If you are late to the social media game don't spend too much time looking back because the future, as usual, is out in front of us.
As social continues to mature into a valuable tool for businesses, accessibility of shared platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are permanently changing the marketing landscape and how audiences are reached.
However, things are changing so rapidly that the way we think of social media could be vastly different in the very near future. In the next three years alone spending on social media marketing will skyrocket in the B2B space from $11 million in 2009 to $54 million by 2014, according to a Forrester Research study. With new tools like Gowalla and Shopkick shaping how brands and consumers interact, marketers are recognizing how positioning themselves as industry thought leaders can help generate quality leads.
Here are five trends to keep an eye on during the second half of 2011 that should propel the social media space into the next hemisphere.
1. Location, location, location.
Brick-and-mortar outlets have long known that location is key to reigning in customers (and business success). However, as social media evolves the ability of micro location services to drive commerce and expand advertising and marketing opportunities will make tools like place-based saving application Shopkick, and incentive-based offers from Foursquare even bigger players this summer.
These micro location services offer deals and discounts when users "check in" at participating locations, and even local store owners now have the capability of offering incentives to people who tweet or check in each time they frequent a location.
While Foursquare revolutionized location-based services in social media, which essentially enable businesses to offer special discounts, mobile location services like Shopkick are figuring out the best ways to immediately monetize them.
The app allows users to collect "kickbucks" for checking in, as well as by scanning products in the store with mobile devices. And this also seems to be popular with marketers: Best Buy, American Eagle Outfitters, and Sports Authority are already onboard.
Keep an eye on new platforms this summer. Foodspotting is already garnering plenty of play among foodies, and Xtify's geo-location technology is expected to allow brands to reach their target audience wherever they may roam.
Why it's trending upward: According to a study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life project, only 4 percent of online adults use a location-based service such as Gowalla and Foursquare. And with Facebook (500 million users) launching its own competing version called Deals, expect the use of location specific marketing to increase as the percentage of location-based users moves well-beyond 4 percent.
*Come back later this week when we will have an in-depth look at the evolution of micro location-based services.
2. It's a group thing.
George Orwell certainly wouldn't like this one, but we're bullish on Groupthink. Even though the famed novelist and political thinker more than 60 years ago warned against Groupthink in his classic dystopian novel "1984", consumers so far in 2011 don't seem too concerned about operating as part of a collective.
In fact, after Groupon exploded on the social media stage in 2010 by offering heavy discounts on both goods and services - after a predetermined number of people sign on for the specific offer ─ a flurry of services joined the game including LivingSocial, Yipit, Dealon, and BuyWithMe.
It seems that sharing truly is caring.
The sharing of bargains is harnessing group purchasing power and, in turn, creating revenue for brands and marketers that will help this relatively small space skyrocket by New Year's Day 2012.
Look for more startups, big media players, and even individual brands to roll out a variety of services that capitalize on group efforts, while marketers will increasingly use these services to gather high-quality feedback from consumers.
Why it's trending upward: Big players are jumping on board already. AOL launched a group buying site dubbed WOW, and on the brand side Wal-Mart launched a new service called CrowdSaver.
3. Swimming in the stream.
No longer can brands just throw some content against the virtual walls (i.e., Facebook and Twitter among others) and expect it to stick. As consumers have become much more proficient in the use of social media in 2010, they are increasingly wary about having their pages turned into virtual malls. In fact, as marketers and brands gear up for the summer push there could be an information overload backlash as consumers try to sift through the gathering muck on their social media walls.
It's going to be more important to deliver a message inside the target audiences "stream". And this will mean creating content that is more focused and relevant. It's almost impossible for consumers to filter the hundreds of Twitter feeds they often receive daily; therefore finding a way into this stream is going to be imperative. If your content is truly compelling it will get noticed and Liked and Retweeted, as well as garner valuable comments. This will go a long way in gaining access into relevant streams.
Why it's trending upward: Technology companies are already lining up to change the way content is delivered through popular social media platforms. Cadmus recently launched a tool that changes the way Twitter user's receive content based on their usage patterns. Flipboard (voted best app for the iPad in 2010 by Apple) filters Twitter feeds based on relevance and popularity.
4. Social search.
What our friends and peers think is already weighed more heavily when search delivers us relevant information (think Facebook's Like Button and Google+1). Google has been hard at work joining the social media revolution in 2010 and the search giant has adjusted their algorithms to make made social interactions archival, hence searchable.
If Google likes something, it's generally a good idea for anyone using search to figure out the best way to like it too. After all, we actually took the name of the world's largest search engine and made it a commonly used verb. Search won't be fading in the face of social, but rather will be blending the medium.
Why it's trending upward: Because building links through social media channels will not only increase page rankings and traffic, but also build a cache of relevant content that everyone now demands.
5. Going mobile.
As mobile development and payment processing over mobile devices - iPads, BlackBerrys, laptops, ect. - continue to become the norm and consumers remain plugged in from almost anywhere at anytime, new services are sprouting up that will deliver social media and marketing campaigns on the fly.
According to recent comScore research, 65 million Facebook users already update their profile and community from mobile devices, and spend as much time on Facebook as PC users do. Expect this number to go up significantly.
Why it's trending upward: Social and mobile? This one is a no-brainer. Of course they go together.