Business

Public relations: Predicting the next big trends in social media

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.
Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.

2011 was all about social media setting deeper roots. Facebook and Twitter matured. QR codes gained wider acceptance. Niche location-based social networks such as Foodspotting gained ground, and so did consumer content curation through programs such as Flipboard or Pinterest.

It's clear social media have become intertwined with our daily lives, and all things social will continue to dominate as we enter 2012. The social-media sphere is bursting with innovation, making it tough to narrow down what will be the major trends in 2012. After many lively discussions, my peers and I suggest businesses should really pay attention to these in the coming year:

Online video: 2011 saw a greater importance placed on online video, which essentially made a pop singer of Rebecca Black.

Megan O'Neill, a writer at social-media news site Social Times and a self-professed Web-video enthusiast, says that while many online-video trends in 2011 were fun, the most important for next year could be more businesses getting involved.

Just as the past couple of years have seen a mass acceptance of social media, with businesses and brands large and small taking to Twitter and Facebook to engage and interact, O'Neill says 2012 will be the year that more brands than ever before embrace online video.

Consumers would much prefer to watch a video than read a wordy description of what a company does, and she thinks that as brands begin to realize this, we'll be seeing more and more online videos coming from businesses.

Seamless sharing: Making it easier to share information will be another growing trend, said Brian Carter, author of the best-selling The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money With Facebook. The concept behind seamless sharing, or frictionless sharing, is to allow your friends to see what you're reading or listening to on Facebook without you having to take any additional action.

That means you might give access to music service Spotify or The Washington Post once, and then every song you listen to or news article you read will be shared with your friends. For news, this can be aggregated to show only the most popular articles.

Carter said this helps Facebook solve a sharing problem. It used to take users too much extra time, thought and action to make things social.

Seamless sharing also makes content more viral. Many companies seek viral marketing success, but it's not easy. He likes to say, "You can't go viral if there's no one to infect."

If you have enough fans or if your app embraces seamless sharing, your content can go viral much more quickly and easily than in the past.

Only a few companies are taking advantage of this, but it's open to more pioneers if you want to invest in the ideas and programming to make it happen.

Gamification: This is the newest buzzword in the social-marketing sphere, but what exactly is it?

It's most often defined as using the mechanics of gaming to encourage people to use non-game applications. For instance, location-based social network Foursquare offers achievements similar to those in video games such as being named mayor of locations and winning awards badges to encourage users to keep checking in wherever they go.

Marc Girolimetti, a branded-gaming expert who has worked on campaigns with Playboy, FedEx and Warner Brothers, says utilizing game mechanics is a clever way to interact with people.

People like challenges. People like to win. If you give them a chance to win something, even if it's something as trivial as a mayoral win at a local café, they dig it. After all, we're still a free T-shirt and pizza society. Did somebody say free? Lemme have it!

Personally, he likes going all in and creating a game around an event, brand or product. From experiences with creating branded games, Girolimetti has found they are the most wildly successful campaigns he has ever worked on.

A person's desire to succeed forces repeated interaction with the brand and provides multiple opportunities to retain or secure a customer. If the game is good, and challenging enough, the person will walk away with a positive experience and most likely share it with friends.

So is your business ready to try at least one of these trends? All are worth exploring. It's a new year, so go for it.

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