The past year saw a lot of changes in social media. Google's social site, Google+, saw huge growth and more activity, LinkedIn really got in the game, and Pinterest continued to pull in more traffic and more sales. Visuals also really became front and center and led the way for infographics, Vine video, and Instagram. To some degree, however, we're still finding our way in social. So many sites, so little time has driven us to be more particular about the sites we are on and, instead of talking at our user, we speak to them - we communicate. In the coming year you'll see more of this and I think that by the end of 2014 the social media landscape will look very, very different. Here is where I think we are headed:
Google+ is no longer an option: Let's start first with the obvious and also with an apology. When Google launched Google+ (G+) I rolled my eyes and hoped it would fail like the other social media platform Google started. Why? Because we have so many social networking sites - do we really need one more? Apparently we do. G+ has gone from being a footnote to a game-changer and in order to get ranked on Google, G+ must be part of your social sites because their posts count towards your search ranking; those with the most active G+ profiles will have the best online presence. I'm sorry G+ that I ignored you for so long, I promise it won't happen again.
Numbers Don't Matter: There was a time when we all clamored for a huge number of followers, so much so that some folks were buying Twitter followers on eBay. Now it seems that while big numbers are great, engagement is better. How many people are sharing your stuff, retweeting your content or, in the case of G+ adding a +1 to your content? That's the key to a solid presence online. Are you getting people to talk back to you, communicate with you and then communicate to your people how great you are? Think of it this way, what if you were speaking to a huge crowd of people but they all fell asleep during your presentation. Rude? Maybe. But also perhaps an indicator that you need to be more engaging or, at the very least say something to keep them from falling asleep.
Visuals rock: We've seen it with the growth of Pinterest and the popularity of Instagram. We also see it in the engagement on G+ that images aren't just a fun way to dress up your social media site, they are mandatory. Social networks are becoming much more image-driven and the challenge with images is that you can't just throw something up there and hope it will inspire engagement (like pictures of your food or your cup of coffee as if most of us have never seen either before). Even posting images on Twitter helps to increase the views to your tweet. We're also now seeing more of a surge in Slideshare which is a fantastic place for speakers to share presentation slides and (even if you aren't a speaker) you can put together a short slide show covering a particular topic. Invest in some royalty-free images that you can use with all of your posts and, please repeat at me: I will never post a single update to Facebook, Twitter, or G+ without an image.
Video, Video: What's the second biggest search engine on the planet? Would you be surprised if I said it was YouTube? Think about it. You're searching a video on your favorite song or a how-to on just about anything. Where will you go? That's right: YouTube. In 2014 you're going to see even more momentum to this site, but you'll also see a huge surge in micro-videos. We know that since the inception of Vine more and more people are using short burst videos to share product information or other stuff related to their business. But I believe as attention spans continue to shrink that you'll see more and more of these quick, short and hyper-focused videos. People love the quick step-by-step tips as opposed to the longer videos they have to sift through to get information. If you a have a video plan in place, consider doing short micro videos of a minute or less.
LinkedIn: When I talk to business people just about every single one of them is on LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn, though it's been discouraging that in recent months LinkedIn has been somewhat of a free-for-all. If you're on there you've no doubt noticed things like group spamming and the odd "endorsement" thing which I'm not sure even makes sense or helps your ranking. In 2014 LinkedIn is really going to clean up its act and if you're in business and not on there, you'll be missing out on a lot of networking. LinkedIn will become an even bigger business driver with enhanced options and a better filtering system. I believe in 2014 their growth will be staggering. Mostly because as you've no doubt noticed, Facebook has changed, and not always in great ways.
Facebook: And speaking of Facebook, this site will go almost completely paid in 2014. Sure, you'll still be able to have free accounts on there but if you want any of your posts on Facebook Pages to get seen by new people, you'll need to pay for it. I believe that nearly everything to do with Pages will be in a paid format. I think they have the branding, exposure, and traffic to pull this off. Not everyone will be happy and, in my view, Facebook should be careful because G+ is knocking on their door.
