Where is social media headed? What is important to learn about now so that we feel like we’re “in the know” six months down the road?  Although everyone and their uncle is doing or will be doing 2011 prognostication pieces, I’m jumping into the fray and offering my own predictions and a bit of analysis on where we’re headed as we close out the final six weeks of 2010.

Consumer Content Curation

“Are we in the stream?”  That’s the #1 question that brand managers should be asking about their social media efforts going into 2011, because in the coming year people are going to be much more diligent about curating their own content into a more managable form.  Consumers are realizing that following eleventy-hundred brands on Twitter and Facebook is getting them some good coupons and deals, but it’s also turning their walls into malls, which is getting overwhelming.

Therefore, what’s happening in Facebook is that consumers are turning off brands posting to their walls, using Friends lists to pay close attention only to their “real” friends, and commenting on or sharing only when something is really juicy.   In Twitter, a company called Cadmus aims to change the way we view our streams by determining what content is most relevant to you based on your Twitter usage patterns.  Other tools, such as Paper.li and Flipboard (for iPad), also curate Twitter, primarily based on content popularity, and make that content much more reader-friendly.

For brands, this means it’s not going to be enough to create content – you have to create content that gets curated into people’s streams. If your content is truly compelling and share-worthy, it’ll get noticed and Liked, it will generate Comments and Retweets, and you’ll be okay because it will have legitimately earned its way into people’s streams. If not – you’ll have to have a combination of search optimization savvy, fans in high places (influencers), and maybe some cash to Promote your content right under people’s Twitter noses.

Niche Location

2010 may have been the year of location, but 2011 will be the year of Niche Location. While true that only 4% of the Internet population is using location based services (LBS), there’s no question that Foursquare and Gowalla were media darlings this year. I predict that in 2011 LBS will get more narrowly focused, which will make people more likely to use those services when they feel that there’s a) a specific value returned, and b) less of a feeling of “big brother” broadcasts to all.

Foodspotting

Image via CrunchBase

Services like shopkick appeal to in-store shoppers who love bargains – and who only want their location to be known to the store they want to shop at.  New platforms like Foodspotting appeal to the foodie niche; Xtify’s geo-location technology is going to allow a whole host of brands, such as Playboy, to unleash apps to target their exact demographic right where they are.  So, tell me what’s in it for me and promise that my mom won’t know about it and I just might buy in.

Gamification and Social Gaming

I love this topic. Not just because I’ve recently become a FarmVille addict, but because it’s such a natural. After all, we’ve been buying the large McDonald’s Coke for decades just to get the Monopoly piece.  2010 was not only the year of location, it was the year of Zynga – when they formally aligned with Facebook, cozied up to Apple, and generally made a mess of people’s free time. So what’s do I predict will happen in Social Gaming in 2011?  It’s going to the Super Bowl!

You heard it here first, folks: I believe that a big brand is already planning to gamify their Super Bowl marketing; we’ll see everyday Joes chasing after some special trophy collection on their packs of beer.  That trophy will of course tie in to the social web, where the consumer will share their victory and the brand will collect all sorts of data on the trophy holders’ social spheres. (You brands who haven’t started planning yet and are now going to do this – you can send me the check, thanks.)

And beyond the gridiron: FarmVille, for one, has become a new testing ground for brand integration – it’s come a long way in the past couple of weeks, even, with new promotions for Farmer’s Insurance (duh), the Megamind movie and, yes, McDonald’s.  In the coming year we’ll see more, and deeper, brand integrations with existing gaming platforms, as well as more brands creating their own gaming structures for consumer advancement into preferred status, coupons, or freebies.

Jason actually offered some great thoughts on gamification in this month’s Navigator, Social Media Explorer’s monthly newsletter. You should subscribe.

QR Codes

I may be too geeky for my own good, but I love QR codes. I even have one on my business card. I love how they add interactivity and trackability to traditionally un-trackable print and outdoor media, as well as a bit of whimsy and mystery to everyday objects and events (see my photo of a knitted QR code that I saw at Maker Faire – as a knitter I really geeked on this, even though I can’t seem to make my QR reader read it.)Knitted QR Code from Maker Faire

Although QR codes seem to still be the provence of geeks like me, they are completely mainstream in Japan and they’re poised to grow expontentially here in the US, given that 51% of all Americans will be carrying smartphones in 2011.  There are a number of great companies and apps currently experimenting with (or betting their business on) QR codes, and I predict that we’ll see a great deal more in QR territory in the coming year, including greater brand integration in print magazines, more consistent use in outdoor media, and even some clever mashups of QR codes, gamification and social commerce.  So read on….

Social Commerce

I started out thinking about this trend as two trends: Group Buying and Facebook Commerce.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s all the same thing: new ways to leverage your social circle to help you shop or share your haul.  In 2010, there were a couple of bold startups that wanted consumers to share their every purchase with their friends (is anyone really still talking about Blippy and Swipely?) – but it seems pretty clear that most people do not want to share each and every pharmacy item purchased with their former flame, their mom, and their neighbor.

However, when you add in a “what’s in it for me” component like with Groupon, or a “look at me I’m so cool” component as with Facebook Commerce, there are many more people willing to share their individual purchases (or purchase intent) through their existing social platforms.

Social Commerce also goes to the “fish where the fish are” concept that I’ve often invoked when talking about Facebook: if there are nearly 600 million potential customers in Facebook, why not try giving them something else to do with your brand besides grab a coupon? In 2010, savvy brands saw a solid rise in revenue from mobile commerce applications; I predict that next year will be the year of social commerce for brands which are bold enough to give it a go.

Are you with me on these five social media trends for 2011 or am I completely off?  What have I missed?  The comments are yours.

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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