The year ahead for social media

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This will be the year social media graduates from just being a "media"

First, let me quickly cover the obvious: We’ll see new and more niche-focused networks (think Jelly or even anonymous networks like Secret); more things becoming social (think Wakie, the social alarm clock); new ad formats; hyper targeting; more brands tapping into cultural trends; more brands switching to real-time models; more reactive advertising; more focus on quality content than promotional content; new formats of content as creative tools become more accessible (think Hyperlapse); and more investment in social ads (actually, 30% more according to eMarketer).

Now that I got that out of the way. I’m predicting something much bigger — or perhaps I’m blurring the line between my predictions and my hopes for the coming year. In 2015, we are going to see the practice of "social business" finally progress from dense industry white papers to a common language between agencies and brands.

Even if the term "social business" itself doesn’t become another buzzword, we have reached a point where social will not only be looked at as a communication and advertising channel but also as a way of encouraging networks of people, social technology and data to come together and generate real business value across an entire organization.

Don’t get me wrong: Advertising on social can drive a form of business value, and it is still one of the major reasons why social media continues to evolve. Let’s face it: Without the $9+ billion in social ad revenue projected for 2015 in the U.S. alone, we wouldn’t even have a reason to talk about how social can play a role in the broader context of business.

It’s pretty amazing to think that the simple "sponsored post" launched by Facebook in 2012 would indirectly attribute so greatly to the evolution of social media. With this constant bloodline of revenue, tech giants and startups have been able to innovate and evolve their platforms, invent new ones, create new social technologies, and ultimately change the way people and brands interact with one another.

And as the practice of social media continues to mature, so does it commercial application. IBM believes that the value-creation of social business across four key sectors (Consumer Packaged Goods, Consumer Financial Services, Professional Services and Advanced Manufacturing) is as much as $1.3 trillion. It goes on to say social business' potential is similar to that of the adoption of online commerce capabilities a decade ago.

I’m inclined to place my bet with IBM on this one. And not just because of the big pile of gold at the end of the rainbow, but actually from my own experience with our clients at TBWA. At some point in 2014, something changed. The RFPs being issued, the briefs being delivered, the discussions with clients — they all started to seem highly informed. We had gone from talking about social campaigns and content calendars to things like smarter use of social listening for product and business decisions or exploring ways to integrate social into actual products, such as the Muki Cup our agency in Helsinki developed. The conversation had become more holistic.

Take Nissan, for example: We are currently working with the global marketing team in Japan on ways of applying social business across the organization, such as reimagining the test drive and retail experience using new social technologies, to enhancing the customer experience using social platforms or increasing productivity and efficiencies through smarter use of data, technology and collaboration. I haven’t encountered a single business unit that we can’t find ways of increasing their effectiveness through the practice of social business.

While Nissan has emerged as one of the leaders transforming from a social media marketer to a social business, it did became a common thread with many of our clients and within the industry. And, as the thread continues to move from whiteboards and strategy documents to actions plans, we’ll start to see more applications of social business.

A good example is Atos, one of the worlds largest IT firms that banned email, replacing it with an internal social network. Lee Timmins, senior vice-president at Atos, says: "Enterprise social networks and software are a far better way of encouraging collaboration and releasing valuable information from individual inboxes." I even noticed Coke made headlines recently by killing voicemail in its HQ, a move no doubt influenced by more modern social tools.

So as the demand for social business increases, the supply will come. In 2015, we’ll see more RFPs asking for social business, overtly or not, and we’ll see the more progressive agencies and big firms diversifying their services to cater to the demand. We’ll notice new specialists agencies popping up, as they always do, and we’ll continue to see the tech giants like Google, IBM and Adobe and startups like Jive Software playing a bigger role in transforming organizations. But above all, this will be the year social media will graduate from just a "media" to an integral component of business strategy.

Luke Eid is Global Director of Innovation at TBWA\Worldwide.

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