What’s Next in Social Media?

I was on a panel earlier this week about Social Media at an offsite for senior executive at one of the world’s largest media companies. It was an extremely interesting session and particularly interesting to be on the panel with Dennis Crowley of Foursquare and Jordan Glazier of Eventful.

The last question that was asked was: Tell us what we don’t know. What’s coming around the corner? What’s the future?

I was initially stumped by the question. How do you tell the future to a room of media bigwigs, some of who were in the industry when TVs were hitting living rooms for the first time? There’s so much that could’ve been said and yet, so much of that would also have been pointless. I mean, who knows, right?

Here’s what I get excited about. We’re going to figure out how to make sense of all the data that’s being created out of interactions with content, activities and people via the Social Web. We haven’t even scratched the surface of this yet. At best, we’re starting to get decent at creating experiences which people want to interact with.

Making sense of the data will allow marketers to communicate more effectively with consumers. It will enables us to program and deliver more relevant content, activities and connections to people. It will make advertising more effective and thus, more efficient and more valuable. It will take the guess work out of product development and messaging. It will make PR less of a bullshit discipline.

The list goes on.

When I talk about this to people the first thing I always hear is: it’s really hard.

This is true. Technology and the people that use it have a long way to go. Sentiment analysis is what people keep pointing to now. It’s a start but is very limited.

The key to all this comes down to a few things:

1. Language analysis. Yes, very hard to do. I mean, how the hell do you extract meaningful insight from Tweets, status updates, comments, etc.? You’ve got to look at aggregates and trends as well as meanings and use of words. My friend Frank Speiser is doing some very interesting work at his company Social Flow on this. I can’t claim to understand much of it right now (Frank has a much bigger brain than I do), but he’s onto something.

2. Profiling. This isn’t about the profile information you enter into a social network. This is about creating a profile of people based on all the data that they’ve willingly put out there about themselves. Every field in a public social network’s profile, photo or video upload, blog, comment, like, fan, prop, vote, etc.

3. Predictive placements and conversations. Again, from some of the conversations I’ve had with Frank, there will be a way to remove the guess work around when and how to reach people so that they’ll respond favorably.

4. Scale. Technology and tools aren’t there yet but neither are the people that use them. It’s still very labor intensive but this will change. We will blend human creativity with tools that enable us to get out there efficiently. It’s the only way this will work, otherwise we’ll be stuck dealing with pebbles and ripples as opposed to Tsunamis.

What’s the goal?

For consumers, better products and services that are more relevant and valuable.

For brands, finally seizing the promise of the Social Web.

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  • Awesome that you are blogging – had not realized that.

    I think you are spot on in identifying what's next.

    But I think the biggest challenge is the “making it not seem creepy” one. It's the loss of anonymity that's going to hit people hard when predictive logic comes into play. The fist time you walk into a store and get a text asking what you thought of that sweater you bought here two months ago. it's going to seem uncomfortably like stalking.

    Marketers are not a shy bunch, however, and are going to want to use all that information they have, so I suspect that there will by many missteps before we get it right.

  • Hey Alan — Nice to see you here! As you can tell, I don't write much, but occasionally I have a thought or two that needs a place to live.

    I think you're right about the stalking and not seeming creepy. The systems that are in place have to be above board and consumers need to have control (unlike with Facebook…).

    Ultimately though, consumers need to feel as though they're getting value out of it. Not that they'd put up with intrusive or creepy behavior, but, if it's relevant and something they care about, I'm guessing many will OK with it.

    Speak soon!

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    Hey Alan – Good to see you here! As you can tell, I do not write much, but sometimes I have a thought or two that need a place to live.

    I think you’re right about the harassment, and does not seem scary. The systems are in place on the government and consumers must have control (as opposed to Facebook, …).

    In the end itself, consumers need to feel they get value out of it. Not that they would put up with intrusive or scary, but if it is relevant and something they care about, I guess many will be OK with it