Not long ago, I had an amazing experience with social media. I had just lamented on Twitter that I’d lost my fitbit, an (expensive) electronic step-tracking device that you wear on your hip. I realized it must have fallen off once we got home from a lunch in Davis Square, and even though we drove back to look for it, it was nowhere to be found. Within twelve hours of my sad tweet, fitbit’s twitter account wrote back, “Bummer Joanna, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you couldn’t find it, we have a replacement program that will be great for you.” So I did. Honestly, I didn’t think I would qualify or this would really work, but I was proven wrong! On Monday I received a brand new, upgraded version of the fitbit, for $0. Wow. Thanks, social media!
Obviously, social media done right can be a powerful thing for brands and businesses. But is it all about customer service? Where is the social media trend going and how will it evolve in the coming years? I have so many thoughts on the future of social media, but to keep this post reasonable, I’ve kept it to a few hypotheses on the short-term future vs. the long term.
In the short term, I think social media will become a primary vehicle for companies to advertise and communicate to their customers. In terms of advertising, social media is clearly starting to replace print and TV ads due to its viral and accessible nature. We’re already seeing savvy customers request “advertisements” from their social networks to get trusted recommendations about services and products, and I think this trend will continue to spread. As for company-customer communication, I see customers today feeling much more empowered to use social media to support brands, or to give negative feedback to brands they’ve been disappointed by. Because of this, companies big and small need to treat social media as a real, powerful mode of communication. Some great examples of companies doing this are JetBlue (with promotional campaigns and apologies for flight mishaps) and Pepsi (especially with their Refresh campaign).
In the future, I think social media will become a lot more customized, so that a follower or fan can opt in to some types of communications from a company (e.g. discounts, or recipes), but block others. Additionally, I think social media feedback will switch from being primarily customer service complaints and ‘likes’ on Facebook to include more involved engagement by customers. Soon, customers will provide input to help co-create new offerings. As a result, companies will need to adapt their internal structures. Social media is already influencing customer service and marketing, but soon it will also affect product development and legal compliance policies, so it will be important for social media strategies to be shared across departments.
Lastly, most social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and even Facebook) are in their infancy, with many new offerings and use scenarios to come. I suspect that as these platforms roll out new features, they will take a more socially segmented approach – creating services that help you attract targeted groups (e.g. runners in Boston) with targeted messaging (e.g. weather reports for races that weekend). It will be interesting to see if this segmentation takes a traditional demographic approach or follows organic user-created groupings like those on Google+. I, for one, am very excited to see and be a part of the changes to come!
On a related note, I just finished reading a great book about social media by Likeable Media’s CEO Dave Kerpen (@DaveKerpen on Twitter). The book, Likeable Social Media, has a lot of great tools for getting started in crafting a social media strategy for your business. I plan to do a full post on my learnings from the book, but until then, I encourage you to check it out!