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Ten Predictions for Social Media and Digital Marketing in 2011

Here are my 10 predictions for social media and digital marketing in 2011.

Location-based social networks lose steam: The darlings of 2010, location-based social platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla have gotten plenty of hype (not to mention VC funding) but have they really gained any traction? Foursqure reportedly just passed 5 million registrations, but when I see my digital acquaintances check in at venues with 3 others, I’m underwheled and more importantly, unmoved. And when Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley even admits to check-in fatigue on his own Big Idea, that should be the first sign of a problem, right?

I mean, is Biz Stone sick of Tweeting? Does Mark Zuckerberg take breaks from Facebooking? Who knows? What I do know is that I tried Foursquare for about a week and quickly lost interest. And I’m supposed to be hip to all of this stuff. If a digital dork like me doesn’t care, why would Joe Schmo?

At the end of the day, checking-in is a forced behavior, and it’s not really a communications platform, the basis for the success of Facebook and Twitter. Add in the inherent privacy concerns of declaring your whereabouts, and the near-requirement of owning a smartphone, and there’s a lot of forces conspiring against widespread adoption.

Analytics (and analysts) will rule: As the demand for ROI increases, social media consultants and self-proclaimed “experts” will be under more and more pressure to prove their worth. Along those lines, Facebook, Twitter and the like will be under even greater pressure to provide deeper metrics to help marketers understand who they’re communicating with, how often they should be doing it, and what messages are most effective.

Facebook currently provides a pretty limited set of stats, and Twitter is slowly rolling out their own suite, but the analytics currently available are woefully underwhelming. Here’s hoping for change in 2011.

Bring on the Backlash: Social media got so much hype in 2010, there’s bound to be a backlash (if there hasn’t been one already) in 2011. As marketers don’t see instant ROI, some will question why they’re spending so much time and energy on it, and some may pull the plug, question its value, or at least de-emphasize its role in their strategies.

Meanwhile, end users continue to wise up to privacy concerns, and while the conscientious objector is few and far between, more users are realizing the risks of unfettered access to their social media profiles.

Facebook Charges Brands: Facebook dabbled in this area before by asking marketers to buy $10,000 of ad spend to run promotions on Facebook. God only knows how they policed or enforced this short-lived policy, and as 2010 drew to a close, they quietly dumped the $10,000 requirement altogether.

But as Facebook has evolved into the preeminent marketing tool in the known universe, it stands to reason that the company will continue to seek alternative streams of compensation from marketers. Given their penchant for changing the rules on a moment’s notice, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if such a change came along this year, and came with little or almost zero warning.

That said…: With 550 million+ users, Facebook has become more than a website. It’s a communications platform. And at some point, does the FCC get involved with how Facebook does business? Are they involved already? What impact will Net Neutrality legislation have on the future of Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and other digital services moving forward?

It’s something to keep an eye on.

One Billion Users: With somewhere around 550 million users today, it’s not inconceivable, given its current growth rate, that Facebook could hit 1 billion users before the end of 2011. Are there enough people left to feed such a rate of growth? Why not? The 35-54 year old demographic is Facebook’s fastest growing group.

Think about it this way: Is your Mom on Facebook yet? She will be…

Another bubble bursts: Every day, another start-up vendor cold calls my desk with the latest and greatest third party solution that’s supposed to help my company grow its presence on social media and drive revenue from our followers. Few have compelling stories to tell; fewer strike any confidence in me. There’s plenty of companies that are burning through VC but have little to show for it. And parent companies are said to be looking to unload underperforming social media assets.

Unfortunately, it feels all too familiar…remember the dot.com boom and bust days?

Website Traffic Drops: With more digital platforms that aren’t websites, and everything happening on mobile devices, major web destinations will see their traffic decline as people communicate via apps and spend less time “surfing” the web.

Think about it: Has your web usage declined as your social media engagement increased? Who needs ESPN.com when the headlines and scores are already a tweet away on your iPhone?

APIs Lead To AI (Or, Facebook as Skynet): It’s already been claimed and widely speculated that Facebook has algorithms that can predict, among other things, when you’re about to break up with your significant other. And it may even know things about active users that they’ve yet to discover about themselves.

Extrapolate that a bit, and I would think it stands to reason that Facebook may very well become a basis for artificial intelligence as one investor already predicted. That is, if it hasn’t become sentient already…

“The year is 2029. The machines will convince us that they are conscious, that they have their own agenda worthy of our respect. They’ll embody human qualities, they’ll claim to be human, and we’ll believe them.”

– Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines

Scared yet?

Obvious Predictions Fall Short; Unseen Developments Arise: It’s perhaps the most obvious of my relatively obvious predictions, but it’s still worth consideration. While some of these predictions are likely to come to fruition (if they haven’t already behind the scenes), the future of social media most certainly holds developments that few — if any — could predict.

What are your predictions?