The Real Social Media Trends of 2010


by Katie Smillie

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Forecasts and predictions about twenty-ten are EVERYWHERE. We looked deep into our crystal ball here at SocialMedia.com, but it seems someone swapped it for a beach ball.

So rather than try to guess the future, we put together a list of five emerging trends that are already stirring up social advertising. To be successful in 2010, you must plan for how these trends will impact your business.

1. No stone is left unturned when it comes to finding social data.

Social networks are gaining a larger chunk of online advertising dollars, in large part due to the effectiveness of using social data from these sites to deliver targeted brand messages. But data from social graphs is not exclusive to social networks. As more money shifts to social networks, traditional publishers will want to get a piece of the action.

TAKEAWAY: To offer social data to advertisers, publishers are working hard to uncover and grow their existing social graphs – and succeeding. Don’t get left behind.

2. Social relationships are more than just friends.

At SocialMedia.com, we break social relationships down into one of three categories: friends, influencers, and communities.

  • Friends are the easiest to spot; they are a one-to-one connection, approved by both parties (e.g. connections on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc.).
  • Influencers are characterized by a one-to-many relationship, bloggers and micro-bloggers being the best examples. For instance, a wine lover blogs about new wines she has discovered and others wine drinkers read her blog and view her opinions as a trusted source of information, even though she does not know the identity of all her readers.
  • Communities include individuals who are largely anonymous to each other, but relate to the group around a similar interest (characterized by a many-to-many relationship). For example, fans of new TV show might discuss recent episodes in a discussion forum. In this particular case the community may only last for the duration of the television series. In other cases, the community relationship may persist much longer, e.g. moms trading advice on a website dedicated to parenthood.

TAKEAWAY: Because communities have been largely overlooked as a significant social relationships, there is a tremendous opportunity to execute social campaigns on sites other than social networks, where the voice of a given site and/or community is leveraged as a whole. This opportunity appears even more promising when advertisers consider the upward trend of online users embracing social activities and identifying with online communities. (We believe that the nuances of social relationships are so important that we’ll be following up with another blog post that digs deeper into this topic).

3. Consumers turn to online social connections for recommendations.

The rapid growth (not to mention sheer number) of social media users is bolstering the credibility and perceived value of social media channels, tools, and most importantly, content. This larger base of active users allows people to connect with virtual peer groups in more niche categories. For example, a foodie follows a list of local restaurant critics on twitter, a CIO joins a LinkedIn group for IT leaders and discusses cloud computing, an indie rock fan blogs about new bands and other indie rock fans read her posts. These connections are real and authentic (establishing trust) and are hyper-targeted, which means users get highly tailored opinions by turning to these groups.

TAKEAWAY: More open-minded consumers actively seeking advice and recommendations from online peer groups, creates a gold mine for advertisers who can be armed and ready with real brand messages from real people.

4. Online endorsements are happening in real time.

Not only are more consumers using online social connections as an input for decision-making, but when they do they are also finding real-time information from other consumers. Reviews of retail locations are posted before consumers even leave the stores. Bad (and good) customer service experiences are tweeted, blogged, and posted to social networks within seconds, when emotions run highest. And all of the content created in real time is distributed immediately through viral actions like posts, shares, and retweets. Moreover, new services like Aardvark allow users to pose questions via web, chat applications, twitter, or Facebook to get immediate answers from an extended network of peers. What does it mean? Your reaction to real-time reviews must be in real time too.

TAKEAWAY: By monitoring real-time conversations, brands can put out fires, leverage positive endorsements, and participate in the conversation. But that’s just scratching the surface. Brands that go beyond monitoring may find opportunities to initiate endorsements at the time of interaction by providing prompts and channels to leave feedback, thus maximizing positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

5. The objectives of online creative are shifting from consumable to sharable.

As a social online experience becomes the new norm, online display advertising follows. Whereas in the past online advertisers wanted big flashy ads that shouted messages and captured eyeballs, now advertisers want ads that inspire consumers to take action, particularly using social channels to spread brand messages to friends and followers.

TAKEAWAY: Our experience and research at SocialMedia.com has shown that the most effective ads: 1) include real people, 2) spread real messages, and 3) are adapted to the environment in which they are served.

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