Social media moves fast. Remember AOL? Yahoo Groups? How about MySpace? All once business builders and now, just things of the past. And while almost everyone in the business world knows that today’s hot social networking sites are LinkedIn, Twitter and the ubiquitous Facebook, fewer people have a good handle on what’s coming next.
So, what is coming down the social media pipeline?
We turned to Liza Hausman, vice-president of marketing from Gigya, Inc., to help us answer that question, as well as a few other questions about the present and future of social networking sites, social media and the interwebs in general.
Q: What are the big-picture trends that you see coming in terms of social media?
A: One of the biggest trends is that social media is moving away from being limited to just being on a social network site. What you’re going to see a lot of in the next couple of years are all kinds of online businesses, from publishers to ecommerce, that are going to be making their own sites more social. This way, people can have social experiences on the site and see what their friends are doing. You will be able to go to a site and see here’s what’s popular in general versus here’s what popular among your friends.
Right now, businesses spend all of this money on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), etc. to get people to their site, and then they say go away and use Facebook.
Q: So are you saying that sites and businesses will actually be attempting to create their own social networks, à la Facebook?
A: Not at all. They’re not creating the social network—they will use established networks like Facebook and Twitter and bring them to the websites. That way, you are not just a Facebook user on Facebook, but anywhere you go. You can bring your friends with you for a cohesive experience. When you’re visiting a site, you share things back to Twitter, friends see it, they come to the site as well, and they can see what you and your other friends thought of it. Amazon, for example, is doing as a beta right where if you connect using Facebook account, they’re showing you friends who have birthdays coming up, and based on your friends’ past purchases, they’re offering recommendations for what you can buy them.
Along with that, people are going to start to expect that their identities will be more portable; they won’t have to fill out a new user and registration form every time they go to that site. The average user has eight user names and passwords; it’s the number one issue for customer service. How many people just get frustrated and go away?
Q: What issues are these changes likely to bring about?
A: Well, one of the interesting debated questions is whether your Facebook identity is your one true identity. What we’re seeing is that people like to use their different established identities in different contexts. LnkedIn is becoming an important identity; that’s the group of people that they might want to share with. More and more people are seeing that they want to have more control and more niche identities. From a user perspective, people want choices, they want that control.
Users are now also asking more of companies. They’re saying, “Okay, now that I’ve signed in and you have all of my information, how are you going to apply this knowledge to make my experience better?”
Q: And what should companies be thinking about in terms of an answer to that question?
A: In some cases, it can be as simple as support forum or simple comments to create a richer community. You have people and experts answering questions.
Perhaps the biggest impact will be in loyalty programs. Companies will be rewarding customers for things in addition to purchasing, adding an even more interesting layer. Social rewards work well—people don’t just need a cash rebate to feel appreciated. People could have status in the community. All of these things are going to start coming together to start building richer more interesting reward programs.
Q: There’s a lot to think about. How can companies decide what’s best for them and what’s working or isn’t working?
A: One of the things we provide is analytics that look across all of the networks. That’s one of the complications of businesses doing this on their own. So, one of the things we can look at is what we call a key influencer—we can give each person an index relative to other people in your community.
Klout is a company, for example, that is looking at you and everything you do across the web—this is your influence score. What we look at is relative influence. How influential are you for this particular business?
Q: Is it possible for all companies to use social media effectively, or does it really take a big money, big time expenditure?
A: If you’re a mom and pop coffee shop, you’re going to use plug-ins and loyalty programs that reward in ways other than financial. If you’re a bigger business, and you need multiple IDs and something customizable, then it helps to have someone on staff or else get outside assistance.
For the most part, companies are already doing this, but aren’t sure if they’re doing it right. They’re saying “I have built this community, and I need to get more out of it. I’m already investing in this, but I want to do it more effectively.”
Companies are realizing that they can’t just slap something on there, and not follow through. Using social media effectively is more about building what’s right for your end goals than throwing something together. It’s important to have an end-goal in mind, to not just go social for social’s sake.