The Year Ahead For...Social media

Jamie Kenny expects more defined strategies from brands, bigger investments in the medium and better tools to measure its effectiveness.

Jamie Kenny: ‘Consumers will become wiser about their importance to brands and look to demand a better deal in the value exchange’
Jamie Kenny: ‘Consumers will become wiser about their importance to brands and look to demand a better deal in the value exchange’

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, introduces the concept of antifragility in his latest book. Antifragility is the idea that "some things benefit from shocks, they thrive when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder". Social media is antifragile. It is thriving in a world of increasing technological development, complexity and uncertainty.

The industry, which has been shaped by tinkering, trial and error on a large and small scale, is growing up rapidly. In 2013, social media will go beyond the peak of inflated expectations (pre-Facebook and Groupon initial public offerings) and the trough of disillusionment (cf. Facebook at $17 a share) and move rapidly towards the plateau of productivity. This makes it an exciting place to invest budgets, gain traction with consumers and achieve both business and marketing objectives.

A number of key themes will come into play here.


More companies will move beyond an experimental approach to social media. Having taken stock of what they have achieved (which is sometimes very little), brands will put in place more defined strategies that embrace social media and social technologies across the entirety of their business. The discussion about who "owns" social media will move to be focused on "how can we better colla-borate and become more open?". Human resources, customer service, insight and operations, as well as marketing, should all benefit.


The social software ecosystem of platforms and tools exploded in 2012, with significant venture-capital funding and acquisitions driving expansion. Many chief marketing officers recognised the opportunity to gain greater insight and traction for their business and procured these tools. The challenge facing brands will be to successfully utilise the software to deliver real business benefit. In such a nascent industry, we can expect some trailblazers to drive competitive business advantage for their clients, while others will fail just as fast as they appeared. It will take canny observers to predict the winners and losers.


The shift towards closer integration between paid, owned and earned media will accelerate in 2013. As social networks look for ways to monetise their audiences and brands search for more effective ways to engage consumers, there will be increased growth of paid-for social advertising. Facebook may see the lion’s share of advertising revenue but will need to tread a delicate balance between consumers’ and advertisers’ needs. Expect to see plenty of changes around the News Feed, ticker and notifications. Expect changes to the EdgeRank algorithm and key application programming interfaces. After all, if you are only "1 per cent done", there is plenty of change ahead.


With the increased investment will come questions around measurement and accountability. Effectively measuring social media has been a challenge. As yet, there is no silver bullet, but the industry has come a long way and measurement technology and thinking have matured. Less focus on big meaningless numbers (millions of fans) and more on small important numbers (engagement rates of 0.2 per cent) will be a forward step in the year ahead. Equally, increased transparency around benchmarks and the value of social in driving sales will help inform the challenging cost question around social media that many marketers face.


Brands will shift from a broadcast social approach to a more nuanced and segmented approach. With the emergence of better-tracking and more useful social CRM platforms, brands can focus on finding and engaging valuable brand advocates. Turning these "superfans" into evangelists and rewarding them will move from being ad hoc to becoming part of a structured programme. In turn, consumers will become wiser about their importance to brands and look to demand a better deal in the value exchange. Expect some high-profile fallouts.  


Big data has been talked about a lot in the past year. The promise of finding the needle in the haystack – the insight from the data puke – is an exciting one. The reality of looking at large volumes of social data in real time, understanding and responding to it is far more challenging. So, although 2013 won’t quite be "the year of big data", we’ll certainly see significant leaps forward.


Agencies can expect a challenging year ahead, with so much development and change. Not only will almost every agency claim it "does" social, but tech companies and media owners will increasingly look for a slice of clients’ social budgets. Talent, expertise and creativity will be key components that will influence success.

With this fast-paced development, it is understandable that errors of judgment, bad investments and random events will be common. However, the social media industry, and those brands willing to invest in it, will become stronger. Because data is accessible, points of view are shared and there is a cultural willingness to fail fast, learning from the randomness will be accelerated.

In these fragile times, it’s comforting to know we may be able to rely on the antifragility of social media this year.

Jamie Kenny is the chief strategy officer at Jam