Social in 2014 is just like the web in 1996

If social media existed in the '90s

Take a look at your favourite brand's Facebook page. It's pretty mature, isn't it? It's well managed, it's active, those guys really know what they're doing. And it's not just Facebook - look at the way businesses use Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and a million other tools. Social has definitely come of age.

And then step back and put all this into context. It might seem like we've reached an end-point, like we've gone as far as we possibly can but, in truth, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of social's potential. How do we know that? Because it's happened before - with the birth of e-commerce.

Back in the early to mid '90s, the only corporates who saw a business use for the web were the marketing guys. Excited by this dynamic new platform, they were the ones who established websites for their brands. But the new tech didn't automatically deliver a new way of thinking and, consequently, these websites were little more than online versions of the print brochures and corporate resources they were already producing, coupled with some touchy-feely fun for the customers.

ASDA's website in 1996 offered everything from jobs and recipes to java games to entertain their customers. The one thing it didn't offer, though, was the ability to buy things. The UK supermark ASDA's website in 1996 offered everything from jobs and recipes to java games to entertain their customers. The one thing it didn't offer, though, was the ability to buy things.

Meanwhile, pioneers like Pegasus (who set up the world's first online travel agency, and now power giants like Ebookers, Orbitz, Lastminute and Hotwire), eBay and Amazon had identified an infinitely greater potential for the web - the ability to sell direct to customers, any time day or night, anywhere in the world, disintermediating traditional retail, shaving overheads to a bare minimum, reinventing shopping forever. These pioneers invented a whole new channel - e-commerce - and the reward for their innovation was 20+ years of dominance. Brands and traditional retailers are still paying the price for their tardiness back in the '90s, and you only have to look at what's recently happened to the likes of HMV and Jessops to see how costly that price has been.

The same thing will emphatically happen with social. We're still in the mid '90s when it comes to how brands interact with their customers via social. It's a toe in the water - something for marketers to play with. Just like the brochure sites of old, corporate social outposts collate information for their customers, they engage them with fun distractions (competitions, polls, Pinterest boards, pictures of fluffy kittens to share), they stick a flag in the sand for their brands.

But the future will only arrive when social expands beyond the social media we're playing with now, or even the social media marketing people assume is cutting edge. The inevitable, essential future is Social Commerce - shopping where we socialise, buying things with our friends, accessing offers and exclusives via viral networks, influencing the price and nature of products with our collective, social voice.

The question, though, is whether brands and retailers will make the same fatal mistake they made 20 years ago and allow someone else to corner the market before they can get so much as a foot in the door. There's still time to act, but the next six months are going to be fascinating to watch.


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2014: the year shopping becomes a game

2014: the year shopping becomes a game

This is our third prediction for 2014. For our other predictions, click here.

The internet has always been about competition. I'm the Foursquare Mayor of this kebab shop. Her cute kittens blog just jumped up 1,000 places in the Alexa rankings. You have 934 unread emails in your inbox since the Christmas break (yeah, we know - painfully true). And these things have massively benefitted the bewildering growth of the 'net.

But the one aspect of the internet which hasn't - until now - profited by man's inherent need to compete is shopping. Don't get me wrong - we all like to brag about how we bought our house for £Xk less than the asking price, or how we jumped in and 'won' an auction seconds before it closed. But there's only ever one winner in those scenarios. Competition (until now) has never helped promote growth; it's never benefitted the masses.

That's going to change in 2014.

Up until now, when you said "Social-Commerce" people would think "f-commerce" and remember those terrible store-fronts bolted onto brands' Facebook Pages. Now, there's nothing wrong with aspiring to sell to a billion people on Facebook but, if you're going to distract people


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2014: the year the internet saves you the bother of sharing

2014: the year the internet saves you the bother of sharing

This is our first prediction for 2014. Keep up to date with the next ones here.

Dave likes unicycles. Sandra likes Dave. Dave likes Sandra's new unicycle. Sandra is in a relationship with Dave. Dave quit Facebook.

Sharing things on Facebook is great, but it's a lot of effort. And that's a problem for marketing folks. Wouldn't it be better if Facebook just knew when Dave or Sandra did something, then it could go and tell all their friends about it without either of them having to lift a finger? (All within acceptable, opt-in-and-out-able privacy settings, naturally.) Well, that's now possible thanks to Facebook's Custom Open Graph and the arguably-dark-art of "frictionless sharing".

And it's going to be massive in 2014.

We're already seeing it to some degree - whenever one of our friends reads something on The Guardian or plays some music on Spotify, they're not usually sharing that with us manually, there's just been some nifty development behind the scenes and it happens automagically. And that's going to increase exponentially in 2014, as developers realise that the triggers which generate these frictionless shares can be embedded on any website. That means a user just has to accept an


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Flash in the pan: why the private sales fad crashed and burned

Flash in the pan: why the private sales fad crashed and burned

Oh, ye of little truth. The co-founder of the private sales site vente-privee, Ilan Benhaim, recently told a crowded conference hall that his site added 10k users per day last year yet, rather surprisingly, doesn't pay for traffic. Apparently, it's all word of mouth in the private sales world. It's all buzz and peer-to-peer and social. Except, clearly, it isn't.

Unless, of course, someone else paid for this ad...

Google advert for vente-privee

I'm not surprised that vente-privee advertises, but we are a little surprised that Mr Benhaim felt the need to bend the truth like that. There's no way a site like vente-privee could possibly sustain itself without calling in the keyword cavalry. Why? Because private sales / members'-only sales / secret sales / flash sales (call 'em what you will, they're all the same thing) are inherently un-social, for these three reasons:

1. For your eyes only?

There's a common ruse when it comes to private sale e-stores. It's expressed differently from site to site but, basically, it translates roughly along these hoary old lines: "Our prizes are so crrRRRazy, our suppliers will only let us show them to our members." Now, admittedly, I had an extra portion of cynicism with our cornflakes this morning,


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We all agree, right? Affiliate marketing is starting to suck.

We all agree, right? Affiliate marketing is starting to suck.

It's amazing how candid people can be when they don't realise (or don't care) thatyou're listening. Here's a direct quote from a chap called Chris Rempel who works as an affiliate marketer. We're not saying it's representative, but... well, just take a look:

"Remember that most people still honestly believe – and follow – the bullshit myth about 'great content' and 'great user experience'. Exploit this for all it’s worth by outranking them with swaths of cheap, shitty links – and passable content."

Charming, innit? If you'd like to read more of this stuff, feel free to click the quote and explore his website. He's a bit of a hero to black hat affiliates, and he's made a lot of money out of doing this stuff - so, hey, he must be doing something right.

But not for you. And wasn't that supposed to be the point of affiliate marketing?

Let's back-track a little. Back in the mid-'90s, some very bright sparks (among them Amazon - lest we forget how the big A rose to such prominence) realised that the entire internet could serve as retail outposts for their online stores. Why spend a fortune advertising then converting on your site when,


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