Mobile: Did you know that by the end of 2013 there will be more mobile devices than people? That's a pretty staggering concept! It's a given that mobile will get bigger in 2014. Have you checked your site in mobile? Do you know whether folks are accessing your website via a computer or phone? Check your analytics to be sure, Google Analytics will tell you how and when folks are accessing your site. It's important to know this because for those of you who have high mobile engagement, you'll want to explore creating a mobile version of your site. WordPress has a lot of mobile plug-ins that serve this purpose.
All together now: When was the last time you were on Foursquare? I know. Me, too. I had a huge flurry of activity there and then just dropped off. The "check in" feature was unique, at least until Facebook started doing more of that and offering options to link to locations when you posted on the site. Let's face it, can we really keep track of all of these sites? Wouldn't it be easier if we had one site that did it all? I believe that's where we will be headed and something we'll see more of as the New Year progresses. Does this mean you should punt certain social sites? No, by all means stay where you are getting activity. I just think that more and more you're going to see smaller sites getting absorbed into bigger social sites. Frankly, the social media funnel needs to be easier and streamlined. Sure you can cross post and that's great. But once G+ or Facebook start offering some more sophisticated post scheduling, planning, and tracking features, will you really need scheduling systems like HootSuite and Tweetdeck? It's worth considering that some of these sites, while helpful now, may be a bit of overkill in the future.
MySpace: Remember that site? They tried a reboot not that long ago but I think they still have just that one user, you know the guy who joins everyone's MySpace account? That said, I do think that MySpace is geared for a change and 2014 will be make it or break it for them. If they can't create some exposure for their site in the coming year, MySpace will go the way of Napster. Oh, remember that site? But I think there will be some funding for this site, because there's an appeal to the music crowd which has always been its primary audience. Also, the changes that Facebook may make could help drive more people here, too. Think of it: you're a band on Facebook but you don't have the money to pay for placement that will get you visibility to a new market, what do you do? You hop onto a site that will help you gain fans.
Empowering Fans: We're seeing this more and more, that consumers trust other consumers. WalMart tried this in their fake posting fiasco some years back. I think that in 2014 companies will be spending much more time building fans who are willing to help them spread the word about their service or product because they love it so much. How will they do this? Well, certainly there could be share "incentives" but I think that we're looking for a company that treats us so good, we can't wait to share it with a dozen friends and family. Companies finding ways to build more word-of-mouth traffic will be key. Unique ways of delivering a product, over-the-top customer service, and a product or service that delivers beyond a customer's expectations won't be the exception, but the rule.
Twitter: What started out as a watercooler site has turned into so much more. I'm actually not surprised that Twitter did so well during its public offering because it's more than just a social media site. It's a newsroom, a central place to share thoughts or (in the case of Scandal) a series of OMG's. Twitter, in a sense, has become a hub, the center of town where information collects. There is a hashtag for (almost) everything. Not much will change on this site, expect for more paid/visibility opportunities. But it will continue to grow in 2014. If you aren't on Twitter, or aren't sure how to use it, just try following a hashtag related to whatever you're interested in and chime in. Conversation is easy on this site. You just have to contribute.Of all of the social sites, this site will continue to be a game-changer.
Hashtags: This used to be just a way to search on Twitter, now it's a way to search globally. If you're not using hashtags in all of your social posts, you are missing out on a lot of traffic. In 2014 I think that using hashtags will be mandatory in order to bring visibility to your posts. People are searching on terms, we see that everywhere. You can pop a hashtag into Google and it'll give you options to search all of the different feeds. While Hashtags were helpful for social search in 2013, in the coming year they will be required.
While I don't have a crystal ball, I do think that we'll see huge changes in the way we communicate with our audiences. Consumers hate being sold to, so building loyal fans will be important. It's also no longer mandatory to be on every single social site. Remember it's not being about everywhere, it's about being everywhere that matters. The moral? Find your ideal social site(s) and a message that inspires, educates, engages and entertains your followers, and you'll build a dedicated tribe.