What's Next on the Social Web?

We recently released survey results in conjunction with Babson College, which indicate 86% of businesses use social media. This number probably doesn't surprise many because we've seen adoption trends rise. However, these numbers also give us an indication of the types of opportunities that still exist and potential trends that we might see in the not too distant future. Given that social media is here, I can only predict the following: 1. Brands will strive for deeper user engagement within social networks and online communities. There are over 250 million people on Facebook today and 50+ million Twitter accounts. Ultimately, adoption will slow on these platforms and instead, we will see deeper pockets of engagement within niche groups of users. There will be greater engagement with brands on platforms, but, more and more companies will see the value in building standalone community sites. This will allow them to have targeted conversations that are more closely in line with direct business goals.

2. Closely integrated strategy and metrics. The survey indicated that there's a serious lack of measurement and ROI tracking for most companies using social media (79% of respondents said they weren't measuring the ROI of their social media, a statistic that should alert any of the analytics vendors). If an organization is going to use Twitter to market their product or service, they should have metrics in place to indicate an increase in brand exposure or sales leads. If a company is going to implement a customer support community, they should be able to measure the volume of requests handled on the community and compare them to traditional methods of providing support, for satisfaction, cost, and response time. Without measurement, adoption of social media means very little to the overall business -- time for companies to not only use the tools more, but to use them in a way that really enhances their business.

3. Greater spending. Although executive buy-in with social media is key, more and more leaders are starting to see its value. If item 2 above plays out we will see bigger budgets dedicated to social media, especially if the metrics are in place to measure success of programs. While some companies will opt to purchase ads on sites like Facebook, the real cost will come in the form of human resources. Companies are quickly learning that these technologies do not scale and therefore will continue to allocate more and more individuals to staff positions like moderators and community managers.

Every day I see more and more companies present on social networks and more companies featuring plugs for social networking profiles. Forrester said in July that they anticipate social media spending to hit 55 billion by 2014. There's no telling whether these predictions will come true or not, but so far all signs are pointed in the right direction.

Cailin Darcy