Five trends all marketers should watch in social media in 2011

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New year card 2011 (II)

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Through December we’ve run an informal series on social media in 2011 – trends and developments that we are witnessing at FreshNetworks with our work with clients across Europe. Social media budgets are set to rise across Europe and they are not just in marketing or communications functions. The real shift that has started in 2010 and will develop and mature in 2011 is a move from social media marketing to social business. Recognising and capitalising on the fact that social media has impacts and benefits across a business and using social media strategically where it can have the biggest and most important impact.

The task in 2011 will be for brands to consider where social media can have the biggest impact across their business and how they will adapt and change to realise these benefits.

Here are five trends that we are seeing in social media marketing (and beyond) and that we expect to see more of in 2011.

1) Social media marketing budgets set to rise

Research shows that not only are budgets for social media marketing rising, but an increasing number of brands are prioritising this spend over other media. The truth behind this may just be that spend in this area has moved from being exceptional or experimentation to more regular spending. Or it may be that more areas of the business are starting to see social media as a a core part of their activities. But whatever the cause, overall budgets to spend on social media is rising and will rise more in 2011.

This will reinforce the need to make sure that brands are using social media strategically, and that it is not just being used by one function or team. A brand that is just using social media as a PR tool is almost certainly missing out on other opportunities or ways in which it can help.

2) Location-based marketing should be about more than just vouchers

Location-based tools and services continue to develop and with them opportunities for location-based marketing. If 2010 was the year that these tools developed and were used by more people, 2011 will be the year that more brands use them, where appropriate, in a way that adds value. We should see more location-based marketing and more innovation with these tools.

Innovation means both doing old things in new ways, but also doing new things altogether. Whilst there is a role for using location-based services to distribute vouchers and discounts (of the ‘check in here and get 10% off’ variety), location-based services can and should be used for so much more. The trend in 2011 should be for experimentation and trying completely new things, things that we can only do because we know where people are.

3) The rise and rise of the social graph

The social graph has yet to be used effectively by many brands. We’re seeing some innovation – such as the use of Facebook’s social graph on Amazon.com to tell you when it is a friend’s birthday and suggest books they might like based on their Facebook profile. But such uses are rare at the moment.

The real opportunity for the social graph to bring social elements to an existing website – allowing a brand to pull the best and most useful information and relaitonships from Facebook and other sites to their own site. In doing so they break the argument there has often been between engaging on platforms like Facebook or on your own site. With social graph you can engage people offsite and onsite using the same data.

4) We should all be talking about value from social media

As brands spend more on social media, they will be forced to prove the value they are getting from this spend. This will move us from measuring what can be measured (Twitter followers, traffic etc) and working out how these show benefit, to having to show the business benefit that is being realised by using social media. It may be a reduction in contact-centre calls because you are servicing customers online, it may be an increase in spend per year from those customers you are engaging online, or it may be direct sales you can attribute to activities in social media.

2011 will see brands building models and showing the value that they are getting from their expenditure on social media. We will move from measuring what can be measured to showing value.

5) Social media is not just about marketing

Finally social media has always been about much more than just marketing. It is about communications, public relations, customer service, insight, new product development. In fact there are many areas of a brand that can benefit from engaging with people through social media. And the areas where a brand can realise most value may not be in marketing but in other areas. 2010 has seen increased discussion of ‘social business’ – where social is used across a business, changing processes, products and services to bring more value to the brand and to consumers. In 2011 we will hear much more about social business, and probably less about social media marketing.

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