Last night I spoke to the Social Media Club gathering in Chicago where I pontificated a bit on the future of social media. I’ve talked about the future of the agency and social media before in a guest post on Valeria Maltoni’s Conversation Agent, but hadn’t tackled the topic with such a wide-angle lens before.
As social media becomes more widely accepted as a communications channel, more and more businesses will find ways to use it. Some of them will innovate. Others will just follow, but because the core of social media and the corporation is connecting directly to one’s consumers, which makes them happy, we still only sit at the front end of the bell curve of this movement.
Without putting a time frame on my thoughts, here are some notions I shared last night. While I have no way of knowing if any of this will ring true, it’s fun to imagine what our world will look like a few years down the road. Take good notes. I’d love to hear what you think the future of social media will be like in the comments.
The Web Will Get Much Smarter
Semantic search and artificial intelligence are upon us. As our browsers, social networking platforms and software packages evolve, they will all function more intelligently. They will track our every click, every keystroke and perhaps even eye movement, not to impose on us in some big brother sort of way, but to serve up smarter search results, more intuitive navigation options and almost frightening sets of information. One day, we will look at the suggested text or contacts our email software or Facebook offers and say, “Yeah … that was what I was thinking. I’m not sure if I should be impressed or scared.”
But it will be more than just smart text. The barriers of our social networks will dissolve as OpenID or similar cyber-identification takes precedence. Everyone will have access to all online applications and our browser, perhaps, will suggest the networks and tools that might be most meaningful to us based on our usage, profession, network of contact’s online behavior and more. Imagine having conversations on Twitter or in the comments of a blog and having your browser pop up with a message that says, “You’ve been talking about your Saturn a lot lately. Would you like to join other Saturn users at imSaturn.com?” Or perhaps the browser just imports imSaturn.com content into your experience seamlessly?
Social media savvy and philosophy, paralleled by the open source attitude on the technical side of things, will lead to advances never before thought possible as companies open their code and trust the consumers to contribute to their success in code, just as they do in service. Dell is already openly discussing product innovation with the public. Yahoo has hinted at opening their code set. Why is WordPress perhaps the world’s best blogging software? Because any developer in the world can work to improve it. This will become the standard, not the exception.
Much of the underlying technology and attitude for this already exists, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes A) Polished enough to launch to the public and B) Accepted enough to not freak people out.
Social Media Will Change Government
I’m optimistic this will happen sooner rather than later, but don’t hold me to it. Government is a big, ugly bureaucracy powered by special interests who have much to lose turning the power over to the people. But social media offers unprecedented direct-to-consumer access even for Uncle Sam. With Barack Obama in the White House and much of his success attributed to leveraging the power of grassroots, word-of-mouth, social media efforts, Change.gov gives me hope.
And it’s not just our new president’s penchant for online innovation that points me in that direction. It’s efforts like OpenCongress.org where you can track legislation, comment on its progress and see more of our legislative process in near-real time than ever before. It’s also because smart social media thinkers like Mark Story are achieving important positions in our government and making an impact in how each agency and department approaches its day-to-day interaction with the public with regards to transparency and honesty.
I honestly believe that one day social media principles and/or tools will be used to grab collective intelligence and real-time input on policies, bills, measures and more from the constituencies in question. No, it won’t be an exact science and no, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to vote from Facebook, but I can see a government that is one day more representative of the people and not the big money lobbyists because social media will govern the way people interact with individuals, businesses and even systems.
If It’s Not Mobile, It Won’t Exist
The iPhone, new models of Blackberries, the Google Phone or even the open source approach of Google Android are already showing that the future of the web is in the palm of your hand. If you haven’t seen a touch screen smart phone yet, know that when you do, you’ll immediately want to run out and get your own. And as the web gets smarter, so will the hardware that accesses it. My guess is that instead of having laptops or desktops, we’ll simply have universal docking stations at work and at home — or even better, in public places, Starbucks, airports, etc. — but we won’t plug in our laptops. We’ll plug in our smart phones. They will be our hard drives. They will be our entire computers. Software and webware companies are already learning if they aren’t mobile-enabled, they’ve lost half the battle. That will only become magnified as smart phones become more ubiquitous.
Journalism Will Not Die
Media is changing because of social media, but as much as I’ve picked on old-school journalism, there’s still a need for accuracy, ethics and quality in reporting. Newspapers may very well die. Traditional media outlets that don’t shift their focus to a web-first approach certainly will. But journalism will never go away. We need it as a society because it keeps our world — government, industry and more — honest. Where will the journalists go? That I’m not so clear about, though it will certainly be in web-centric opportunities. But all the social media evangelists and bloggers in the world can’t tear down one of the world’s most noble professions.
Marketing Will Continue To Be More Consumer-Centric
In very general terms, social media has reversed a century-long trend that has made brands, corporations and businesses think they know their consumers better than the consumers know themselves, or at least has made them take their consumers for granted. Thanks to social media, brands are becoming more focused on customer service, whether it’s through listening to feedback, crowdsourcing innovation or just responding to inquiries. The more social media savvy that breaks through to the C-Suite and to marketing managers everywhere, the better the consumer experience will be. You’ve probably heard Internet marketers say, “Content is king.” It is only if it’s relevant to the website’s audience. The more true statement is, “The customer is king.” This will not change.
Our Education System Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better
Children today are light-years ahead of their teachers in technical aptitude. What this means, unfortunately, is that our woeful education system in the United States will only get worse until the next generation (or half generation) of educators can catch up and innovate again. Part of the problem is that government is so far behind in utilizing the tools and technology and, thus, funding and direction for our primary and secondary schools follows suit. But as much as social media, inclusive of mobile connectivity and texting, has given us, it has taken a lot away from a generation of us. While today’s young people are more connected than any generation before them, they communicate far worse. Our working world standards will either have adjust or we’ll have to start teaching new hires how to communicate orally and via the written word as part of standard orientation.
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There Will Be A Social Media Backlash
I hesitate to say “bust,” because the core of connecting with consumers is a truth about social media that can withstand any financial or industry fallout. People want to be acknowledged, heard, recognized and valued. Social media in business provides that to consumers. But there will be a day when people all around the world look up from their smart phones, their laptops and their Twitter and realize it’s been weeks since they’ve spoken to another human being, live and in person. And on that day, there will be a select group of social networks that will survive the backlash – those whose online community has a vibrant carry-over offline. (And if you want me to help you build one of those, give me a call.)
Again, it won’t be a bust. It will only be a short pendulum swing back to a sense of humanity. We cannot become machines. It is beyond our nature to allow that to happen. As our lives become more digitally intertwined, we will begin to establish boundaries to strengthen our human connections and put our electronic ones in proper perspective. Sorry Zuckerberg.
So that’s what I see. Am I right? Am I wrong? What am I missing? To the comments … please.
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