It’s that time of year again. Enterprise social media has had an impressive ramp-up in 2011 as well as being well-poised for a banner year in 2012. However, along the way, social business has become a very broad topic indeed, covering a wide range of topics that ranges from social marketing and Social CRM to collaborative product development and Enterprise 2.0, with a good number of specialty niches in between them for good measure. This includes social HR and talent management to social business intelligence and social business applications, to list just some of them. It’s fair to say that in 2011, social pervaded a truly wide swath of territory in terms of business capabilities. While social reconceptions of traditional business functions began showing signs of some maturity in select areas (especially social marketing and internal collaboration), strong early adoption was also a hallmark of a few quite recent developments, in particular Social CRM.
Thus, with all this activity, it’s not surprising that it was at the beginning of this year that some estimates of the total investment in the social business industry exceeded $100 billion, an impressive figure for an industry that’s just about five years old. The big question for those now investing in and promoting social business approaches in their organization is, namely, what’s coming next? Are there any new major new insights that will reshape the field? The examples of hard won lessons of years past, such as the need for community management in most social business implementations or that social business should be connected to the flow of work, have been critical ones. What else have we learned?
It’s from this perspective of significant impact that we take a look below at what’s likely to happen in social business next year. If it’s not a major issue or a likely improvement on what’s taken place this year, I’ve generally not included it. In addition, I’ve only tried to include high probability trends and predictions so that those planning their social business strategies for next year can take them into account. If something is particularly speculative, it’s been highlighted in text.
Twelve Social Business Predictions for 2012
- Social shifts to mobile. This prediction is obvious given the massive ramp-up of smart devices this year (in late 2010 they eclipsed PCs for the first time ever) yet it needs to be stated and is actually one of the biggest user experience (UX) shifts in social so far. Social business solutions lacking a capable mobile UX are going to underperform, especially in the second half of the year, in terms of adoption for end-users and sales for vendors. While vendors have been getting much better at providing quality native mobile clients, there is still lots of room for improvement, though this will largely happen in 2012. Less successful will be Enterprise 2.0 efforts that have performed extensive customization for their desktop intranet, who will have to do the equivalent updates for mobile devices such as the iPad and Android tablets.
- Analytics and business intelligence (BI) becomes standard fare. Making sense of the endless flow of conversations, inside and outside of the organization requires smart, effective filters. It also needs a way to analyze the giant haystack to derive business significant insight. This has led to a flood of social analytics tools and vendors that has turned into a glut, just as sustained interest emerges. As I explored in my keynote presentation at Defrag last year, social analytics has emerged to cope with the quantity of information that is created in social media, and to extract value from it. This is one of the primary reasons we created the Social Business Index and why Salesforce acquired Radian6 this year in one of the largest social media acquisitions of 2011; getting to ROI means getting to the information that matters inside time windows that matter to make business decisions and guide strategic activity. Expect capable analytics and downstream business intelligence features to be added as central elements to virtually all social media tools. The most useful additions of social analytics and BI will also make the distinction between leaders and also-rans not only in terms of products but also as key activities in social business projects on the client-side.
- Gamification doesn’t happen, yet. Adding game mechanics to social business through leaderboards, competition-driven activities, and via other game-based engagement mechanisms has a very bright future in my opinion. I was finally convinced of this when gamification was famously used to solve the highly stubborn protein folding problem for the AIDS virus earlier this year. In my estimate, 2012 will be an experimental year where early lessons learned are made and the right directions are teased out by the industry. Capable offerings either won’t be ready or mature enough for it to be significant in 2012; perhaps in 2013 but it will happen. In the meantime, social business efforts can certainly experiment where it makes sense but can otherwise focus on other items in this list in my opinion.
- Social intranets struggle forward, social business processes don’t. Those overhauling their intranets to make them more social have had a long, hard time of it. To be clear, this is not because social intranets aren’t useful, but coordinating (and sometimes fighting) the IT department, corporate communications, HR, and often competing vendor camps inside the company means that many firms aren’t as far along as they should be. SharePoint has often slowed down the move to more social tools for big companies in particular. Industry regulation, privacy laws, and other issues for many firms have made internal social media difficult to adopt widely. Combined together, the drag has been surprisingly high for Enterprise 2.0. That said, Toby Ward has reported the highest penetration of social features on corporate intranets yet, with 61% of all companies reporting at least one social media tool in place this year. This has led to an increasing attention on a subject that adds a new dimension to the discussion: Integrating social media more directly into business processes. This discussion was sparked by Laurie Buczek this year and was discussed widely by the Enterprise 2.0 community, with a growing consensus that while general purpose, open-ended social media was the right direction (and is vital for emergent outcomes), a more direct route to value capture is also needed. It’s now increasingly believed that high impact results will come most directly from integrating social business into daily work processes on the ground. Expect much more practitioner focus on this in 2012. For more details, read my latest round-ups of where we are with Enterprise 2.0 here and here.
