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Top Social Trends to Look for in 2013

As we round out the first week of 2013, and slowly return from the holidays to resume work, I want to ask you an important question: are you ready to take advantage of what lays ahead in the New Year? Let’s strive to make 2013 an even better year than 2012. What could be a better way to get the ball rolling than by pointing out some important social trends to be on the lookout for this year.

Will Facebook continue its reign atop the social hierarchy in 2013? Will businesses get better returns on their social media involvement? Will your CEO finally learn to tweet? Here are some of the largest social trends set to unfold this year, courtesy of Hootsuite’s CEO, Ryan Holmes.

1) Mobile Usage Will Continue Soar

Back in September Facebook made a pretty significant announcement that flew below the radar in their quarterly SEC filing. “[We] anticipate that the rate of growth in mobile usage will exceed the growth in usage through personal computers for the foreseeable future.” This is particularly important because mobile Internet users are set to overtake wired users by 2015 in the US.

What does all this mean for social media? Networks that make engagement on the go easy (the Instagrams, Pinterests etc…) are at a significant advantage. “Traditional networks must work to better differentiate their desktop and mobile experiences — ensuring that mobile interfaces are streamlines and fast-loading,” says Holmes. At the same time, this places an ever larger focus on the need to develop viable advertising options for mobile platforms. Thus far, finding a way to squeeze ads onto such a tiny space has a serious Achilles heel.

2) Social Ads Will Evolve

In their quest to solve the mobile revenue puzzle, social networks will push ahead this year with new social ad models. Holmes believes that we’ll still see the slow and steady decline of traditional banner ads, as they’re replaced by innovative offerings like Promoted Tweets and Sponsored Stories. What makes these offerings so unique is the fact that they don’t look like ads at all – aside from the small disclaimer. These ads appear in-stream and read exactly like another piece of user-generated content. “While some users resent this intrusion into their home streams, native ads potentially enable brands to reach clients on their own turf and on their own terms,” says Holmes. The idea driving is evolution is convergence — the idea that ads and content can be interchangeable.

3) International and Niche Social Networks Will Experience Dramatic Growth

Total social media users are forecast to grow only by 4.1 percent in North America in 2013. While growth in North America may slow down, the major social networks will continue to make impressive inroads internationally in 2013. For example, the project growth rate this year in Asia-Pacific is 21.1 percent, 12.6 percent forecasted in Latin America, and 23.3 percent projected in the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile, localized social networks that are particularly geared towards mobile will experience huge growth. For example, China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging platform “recently surpassed 400 million users (nearly doubling its user base in one year),” points out Holmes.

Additionally, niche networks, those that offer deeper, more focused functionalities overlooked by the larger players, will continue to experience explosive global growth this year. For example, Instagram saw its share of social media traffic grow by 17,319 percent last year. This means that 2013 will be a year where companies will be forced to keep up with all the various social networks in both North America and abroad.

4) Social Moves Beyond Marketing

This year, expect companies to embrace new tools including internal social networks, real-time chats and wikis — for uses that go way beyond the familiar applications for marketing and community building. Huge boosts to the bottom line are at stake, according to McKinsey the untapped business value of social is at $1.3 trillion, most of which comes from improved office productivity.

Today, we’re already seeing HR departments applying social media to mainstream application process, sales teams cultivating leads and monitoring the sales funnel via social channels, and operations and distribution teams tracking supply chains at a granular level. What’s really interesting here is that until now, social adoption has been primarily fueled by the bottom-up, by social media and community managers. However, today as more and more CIOs, CEOs, and CMOs, who have seen the value of social are taking the reins we will start to see more top-down social media strategy. “Expect to see social media management systems become as commonplace as office productivity suites and customer relations management software,” says Holmes.

5) Big Data Gets More Manageable

Social has given companies access to an unprecedented volume of information about their clients and their buying trends. The problem that they now face is processing all that information and turning it into an actionable policy. Holmes predicts that “The coming year will see the emergence of new software and tools to do just that.” 2013 will see a series of new-wave social media command centers capable of tracking multiple social stats in real-time. Don’t believe it? Nestle is already using tools to help with boosting customer sentiment, as well as GE who are leveraging social tools to speed up repairs to the electrical grid.

6) Formal Social Media Education

According to a recent Harvard Business Review survey, “only 12 percent of companies using social media feel they use it effectively.” Given the expanded business applications of social today, maximizing impact will increasingly require specialized training. Knowing how to Tweet or friend someone on Facebook will no longer be enough. “In 2013, expect to see more social media coursework at universities, as well as dedicated social media MBA programs, as schools rise to the challenge,” says Holmes. Additionally, we’re already seeing companies doubling down on social media education for their existing employees.

2012 was regarded as the year that social media successfully made the jump from the dorm room to the board room. In 2013, expect to see companies focus on reaping expanded returns from their social investments.

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