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The 10 next social media trends

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Social media still dominates headlines as the new direction for business marketing, but it seems many businesses are resisting the call. A recent survey by Optus found that only 28% of small businesses used social media to promote their business, while 56% had no near-term plans to start.

It's an understandable response. Just as they begin to understand the concepts of social media marketing, something new comes along and changes everything. Businesses that have barely come to grips with blogging and Facebook must also now contend with Twitter, Foursquare and a host of other new technologies and services.

According to Optus' marketing director for small and medium business, Phil Offer, the main reason small business owners gave for not getting into social media was that it was a fad. Second was that it would somehow negatively hurt their brand by giving a voice to detractors, while the third reason was that they were simply too busy.

"The business case is probably still developing, so there isn't the same compelling reason, as if everyone was doing it and making money out of it," Offer says.

"It is a digital Wild West, and you have to find your own path to success."

Fortunately, we are here to help you get ahead of the pack. Here are 10 of the latest trends to hit the social media landscape.

RIP micro-sites

With more than 500 million active users, Facebook is having a significant impact on the rest of the web, distorting traffic flows and user behaviour. Major brands have noticed, with a proliferation of fan pages springing up for everything from Smarties to The Mighty Boosh.

According to the head of digital at public relations firm Edelman Australia, Matthew Gain, the result has been the death of the so-called micro-sites once launched by brands to support specific campaigns.

"Increasingly that is moving onto Facebook," Gain says. "With a microsite you had to generate media to get people to the site. Then they would arrive, maybe enter a competition, and then disappear. With Facebook, you have an opportunity for an ongoing engagement, because to enter a competition they have to 'like' the page."

It is a trend that Deloitte Digital CEO Peter Williams believes will only get bigger.

"We are even seeing organisations like ASB Bank in New Zealand, Best Buy and 1800 Flowers put their whole website into Facebook," Williams says. "Facebook is the most important website in the world these days. It is just cutting a swathe through everything."

He says the strategy now for clients is one of entanglement, and striving to essentially merge what they do on their website with Facebook and YouTube.

"But we are seeing the importance of the individual website on the decline," Williams says.

Shopping goes social, online

So you've got thousands of fans liking your Facebook page – why not sell them something? Companies such as Adgregate (www.adgregate.com) and Payvment (www.payvment.com) are making it easy for brands to sell through Facebook with a complete eCommerce solution.

Shopping itself is also developing a social element thanks to services such as Swowp, (www.shwowp.com) that lets a user keep track of their shopping history and then share it with others.

Social media researcher Ross Dawson expects strong growth from social shopping services.

"You can browse together what's on the websites, look at different things, and comment on them," Dawson says. "So you can go shopping with your friends, but do it in an online context."

If shopping with friends is fun, how about shopping with a group of strangers to receive a better offer? This is the model behind Groupon (www.groupon.com), a US-based company that sources interesting deals for consumers, but only makes them available for a limited time and on the basis that enough people commit to making a purchase.

In April 2010 Groupon raised US$135 million from the Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technology, and has spawned dozens of clones offering 'deal-of-the-day' services. There are more than half a dozen such sites in Australia, including Spreets (www.spreets.com.au), OurDeal (www.ourdeal.com.au), and Catch of the Day (www.catchoftheday.com.au).

Making use of what's out there

There is a huge amount of information already in social tools about your would-be customers – why not use it?

Although perhaps not strictly an example of social media, the energy company Origin has been using Google Earth for more than a year to help potential clients find out if their roof is suitable for mounting solar panels.

Origin's head of residential solar Dominic Drenen says the tool is used to bring up an aerial photograph of a caller's residence, which can be used to determine the characteristics of their roof. Previously Origin had to send a technician out to every home, or have customers take photos of their roof and email them in.

"When we have the customer on phone we can agree where we would locate the panels, measure it up and determine if there is enough roof area," Drenen says. "We can even mark up where the panels would go and email that through to the customer. We can efficiently transact over the phone and reduce quite a lot of risk."

Mixing it with the business

Many commercial software suppliers are now building social tools and functionality directly into enterprise applications. The charge was led by Salesforce.com, which in June this year introduced Twitter and Facebook-like functionality into its software. Its Chatter software enables user to follow what other people are doing, and processes in the business can also be set up to report significant developments to the people most interested.

According to Salesforce.com's Asia Pacific vice president of marketing, Jeremy Cooper, there were more than 22,000 activations in the first six weeks after the product's launch, which is roughly 25% of the company's installed base. That has swelled to more than 30,000 now.

"The intention was to make the 'social graph' meet the corporate directory, and to try and deliver the functionality that people know and are familiar with Facebook and Twitter and to put that in a context that is private and secure for business," Cooper says.

