Six Social-Digital Trends for 2013

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Originally published in Harvard Business Review.

It’s that time of year again — time to take a stab at what’s going to matter in the year ahead as technology continues to influence how we work and live. In previous years, I’ve looked at trends under the “social media” lens because that has been the major disruptive force, creating both opportunities and threats. This year, I’m using the umbrella term “social-digital” to broaden the focus. First, a quick re-cap from last year:

While I didn’t specifically connect it to the election, social sharing was a trend I cited and one that many of us felt because of the election. You couldn’t get away from Facebook posts and streams of tweets from friends who were all too happy to leverage their networks to talk politics, often sharing posts and memes in support of their candidate (Big bird, binders and bayonets anyone)?

And social TV, another trend I saw growing, has continued to gain steam, though interestingly enough it has been TV itself fueling the trend. For example the popular series The Walking Dead has been experimenting with simple Twitter hash tags for each episode in addition to the official one connected with the series. Social entertainment platforms however like Get Glue, which was recently acquired for 25 million in cash have yet to go mainstream.

What has gone mainstream, however, is the micro-economy fueled by once unknown entities such as Kickstarter. Individuals are now raising thousands and even millions of dollars without a middleman thanks to crowdfunding. On the flipside, gamification has lost some of its luster, taking a backseat to useful functionality. A recent Gartner study urges us not to “believe the hype.” I may have been too caught up by the promise of making experiences sticky via serving up rewards, when this comes at the expense of raw utility.

The cult of influence continues to attract a following with new digital influence measurement services like Little Bird receiving funding, followed by studies crowning the most influential CMOs.

So what can we potentially expect to see next year? In no particular order, here are six social-digital trends to watch in 2013:

The Content Economy Content may become your company’s most valuable asset in 2013. For years Google has been refining it’s algorithm cracking down on unsavory tactics that compromise the quality of search results. The algorithms are good enough now that the most compelling content dominates search results. Organizations must create compelling content to exploit this. Some already have, including companies like Coke and Intel, who launched groups focused purely on content. Separately, Facebook is making it’s own changes, forcing companies to rely on both creativity and spending (promoted posts) to ensure their content is seen and shared. Brands like Oreo may have unwittingly set the bar for content creation for other organizations by pioneering a form of “content marketing” putting out one piece of timely, relevant and highly creative content every day as part of a campaign. In 2013, content will not only be king, but queen, prince and jester, too.

Cyborg Central Think your mobile phone is making you part computer? Now it has accomplices. Gadgets like “fuel bands” and Google Glasses are just a preview of what we’ll see more of in 2013 as we begin to mesh machines with humans. There are already ski goggles which display a tiny screen which lets you not only sync to your mobile device but helps you determine where you are and how fast you are going. As we move into the next year, the phrase “personal computing” will begin to take on another meaning.

The Smobile Web Social + mobile = “smobile.” While there’s no real insight in pointing out that both mobile and social are going to be big in 2013, I believe they’re becoming co-dependent, and most businesses aren’t ready for that. A smobile Web means your customers, coworkers and colleagues expect their digital experiences will be optimized for mobile/social sharing and as a result spend less time tethered to a PC or television.The technology for this is evolving rapidly. Near field communication, or NFC technology, for example, allows you to transfer data to your mobile device via a touch rather than scanning a QR code, which seems cumbersome in comparison. While Instagram developed for smobile before the traditional web, Facebook is still playing catch-up, but by the end of 2013 it may become one of the leaders. Will you be ready for the smobile web?

Sensory Intelligence Sensors will get smarter and become more pervasive. We already have cars that can help us parallel park and seats that vibrate if we’re too close to another vehicle. We have thermostats that learn based on how you use them, eventually programming themselves. In 2013 there will be sensors built into athletes’ helmets that measure the impact of blows and provide real time data outputs thus potentially preventing further injury. Sensors will be everywhere, in our homes, transportation, technology, and clothing. They will become a part of our lives and will tie into our existing devices and networks, If our plants need water, we’ll get a text or tweet, and even a note of thanks. Now that’s smart.

Social Commerce In many ways, social has mirrored the original digital revolution. And when digital took on transactions and financial exchanges, things really picked up. So it will go for social as we begin to buy each other gifts through social networks or even set up a storefront. The idea of social commerce isn’t new, but signs indicate that 2013 may be the year it actually begins to coalesce.

Data Surplus, Insight Deficit As I write this, Facebook has already began rolling out its “Photo Sync” feature which automatically downloads photos from your mobile device to Facebook (privately). Some see this as a land grab for data but it’s not the only one. “The cloud,” “social data,” or the overhyped macro label, “big data” will dominate the tech conversation. While it’s true that more of our data is being collected, mined and stored, that doesn’t mean people know what to do with it. There aren’t enough qualified human beings (analysts, sociologists, strategists, anthropologists etc) to mine all this data. But this won’t last for long. 2013 may be the year we focus less on data and start thinking about how to understand, interpret and make good use of it.

Whether it’s content, data, sensors, smobile, or feeling like we’ve become one with technology, 2013 should be an exciting year for the social-digital revolution as it continues to change the game. What do you think will be trends to watch in 2013?

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