[2012 trends] Strong and continued growth for social media

Cerebra Submitted by on the 25th of January 2012

With 2011 in the rearview mirror, we expect a strong and continued growth on various social media platforms in 2012. The increased online penetration and a strong drive from mobile operators to connect more people to the internet through smartphones or dongles will undoubtedly lead to more people joining social networks.

The year in review

As more South Africans learn to enjoy the benefits of leading the connected lifestyle, the more our national online community grows. 2011 brought considerable growth to the SA social media landscape. According to the most recent World Wide Worx survey:
Twitter has grown from 88 000 users in 2010 to over 1.1 million users in 2011. Admittedly, only 40% of these users engage actively, with the remainder using Twitter as a breaking news source.
Facebook grew from 2.8 million users to over 4.2 million users. However, as of August 2011, only 3.2 million South Africans visited the site in the year-to-date.
LinkedIn also reached the 1.1 million mark – enjoying an 83% growth from 2010 to 2011
MXit’s subscriber numbers declined from approximately 17 million users to just over 10 million. The advent of BBM and other mobile IM apps are the likely cause for this declination.
With Facebook’s growth stagnating in the UK and the US (Facebook has over 800 million users worldwide, 75% of which are outside of the US), emerging markets such as South Africa are where growth is focused, and Facebook sees our predominantly mobile market as a huge opportunity.

What to expect in 2012

Our hope is that more companies emerge on mobile and social media platforms in 2012. Although mobile is already a major player in the social space, all signs point to further growth.

With the likes of Alan Knott-Craig Jnr at the helm of MXit, we expect brands to take MXit more seriously, but also foresee the platform receiving a much-needed makeover. Although MXit’s subscriber numbers declined sharply in the past year due to BBM and other instant messaging applications, it can still be used by brands to engage with its fans by availing exclusive content downloads to users (unlike BBM et al). MXit will remain a relevant and viable option for brands that want to engage.

Brands that made investments in what could be called the first-mover phase of social media in SA will now be reaping the rewards of huge amounts of analytics and data. The downside to this data is that it does not necessarily link backend customer data to frontend social data – “social CRM” is an emerging trend seeking to answer this problem.

Integrating tools with legacy backend systems

We expect to see a huge drive from these brands to start linking social profiles and customer profiles, allowing smarter decision-making on business and social fronts, as well as more tangible social insights to business. The only issue here is integrating tools with legacy backend systems.

As social gains further momentum, and those on social become accustomed to the transparency and accountability that brands have on these platforms, consumers will become more demanding and expectant of brands in 2012.

This could possibly also have a detrimental effect on brands that are late to the social network bandwagon, as more consumers come to expect brands to be online. These socially schooled users will invariably be looking for more valuable content, rather than fluffy updates.

Consumers becoming smarter

2011 has been an information-and-sharing overload. Everywhere we looked, brands were pushing their social media sites and demanding that their consumers engage. Thankfully, consumers are becoming smarter and brands need to keep up. We hope that brands change their tactics and strategies in the year ahead in order to keep up and stay ahead of the curve.

Brands also have to be genuine participants in social media, rather than dictators. Brands shouldn’t necessarily jump on board every social media platform that’s available. Instead, they should be wise and strategic in their decisions, choosing platforms that suit them and their messaging.

Keeping that in mind, yes, context is key, but content still drives conversation. Find a platform that suits the brand, talk to consumers by enhancing their lifestyle, and spark conversation that encourages participation. How? Content.

Great content

Great content will allow brands to not only let consumers engage with them, but will allow for them to actually do something constructive with that content.

We also foresee a stronger link between social and TV, as brands realise that they can better harness the money spent on traditional media – consider the three screens most consumers have immediate access to: television, computer and cellphone.

Examples of this would be hashtags before certain shows, helping to categorise conversations. This will also drive consumers onto branded content, sponsorships and brand advertising. With a strong link between mobile, TV and social, we expect to see an increase in after-hours interaction on social platforms, especially with micro-blogging (ie Twitter).

Not enough integration between PR and social media

Finally, public relations. While PR is a much older industry than that of social, there is still not enough integration between the two. It is understandable as traditional public relations officers like to keep things “traditional”. We hope to see more social media agencies, or social media departments being created by public relations firms. Underestimating or ignoring the medium could serve as a death knell to many agencies.

Ultimately, brands have to become more creative (read as effective and not necessarily gimmicky) with their solutions and campaigns. Although we are a developing country, it doesn’t mean our campaigns are below par; SA is truly amazing and some of our executions and campaigns are on a global scale.

2012 will bring forth some exceptional ideas and executions, and we look forward to seeing all the great things this country has to offer.

By Heike Meyburgh (@Heikemey) and John Beale (@jtbeale).

*This article was originally written for www.bizcommunity.com.

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net