Social Business Predictions 2011

It’s that time of year again. Lots of people can make predictions, but insight and experience help ensure that they’re worth close consideration. This year I’ve reached out to some of the top minds I follow in social media to ask what they see in store for the market over the coming year. I’ve grouped them by theme. Enjoy!


  • Social strategy will move into the C-suite, where it will become an important component of an organization’s overall strategy. Rather than languish as uncoordinated dabbling by disparate departments, companies make customer and employee engagement the centerpiece of their competitive strategy. This is the year that companies that deploy social media strategically will pull ahead of their competition. (Charlene Li)
  • Leaders will turn to empowering their workforce to interface with the outside world as the only way to really scale social at this point. This puts a premium on building a positive culture as the driver of competitive advantage. (Joshua-Michéle Ross)
  • 2011 will be the year of the social IPO. Leaders who can navigate these waters successfully will be few and far between. My money is on the ones who have done it before. (Peter Kim)

Consumer Engagement

  • Super-Serve Your Social Nicheworks: It’s easy to be impressed by Facebook’s half-a-billion member count, when the reality is now and has always been Facebook isn’t one single network with 500 million members; it’s 500 million distinct, personal, niche networks – defined differently for each individual member based on the people (and to some extent the companies) in your circle of connections.  In other words, if you’re into fly fishing, and your closest friends spend their weekends fly fishing by your side, and your favorite brands offer great fly fishing products, the odds are high that your Facebook social graph looks less like a general interest network and more like a highly focused fly fishing community. With the introduction of Groups in late 2010, Facebook made it even easier for these types of niche networks to come together and interact. Or why limit yourself to Facebook – maybe the fly fishermen among you are connecting on or With hundreds upon hundreds of highly focused social nicheworks, the real action may not be with the big boys but with the small sites that super-serve the specialized interests of highly passionate communities – especially if you want to promote your products to these audiences. And while we’re on the topic of niche, let’s not limit ourselves to the wired web. Look for niche networks to go mobile, as everyone from bargain shoppers (shopkick), foodies (Foodspotting), nightlife trendsetters (Playboy, La Societe Stella Artois) and maybe even fly fishermen get location services to call their very own. (Greg Verdino)
  • A handful more marketers in 2011 will give up trying to inject people with viruses and will abandon the idea that there are five or six voices in a community who, if “converted,” can automatically bring a flock of sheep to a brand. These professionals will quit trying to find new ways to make the “broadcast mentality” work in conversational spaces, but the vast majority of brands and agencies will still make “activating audiences” sound like some magic device that marketers can engineer. (Sam Ford)
  • Most smart marketers have embraced content as a cornerstone of social media/social business. They understand that they need to be publishing content to both attract and educate customers. Of course, not any old content will fit the bill. Rather, the content a company produces must be valuable, relevant, interesting, enjoyable, and sometimes a little fun. It’s a challenge to produce the right kind of content that will resonate best with your customers, and 2011 will be the year that businesses meet that challenge, and focus on producing content that… well, rules. (Ann Handley)

Workforce Engagement

  • Organizations will start realizing that there’s more to listening than hearing: that simply acknowledging and capturing that someone has said something isn’t doing a company much good if there’s not genuine effort to do something with what they have heard. Those companies who dedicate themselves to listening will realize that the future is in paying attention to what customers have to say (where marketing and customer service meet) and in what the culture around us can tell us (the cultural patterns that brands need to know). (Sam Ford)
  • Expect training and staffing to be a top priority in 2011 as companies gear up for social business.  Our research found that 37% of corporations listed their second highest goal of internal education and training be an important priority.  Expect education to come in the forms of internal sharing programs, communities appended to the intranet, and external experts providing guidance, as well as the increase in social business conference attendance. (Jeremiah Owyang)

Social Architecture

  • Leading brands in social media will begin consolidating their fragmented Facebook and Twitter domains into something that begins to resemble a decentralized (but linked) website across these platforms. Social media site mapping will become a discipline among the consulting set. (Joshua-Michéle Ross)
  • Integration: Expect social media not to be a standalone effort yet infused into other digital touch points. Altimeter Group’s recent research to 140 corporations gleaned that 46% of respondents listed “Website Integration” of social media as the top priority for external deployments.  Expect this to happen in a few levels, from simple linking to social media accounts, to integrating conversations right onto the corporate website with strangers –and then your actual friends by using the social graph from social networks. (Jeremiah Owyang)
  • Kill All Your Microsites: There isn’t much micro about the microsite, with the possible exception of its effectiveness. Companies invest big budgets to build them, then bigger budgets to drive consumers to visit them – all to support a short term campaign before going dark just a few weeks later. In the coming year we’ll see more and more marketers ditching their microsites and turning to custom Facebook tabs, YouTube channels, purpose-built Twitter accounts and other social hubs as their primary online points-of-presence for content and conversation related to current campaigns, rather than as window dressing for their increasingly ineffective bloated-build-plus-banners tradigital efforts. (Greg Verdino)
  • Got APIs? Businesses that have never considered their information as an ecosystem asset wake up to emergent uses and possibilities from sharing. B2B brings sexy back in 2011. (Peter Kim)

