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A look ahead at the social web in 2015

To close for 2014, and before we look ahead to 2015, how did we do with our predictions for 2014?

Here’s what we said 12 months ago, with comments on how we think we fared in the prediction stakes:

It will be the year of the 3i’s – intentions, intelligence, influence. Companies will want to know more about customers’ intentions. They will want to go far beyond intelligence and influence: they will want to make intentions easy to action. Companies will invest in algorithms that tie real-time intelligence to predicting what customers actually plan to do, and what they are indicating they are doing now.

We’ve certainly seen a shift in this direction this year with the companies with which we’ve worked. Every organization wants to learn more about customers’ intentions, and influence continues to play a central part to the social selling and social marketing of many. Once the concept of actionable insights is made clear, organizations get that social is much more than just being seen and being counted. Those days continue to recede, now at an expanding rate.

Noise will diminish. Not in its volume (indeed, the din will get louder), but in its importance (the din will be increasingly a distraction). Organizations will care less and less about “how many”,  and more and more about “who, why, where and when” (and “how can I help?”).  Investment in making meaning from the social web and identifying who and what is important (or influential) will become a key differentiator in those companies that perform better than their competitors.

Noise is still noise. As the social web has grown, so too has noise. Whether or not noise has grown as a proportion of total activity is harder to measure and in any case will differ by organization (one organization’s chatter & clutter is another’s valuable insight). But the organizations with which we work definitely don’t care about noise. Or rather, they like it that the noise can be filtered out, at last, based on data. They do care about results, relevance, engagement and insights. For sure, noise no longer counts.

Personalization will be key. Consumers will go where they get the unique, most enjoyable, easiest, tailored experience. To respond (and win the business of these consumers) companies will accelerate their investment in personalized marketing, messages, engagement, experience, offers, products, sales and service. The social web will help organizations better understand, serve and have their customers socialize their experience.

More than anything personalization has been pre-eminent in 2014 – but you can never be “too personalized”. And at the core of personalization is the identification of the individual and the mapping of that person to other data, or needs, or service offerings, or products.

Real-time is key to relevance. You can know much about your customer but nothing beats the lift in performance if you are relevant and can respond to the now. NOW. Anything other than actioning real-time insights will contain a degree of lost opportunity. Organizations aren’t in business to lose opportunities.

Increasingly this is the new benchmark that merely defines permission to participate. If you’re not responding in real-time, you’re not responding. Not always possible, but always regarded as best practice, and a compromise when missed.

Social CRM will grow. There will be more connections between the social web front-end and the CRM back-end. We will see far greater investment, results and success stories in the coming year from those who invest in programmatically assigning triggers that map to the right type of response and right channel.  We will also see greater discipline in measuring ROI based on customer interactions across channels and attribution to the final sale/customer spend.

We continue to see signs that organizations want to do this more. We continue to see more companies doing it. We’re confident that the trend will grow in 2015. We also know that there’s more to be done in this area.

Creating B2B sales through social. Companies will invest in working out which systems, processes, and people requirements extract greater value from social, and connecting to these. A people-centric approach to social, and optimizing the time people take in interacting in social and in building relationships around relevant contexts, will contribute more and more to B2B sales. At its heart, social is about people.

More organizations embrace social selling. More organizations understand that social selling complements existing selling. More organizations (and social sellers) understand that social selling gives them an edge.

On to 2015: what do we see as likely or desirable trends?

The social web will be used more for strategy, including by CEOs. This will continue the move away from ‘social’ being synonymous with ‘marketing’. Despite coverage to the effect that CEOs still don’t ‘get’ social we think the trend will accelerate. Organizations will plan in terms that bring the social web, customer data and strategy together, and discover new advantages and new opportunities. We’re so confident about this prediction that we’d like to say, ‘watch this space.’

CFOs will start to get more interested in the social web, in particular (you guessed it) the ROI, for two reasons: for organizations where social programs sit within marketing, those heads of marketing will seek larger budgets to run social programs; and for organizations that make social mainstream, that the CEO and strategic management are now taking a keen interest will inevitably include, and attract, CFOs.

Users of social media will continue to test the mettle of those channels that ramp up advertising and paid-media business models. We don’t know who will win this battle. What matters is content that is relevant, served to the individual on his or her terms – it won’t matter whether it’s advertising or not if these criteria are met.

The individual is in control. Any organization that understands this, and knows and understands every individual in its cohort, will win.

The social web will continue to divide and unite communities. But above all else, the social web will continue to shine spotlights on areas some would rather keep dark.

This time next year there will be two new social media channels that we’ve not yet heard about.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a fulfilling and social 2015.

Alan Smith: is Head of Customer Engagement at DIGIVIZER.