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Friday, November 4, 2011

Five Predictions for Social Media: 2012

I just read a great post about what 38 Social Media experts see for 2012.  (I encourage you to take a look!) While a few of the specifics aren't really relevant for small businesses (mainly because they are related to investment in people or technology), most of the general points are perfectly applicable to small businesses, including food and ag.  The article has prompted me to do 2 things.  This post is one of them. You'll hear more about the second one soon....

Back to the business at hand....

After reading this article as well as the chicken bones that I threw down this morning, I see five themes emerge.
  1. Social Media Usage Will Increase: This prediction is low risk!  The rate of growth in the use of the most popular Social Media tools is astounding.  Some of this is due to the growth in use of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets (such as the iPad).  These devices make it easy to post to Facebook or Yelp, send a tweet, or check in on foursquare from just about anywhere.  Additionally, some people who have been on the sidelines are now being drawn into the Social Media world in order to connect with friends and family members. Several grandparents have told me that they registered for Facebook so that they could stay connected to their grandkids. Expect more users and for those users to connect more frequently and in new ways. APPLICATION POINT: As more customers use Social Media tools, owners need to continually think about how the tools can be used to engage those customers.  Ask customers how they want to connect.
  2. Social Media Will Be More Integrated With Mobile Devices: I'm one of those people who have a bit of a panic attack when separated from my phone.  How will I check in? How will I tweet about my lunch? How will I find out what's going on in the world?  You get the picture!  In the article, Loren McDonald uses the word "mocial" to reflect integration of "social" and "mobile."  Not only do mobile devices allow users to interact in "typical" ways via Twitter/Facebook/etc. but they also allow for check ins, capturing photos and videos, scanning QR codes, comparing prices through mobile web, etc.  The integration of these features with Social Media is expected to become more pervasive.  APPLICATION POINT: Take control of your location on foursquare, Facebook, Yelp, Google Places, etc. This will help you track what's being said and monitor your customers who are using these tools.
  3. Social Media Will Be More Integrated With Other Media and Events: Business owners have been using radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other tools since they first became available.  It was absolutely unheard of, not that long ago, for a business not to have a website.  Today, integrating Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yelp, or other Social Media into a website is commonplace.  I also see signs at retail outlets indicating that the store can be found on Google Places, foursquare, Yelp, or other services.  QR codes on packaging, store shelves, and signs are more frequent.  Some TV ads encourage viewers to use Shazam to learn more about the retailer or products.  TV shows are encouraging live tweeting with the hosts or stars.  APPLICATION POINT: Create a Twitter hashtag for your event, such as a Fall Festival.  Add QR codes where they make sense.  Make sure to feature your Facebook page on your brochures or electronic media.  Cross referencing your own media will help you reach a broader audience!  Also, don't forget about your blog if you have one.  Search engines love blogs!
  4. Customers Will Increasingly Filter Social Media for What They Want Most: If you're like me, you might get a little perturbed with all the changes that Facebook and Twitter are making.  I don't really want to know what music my friends are listening to on Spotify or what they're reading in the Washington Post.  Yet, there it is, right in my News Feed, Ticker, and Timeline.  Luckily for me (but not for Spotify), Facebook and Twitter allow me to take some action to avoid all that.  Third party curation tools are widely used to sort through mounds of content to give users what they really want.  APPLICATION POINT: Be relevant to your target audience.  Connect with them directly with messages that resonate with them.  Be social and focus on relationship building.  Don't give them a reason to filter you out of their feeds.
  5. Businesses Will Be More Strategic With Social Media and Will Seriously Assess Return on Investment: I've been asked many times for data about return on investment (ROI) in Social Media. Frankly, I'm often dismissive in the context of the types of businesses I work with.  To some extent, it's like asking what the ROI is for your cell phone or computer.  Social Media are tools to connect you with customers.  The cost of using Social Media in a small business are often low unless one begins to put a lot of time into it.  Because the cost is low, returns don't need to be huge to justify using it.  However, Social Media should be part of a holistic, strategic marketing plan.  APPLICATION POINT: If you're really interested in developing a marketing strategy to integrate Social Media and other marketing tools, your costs will go up, even if those costs are only represented by time devoted to it.  Therefore, set goals for Social Media and track them.  Be ready to make changes where needed.
This stuff is exciting!  Most small businesses, including food and agricultural ones, are successful over the long run because of relationships that they make with customers, especially a few strong relationships with key customers.  Owners manage these relationships with personal visits, phone calls, emails, texts, etc.  We're still on the front edge of learning how these relationships will be managed in the future in a world of Social Media tools; where the new word-of-mouth occurs through a check in with a picture and short blurb about how great (or how bad) the product is and where that check in is Facebooked, tweeted, Yelped, and so on.  These tools will help you strengthen relationships with some customers.  Your task is to figure out which ones and target them in a way that provides value to them and to your business.

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