Location Based Services

  • Location-based services will grow in adoption by mainstream users, but will thus be defined by their inherent value: coupons and deals. The services that survive the acquisition push as LBS grows will be the ones that evolve to focus on giving customers financial incentive to “check in” and LBS platforms will become the Sunday newspaper clippings for the 21st century. (Jason Falls)
  • Deliver Just-In-Time Deals: This time last year, I issued a series of predictions for 2010, and highlighted location-based mobile social services as a key opportunity. While services like Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR haven’t quite become mainstream just yet, 2010 certainly saw quite a few companies experimenting with these platforms to deliver offers and incentives to customers who “checked in” to retail locations in their cities and towns. Now, as the rollout of Facebook Places brings the notion of check-ins to the mainstream masses and Facebook Deals lets companies piggyback on top of those check-ins with relevant local offers and interactions. A far cry from the Sunday circular and clip-and-save coupons that – let’s be honest – as often as not collect dust in drawers, this is all about one-to-one delivery of the right offer to drive individual purchase behavior at exactly the right place and time.  But don’t think of this one as just another location-based services prediction. We’ll see a wider array of technologies – from QR codes to digital out-of-home to RFID to augmented reality – factor into schemes that serve up exactly the right offer (or content or information) at the right time, place and point-of-purchase. (Greg Verdino)
  • While location-based services like Loopt, Foursquare and Britekite have been around for a few years now, it’s only been over the last 6-12 months that these tools have started to take off. According to Forrester Research’s Melissa Parrish, only 4% of US online adults have ever used a location-based service. However, this number is growing rapidly and tends to skew toward affluent males who over-index in the influence category. Simultaneously, location-based services have also caught the attention of a number of major brands such as Disney, BestBuy, Pepsi, USA Today and The Gap. In 2011, I firmly believe that location-based services will catch on with the the general consumer for three reasons: 1) As the number of smart phones and tablets increase, so do the number of devices that are geo-aware. 2) Thanks to Facebook and its 540 million members, a large portion of those members are now asked every time they consider making a status update if they want to check into Facebook Places. 3) Businesses are starting to understand that location-based services is a great way to gather data and deepen loyalty with their customers. As a result, they are making available richer and more attractive offers for customers that check in. While we don’t know who the winner in the location-based space will be, we can absolutely expect a number of new players  to enter the market while many existing location players consolidate or get subsumed by the larger players like Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Probably the biggest shift we will see in the location space is a move from active (user conscientiously takes an action) to passive checkins. Either way,  I’m convinced that we’ll see a lot of exciting activity in the location-based marketing space in 2011. (Aaron Strout)
  • Game over for LBS businesses based on game mechanics. Facebook Places adoption will rise dramatically as integration with the social graph drives greater positive feedback for users from check-ins. Users tire in their pursuit of badges and digital paraphernalia, opting for engagement with their friends instead. (Peter Kim)

Peer-to-peer relationships

  • Many more people online will be looking for quality connections and information through anonymity. As much as people will post, share and connect through Social Media, we’ll see a burgeoning desire for people to also have a (credible) anonymous profile as well. This trend will lead to a ‘wisdom of crowds’ scenario, where it won’t matter if an individual is identifying themselves online, but rather in the value of the what is being said.” (Mitch Joel)
  • As social networking becomes the foundation for more and more decision-making, people will find that their closest friends really aren’t the best source of expertise. We’ll see the rise of interest-based networks where your reputation as the most knowledgable badminton racket buyer is more important — and far more lucrative from an advertising perspective. In the long tail of expertise, scale matters so look for these networks to rise on the backs of large profile and activity social graphs — like Facebook’s. (Charlene Li)

Metrics and measurement

  • Businesses everywhere, regardless of size, will continue their trend to demanding metrics, measures and direct connections to business drivers from social media marketing. This will continue to separate the “gurus” from the practitioners and carve out a more defined marketplace for those knowledgeable in the field while holding that group to high standards of excellence. As a result, social media executions will become more strategy-driven and businesses will benefit, strengthening social media marketing’s place in the business marketer’s tool bag. (Jason Falls)
  • Brands will quit worrying most about what can be measured and put the focus instead into what would be most useful for the audiences they want to reach. Rather than devoting resources foremost on finding destinations the brand can own so it can poke and prod people in as many ways as possible, more companies will think about how to put their messages in motion through giving their audiences access to share and react to material for the purposes those audiences most see fit. (Sam Ford)


About the authors

  • Jason Falls is a digital marketing strategist, professional speaker and social media practitioner and thinker based in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom Strategic Communications, a research affiliate of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and a lecturer in Popular Culture Studies at Western Kentucky University.
  • Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs ( and the co-author of the brand-new book with the longest title in the world: Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, 2011)
  • Mitch Joel is President of Twist Image – an award-winning Digital Marketing agency. He is also the author of the business bestseller, Six Pixels of Separation (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette), named after his Blog and Podcast of the same name.
  • Charlene Li is author of the bestseller “Open Leadership”, Co-author of “Groundswell”, and Founder of Altimeter Group.
  • Jeremiah Owyang is Partner of Customer Strategy at Altimeter Group, a strategy consulting firm that provides thought leadership, research, and consulting on digital strategies.
  • Joshua-Michéle Ross runs digital strategy for Fleishman-Hillard in Europe.
  • Aaron Strout is the CMO of social media Agency, Powered Inc and co-author of soon-to-be published Location Based Marketing for Dummies.
  • Greg Verdino is VP of Strategy & Planning at Powered, Inc. and the author of microMARKETING: Get Big Results by Thinking and Acting Small.

Best wishes on closing out 2010 with a bang and starting 2011 like a rocket. I know Dachis Group will.

Join the Conversation


  1. Well Done…Thanks All for Sharing your Valuable Insights…Happy Holidays…Looking Forward to Learning, Sharing, Challenging & Growing Together in the Social Ecosystem in 2011…My 2 cents, expect a few standout surprises driven by the many new smart minds that’ll begin to focus on the art of influence & the science of scale…Best!

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Being: Peter Kim