- Smaller social business vendors continue to get rolled up. It was a year of acquisitions in 2011, including Radian6, Rypple, Leverage, and many others. After years of building up customers in a growing space, the success stories have started to emerge. Expect that, to the extent that technology alignment and functional overlap can be addressed, 2012 will be an even bigger year for acquisitions as Salesforce, IBM, and SAP, and perhaps Microsoft, go on a spending spree to snap up the first few generations of winners in various social business verticals. This will make a fair number of their customers unhappy, as the desire to escape the stranglehold of the big enterprise vendors was no small part of the attraction of going with the startups in the first place. This will make some room for a next generation of more sophisticated social business startups. It may also slow innovation from the acquired companies as they get absorbed into the software giants that will likely push a round of customer defections as the top end of social business market both heats up and speeds up. This will keep the market interesting while retaining choice, though longer term, consolidation is inevitable.
- The social business unit/center of excellence phenomenon continues. Last year I wrote about the emergence of an organizational structure we called the Social Business Unit. In most large organizations, a social media committee is created out of a group of interested stakeholders (typically IT, corporate communication, HR, legal, and some business users), they sooner or later realize they don’t have expertise in social media and end up creating a dedicated team, a center of excellence, or other central group to manage the move to social media. I now see this happening to the extent this year that it’s fairly standard but, next year, expect it to become a top objective and a virtual requirement as companies realize their are moving too slowly to adopt social media across their lines of business. The move to a real social media function will drive up social media budgets but will get organizations the maturity they need and sort out the experimental social media ‘pandemonium’ that is often common in large companies (and usually a good thing if managed well by the SBU.)
- Internal and external social business efforts blur, but remain distinct. Ever since the term social business was coined, it was quickly realized that there is a really single continuum across internal and external usage. While companies often maintained separate efforts for internal and external engagement, it became obvious that they were surprisingly identical in terms of features and function except for the audiences they were engaging. With the advent of more and more social business platforms and tools that can keep information safe in blended social business environments, the blur has now started to happen. In 2011 it was still not that common however, and most efforts remain separate. That will change in 2012, but real blur appears on track for a 2013 mainstream appearance in my estimate.
- Customer-facing social “hockey sticks”. While marketplace-facing social has had a terrific run-up for businesses over the last few years, customer-specific social solutions — such as with CRM — only started experiencing major growth this year, and is expected to be a $1 billion industry by next year. 2012 will be the year of the social customer in strategic terms.
- Community management goes pro. It didn’t take long for the social world to conclude that communities work best with designated leaders guiding them, supporting them, and dealing with the thousands of tiny tasks that are essential for any large group of people to function well together. But business users have been slower to get on board with community management, even as we see that Enterprise 2.0 efforts with community management capabilities regularly report that it was a critical success factor. In 2012, community management will get the respect it deserves on the enterprise-side and become a first class citizen as a strategic social business capability. I also expect that training and certification for this vital function will also mature significantly.
- Social business budgets go up another level. This year’s average social business budget, while somewhat larger than last years, will climb up another significant notch as social business become more prevalent across the the organization. As more dedicated staff are required and the social business unit becomes more common, expect a respectable increase, on the order of 50% or more in the average social business budget, especially if the economy starts to mend. Many organizations have held off spending on even important new projects because of the economic climate. Thus a growing turnaround will likely accelerate social business investment.
- The year will close with a consensus (or lack thereof) on enterprise social apps. I’ve been tracking the promise of embedding of social applications into enterprise social networks, so that our business systems are embedded in collaborative context. I’m not alone in thinking this is a vitally important way to connect our systems of record with the informal, unstructured work activity that dominates the work today. Jive is a leader here with its social app store, but all the big vendors support social apps except for Microsoft. With the development over the summer of the next version of OpenSocial, it has reached the point that it will be capable enough to meet enterprise demands for features and flexibility. Given that the latest version of Jive put social apps front and center in many large companies, we’ll likely find out by the end of 2012 if this is a primary way that workers will integrate their core business activities with social networking.
- Social business becomes less art, and more science. This prediction was also on Angela Houseman’s 2012 prediction list, but it’s one that I’m very much seeing as well. The early days of social media attracted highly creative types that sometimes thrived on lack of structure and analysis. Today, even social business, particularly in the marketing arena, requires serious number crunching, quantitative analysis, and the ability to derive insights from the resulting business intelligence. While creativity is perhaps more valued now than ever, the analytic and scientific approach is moving into the fore as well from tools and frameworks to services and methodologies.
This is a lot of issues for social business practitioners to keep track of and activate on, but that’s always the case with fast moving new industries. Social business has made major strides this year and I anticipate that 2012 will be a truly breakout year, across the board, for organizations that are prepared to plan and invest. However, no list of predictions could possibly be complete and I’d be very interested in hearing your predictions in comments below.