channels.
11. Social TV will not remain just a buzzword but will become a reality across many a genre
A couple of years ago I had written about the advent of “Social TV”, especially in the field of sports with a case study on its impact on the SuperBowl; I must admit I am a bit disappointed that the phenomenon hasn’t really caught fire in this part of the world. Ever since I recently bought my new LG Ultra HDTV 4K Smart TV, I realized that the phenomenon of Social TV isn’t just limited to tweeting while watching your favourite show/live sport; it also involves enjoying the same content across multiple screens; it also involves experiencing different facets of the same content on different devices (watching the F1 drivers view on an iPad app while watching the actual race on TV); it also involves interacting with your friends while remotely watching the same piece of content; it also involves the simple act of being able to watch a show from any point in time at any given time of the day on a device of your choice – ever since I tasted the joy of Netflix, I really can’t go back to watching programmed television channels anymore. Whilst I don’t think Social TV is ripe to enjoy a hockey stick growth yet I do foresee many brands piloting and testing out certain features to see what works for them.
12. Social will lead to the ‘Uberization’ of many industry verticals connecting people to serve each other
If there is one app that I have used the most in 2014, it has to be Uber; despite all the criticisms and bad press that the management has been rightly dished out, I sincerely believe that at the heart of it, there is great utility in the concept. Just like Airbnb & Uber, I expect many businesses to create social media driven platforms that facilitate interactions between customers themselves and other stakeholders to serve each other and create value – this can be a great way for businesses to experiment to disrupt their own dominant position in the industry or as a way to challenge top competitors. In Singapore, we have personally seen the evolution of one of our clients, a kitchen hinge manufacture take the initial steps to “Uberize” his business creating an ecosystem between itself, its customers and its partners.
13. There will be a convergence of the Open Graph, Economic Graph, Commerce Graph, Search Graph & the Interest Graph allowing businesses to better target their audience
Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Google & Twitter claim to be the owners of the Open Graph, Economic Graph, Commerce Graph, Search Graph & Interest Graph respectively – essentially each of these giants have carved a niche to track, analyse & understand a particular perspective of our lives. They want to know what do we like, what do we read, what do we want to buy, what do we actually buy, where do we work, who are our colleagues, what are skill sets, who do we follow, who do we interact with et.al. – even at an aggregate level, this is a lot of interest data to crunch to understand human behavioral patterns and this is a goldmine that businesses will eventually have to mine to get smarter at their trades.
In 2015, I believe that 2 or 3 of these giants will start taking the initiative of juxtaposing and correlating the different graphs together and soon businesses may have access to aggregated data or patterns to maximize their advantage. But as highlighted in point 3 earlier, businesses can begin this data mining & harvesting process in-house with their vendor partners to solve parts of the jigsaw puzzle with whatever data that they may have in-house or may be able to purchase from third parties. Businesses must make investments to engage behavioral economists & data scientists (which is expected to be one of the hottest skill sets in 2015) to plan, experiment & uncover their customer’s behavioral patterns, some of which even they themselves may not be cognizant about.
14. The biggest challenge for social media will be its inherent transparency and the inability of businesses to measure & attribute meaningfully.
The very boons of social media could emerge to be its pain point in 2015. We practitioners love to preach that social is measurable and transparent, but this very positive could mean that it opens itself to detailed scrutiny as opposed to other media, where a granular analysis may not be feasible. This may lead an unfair apple to orange comparison which measures the efficacy of different media channels using different metrics and this could be detrimental. For progressive businesses, it is vital that they take a holistic of their marketing goals, decide upon strategic & tactical KPI’s for different media channels and use attribution models that provide a meaningful absolute/relative comparison of each of the channels
15. We may witness a bunch of geeks leverage the Internet of Things to create a M2M Social Network for machines/appliances to talk to each other
If there can be social networks for humans to connect & engage, why can’t there be platforms that allow your mobile phones, TVs, microwaves and washing machines to communicate with each other? Whilst every business leader & marketer is waiting to understand the essence and power of IoT, I foresee the emergence of a few start ups who play a pioneering role in this disruptive space. Whilst I do not know the immediate implications of such a trend on businesses yet, it is important that we keep an open and watch out for what IoT brings to the table. A couple of decades ago we had no idea about what could the advent of the Internet do the business world and today we know for a fact that businesses can’t breath without it – We may not have to wait that long to see the visible impacts of IoT and hence its imperative that we keep a look out!
As I conclude this article, I am fascinated to see how Zuckerberg, the young father figure of social networks, is crowd-sourcing ideas for his personal challenges for 2015. Now that is one inspiring use case of social wherein one can potentially connect, converse & ideate with anyone in the world, irrespective of caste, creed & influence. I pray that my clients and businesses appreciate the power & potential of social and ambitiously experiment to deduce what aspect of it works best for their own organizations.
Lets pledge to bring social media to the board room in 2015 & maximize it’s potential beyond just tactical marketing campaigns!