The Outlook of Social in 2012
The buzzword of the year 2011 has to be Solomo which stands for social, local and mobile. Although it is a bit limiting to lump these terms together, the term will clearly continue up the hype cycle in 2012. In terms of social there are few key ideas that will be important in 2012. They can be describe with these words: saturated, dedicated and promoted.
The main driver is that social networks are saturated and getting meaningless for many users. Facebook has now (December 2011) over 800 million users. After doing mindless stuff for some time now, users will leave if they don’t get more sophisticated, more-value-for-the-time experience. People need more serendipity.
Social will of course continue but we will see new ways to do social online, for example smaller and closer networks and maybe more dedicated networks. We could call this the Groucho Marx Paradox, as he is quoted saying: I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members. One way to determine a value of a network is by who is not there. Facebook has become an gigantic address book where people can communicate with other people and groups when needed, but hanging out socially is done in other places. Wikipedia list of social networks contains over 200 networks, including ClassMates, CouchSurfing, hi5, LibraryThink, Linkedin, Tumblr, Habbo Hotel, and WeeWorld, just to name few.
Still, Facebook will continue to be the most important platform, at least in the western world. For most Facebook developers, the social network is important to them and made them what they are. But they also fear Facebook as they have no control and the terms can change any time. Mobile is one escape route from being locked into Facebook. This is why the term cross-platform will be key in 2012.
Corporations will further use social media as their main form of communications. We are now just beginning to see the rise of social business. Social media is where products and brands will be promoted. According to 2011 IBM Tech Trend Report, 43% of surveyed businesses are already deploying internal social media products and some 41% are deploying social platforms to promote their brands.
Social games are changing also. In 2012 we will see divergence of social and casual games. Some vendors will continue to provide short game experience like Zynga. In the Zynga games the goal is to create an experience where people can play for very short time. You can check-in often, just to check the status or to play a few moves. These games exploit the Checking Habit, where people have the urge to check multiple times over the day. Other games will be longer and deeper. Gamers tend to like games that last and provide rich and deep context. Causal games, like the typical Facebook game, are usually not that deep. In 2012 we will see more games with deeper game play. This is sometimes referred to as second wave of social games. Cross-platform strategies are also crucial to social games. Well designed game can allow for game play using Facebook, tablet and a smartphone.
Social networks and social media in general will continue explosive growth in 2012 and new services emerge. There are more people using social networks today than used the Internet in 2006. Global social network ad revenues already make up about 10% of worldwide online ad spending, or about $8 billion. There is big money in social and we are still in the early stages. Facebook will continue to dominate social networking in 2012 but faces competition from other players, of which Google seems to be the most threat. Facebook will fight to keep the users logged into their platform. Perhaps the biggest threat to Facebook is from an unknown power very fundamental to the Internet, decoupling. This concept is the key to why the Internet works. There is no reason to limit users to one web site. The power of the web comes from multiple services, many of them available programmatically though APIs.
Someone will come up with a killer app where users can use their social graph from Facebook and manage all social media without using the Facebook website or other social media websites. It might even exist in some form already.