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 social media management grows the hell up

2014: the year social media grows the hell up

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

Everybody's favourite Page on Facebook is Condescending Corporate Brand Page. If you're not a fan, stop reading this (just for a second!) and go get clicky. They post things like this: More genius

Brutal genius. But C.C.B.P.'s war against meaningless 'engagement' by brands too scared to admit they're trying to sell stuff isn't just funny, it's gut-punchingly insightful. For far too long, social media managers have been chasing utterly meaningly metrics (engagement, likes, sharing) in a desperate race to the bottom. The tail isn't just wagging the dog, it's started bashing Fido violently against the nearest wall until he's had to be put down for his own good.

So, blam. Here's the humane injection, the brutal truth: if you do the social media for a brand who sell things, your job is to sell things. There is only one metric you should care about: how many sales have your posts generated? Cute kitten pictures may get liked and shared like crazy, but they've never, ever sold a bottle of multivitamins. And, trust us, your CEO will be on the warpath in 2014, looking for cold,


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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 writers become sellers

2014: the year writers become sellers

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

The past few years have seen retailers storm into the world of content, grab it by the baubles and stuff it like a turkey. That's why Tesco Magazine is now the most read publication in the UK. Bigger than The Daily Mail. Bigger than The Sun. Bigger than The Daily Prophet. Amazing.

And it's not just print media. Retailers have started dominating the world of online content, too - be that bespoke recipes from Heston and Delia on the Waitrose website or the uniquely useful product videos at Appliances Online. So... where do old-fashioned content players fit into this? How do the newspapers and the magazines and even the blogs compete?

They compete by dishing out a dose of the same medicine, that's how. If retailers are going to do content, content producers need to reciprocate by doing retail. And they're uniquely positioned to do it, too - with amazing audiences, established positions of authority and unique sway with brands and suppliers. But a commercial play won't work if content producers just try to bolt some crumby old affiliate store onto their websites. They


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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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