An audit of Salesforce.com customers by MarketTools eight weeks after the launch found customers had seen a 25% increase in team collaboration, a 19% increase in the ability to find information, a 10% increase in productivity and a 13% drop in email usage. Cooper says his company's own use of email is down by 30%.

Location, location, location

Locations across Australia are presided over by a number of virtual 'mayors' thanks to the rising popularity of Foursquare (www.foursquare.com), a mobile application/game that lets users 'check-in' to locations and leave comments or alert their friends. He or she who checks into a location the most becomes its mayor.

The number of Australia users is currently small, but marketers in the US are targeting the larger user population there with special offers when they check-in to nearby locations.

According to Gain 'checking-in' will get a boost from Facebook's introduction of its own location-based service, Facebook Places.

"There is going to be an interesting hype cycle for the use of these things," Gains says. "People on Foursquare used to check in everywhere, but now tend to check in when they want to show off, like at the Big Day Out. But there will be a real opportunity for people to be marketing to people at those specific events."

He says there is also potential for brands to encourage users to come to their real-world location and check-in to receive a special offer.

The rise of the mini-blog

The popularity of Twitter in part reflects a desire for immediate gratification in posting and consumption of information. With so many blogs today simply reposting interesting information with added commentary, it's not surprising that someone has found a mid-point between the two ideas, leading to services such as Tumblr (www.tumblr.com) and Posterous (www.posterous.com).

Dawson calls these services mini-blogs, as they take what Twitter and Facebook have done in allowing people to easily share content that they like, and moved that back onto the broader web.

"The updates on Facebook have shifted from being very personal things to being a lot more about sharing articles and content," Dawson says. "The mini blogs are almost purely sharing tools, designed to pull in a YouTube video or a link, but you can actually see the content as well, which brings it a lot more to life."

Many mini-bloggers describe themselves as curators of information, rather than bloggers. For an example, check out the person blog run by AMP's catalyst for magic at AMP, Annalie Killian here.

Talking to no one

Next time you find yourself enjoying a long chat online, it might be worth checking wether the person at the other end is really a person at all. Sydney company MyCyberTwin (www.mycybertwin.com) has been providing advanced artificial intelligence agents to companies including St George Bank, NAB and NASA to answer queries.

Chief executive Liesl Capper-Beilby says her company has begun seeding CyberTwins into social media scenarios for clients to ensure that their social media presence is maintained, with impressive results. The key however is in making sure that the people who are chatting know that the responses are not coming from a real person.

In the US Next IT (www.nextit.com) is providing similar technology to various airlines, and even to the US Army for its straight-talking no-nonsense SGT STAR.

Managing your reputation, and career

There have already been many stories of people getting reprimanded or even fired over an inappropriate tweet or Facebook update. Anyone in the recruitment industry will know however that social media – particularly LinkedIn – is an essential tool for both researching candidates and finding new ones.

Keeping your profile up-to-date on LinkedIn is becoming crucial to finding your next job – particularly if you weren't looking for one. So too is keeping your reputation intact. New sites such as Unvarnished (www.getunvarnished.com) enable people to leave anonymous comments about you. You may not learn who you friends really are, but you'll know what they really think of you.

Listening in

Customers are out there talking about brands using social media. Even if you don't want to join the conversation, it is a good idea to know what's being said. Sydney-based company BuzzNumbers (www.buzznumbershq.com) provide social media monitoring services to listen in online and deliver an understanding of what people are saying.

Chief executive Nick Holmes a Court describes it as like 'the new customer research', but saves actually asking people what they think. He says companies are increasingly demanding to know more than just whether that chatter is positive or negative, and want to know more about what aspect of the business is being discussed and what can be done as a result.

"If you are a consumer brand or any major company, there is a whole lot of chatter going on," Holmes a Court says. "You can just sit back and listen passively to conversations, and determine what people are saying."

Get in the game

Who would have thought that a virtual farming simulator on Facebook would become one of the biggest hits on the internet? In September Farmville from Zynga (www.zynga.com) reported having more than 62 million active users. Farmville players can invite their Facebook friends to be neighbours, so they can see the progress of each other's farms. Farmers can also spend money to by virtual goods within the game.

Farmville is an example of a casual social online game, where players can drop in and out easily, and also interact with other gamers. It is big business too, with various sources estimating that the size of the social gaming market could reach US$5 billion by 2012.

According to the chief executive of Australian social games develop 3RDsense, Colin Cardwell, interest in social games from brand advertisers is rowing.

"You have all these people in Farmville who are parting with cash for this virtual currency," says Cardwell. "If you are a brand and you can get them engage like that, then you can get them to do all kinds of things in return for virtual currency."

This article first appeared on SmartCompany.com.auAustralia’s premier site for business advice, news, forums and blogs.

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