“Social Media” are The Thing at the moment. And I’m a bit of a-twitter about them myself. But this is not half the revolution people are making it out to be. So here are some incautious predictions.
1. In 2009 the buzz around social media will decline. All media are social or they are not media. Convergence will make this fact transparent. The media form the fourth estate precisely because they connect to their audiences and interact with them. So let’s stop implying traditional media are not social when they clearly are.
2. In 2009, newspapers and broadcast media will re-platform themselves, but serve much the same purpose for much the same audience. The Daily Telegraph’s integrated newsroom – combining digital, print and all other media in one newsroom around the distribution of content in different forms, meeting different needs of consumers throughout the day – is going to become the norm. Though the details will vary between publishing houses.
3. In 2009 the major media players will be recognized as clear leaders across all channels and formats, including blogs; the tail is not wagging the dog. The best blogs will become part of mainstream media, as Iain Dale has already demonstrated.
4. My prediction for 2009 is that the ability of social media companies to burn cash will be constrained, their valuations will decline also. This has already happened to Friends Reunited, while the American firm EW Scripps wrote off almost the entire £210m it paid for the price-comparison website Uswitch.
5. So in 2009 much of the hype will become yesterday’s news. Twitter and Facebook might have done well by creating inclusive networks on a closed platform, but they will face real trouble making people pay to enter or upgrade later (unlike Xing and Linked-in).
6. In 2009 people will get bored of visiting multiple social networking sites. As the Economist notes, that’s a drag. The big issue will be the Web’s openness. Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and other firms already have the ideal infrastructure for social networking in the form of the address books, in-boxes and calendars of their users. It has the advantage of being an open rather than a closed Web network. As the Economist says, big networks have decided to be “open” toward independent programmers, to encourage them to write fun new software for them. But they are reluctant to become equally open towards their users, because the networks’ lofty valuations depend on maximising their page views—so they maintain a tight grip on their users’ information, to ensure that they keep coming back. This is an unsustainable proposition.
7. Social media will mostly remain gossipy, silly and only very slightly scary. When the novelty wears off, people will seek “not-very-social” digital access to “broadcasters” and “narrowcasters” for the receipt of news and opinion they care about.
8. 2009 will confirm that there are no replacements for old media such as TV, radio, print, or even advertising. While there are no substitutes, new media and communication channels such as Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and blogs will continue to redefine old channels in a complementary fashion (just like mobile phones and Skype do to POTS). They open up new possibilities to network, share, explore, distribute ideas and content by redefining what the channels are used for (SMS for grooming, mobile for voice to coordinate etc). This dynamic tension certainly alters past habits, expectations and trends.
9. In 2009 content not the channel or medium will be king, and increasingly acknowledged. Professionalism and quality matter. The difference between today and twenty years ago is the number of channels and the fragmentation of audiences.
10. In 2009 – as always – the most important social networks will be mum, dad, wife, husband, and best friend. Intimate networks are small in scale and intense in interaction, whether on or off line. Though backbone utilities need to be grand in scale, as with the electricity grid, the phone network and the internet.
The PR lessons?
The old PR rules do not need abandoning. Messaging, targeting and relevance to audience and channel still matter. The world might be more diverse, more complex, but it is not fundamentally different.