When the Internet emerged on a global scale in the late 1990s, some saw it as a tool that would transform how we live and work forever, while others viewed it simply as a fad that would vanish in time. Years later, social media has followed the same path. Despite early skeptics, both the Internet and social media are clearly here to stay. For many people, social media, like the Internet, is now deeply integrated into daily life. The enormous popularity of sites like Facebook and Twitter prove that social media is much more than a passing fad. In fact, Gartner predicts that social media revenue will reach $34 billion by 2016, up from $11.8 billion in 2011.
The question now is, what comes next for social media? The following are five up-and-coming social media sites and applications that government should pay attention to in 2013 and beyond.
Nextdoor is a private social network designed to let neighbors connect and restore a sense of community to neighborhoods. Co-founder Sarah Leary said 28 percent of Americans don’t know any of their neighbors by name. To fill that communications gap, Nextdoor provides an online place for community interaction about useful information. This isn’t another social network for photo sharing or posting updates about vacation plans. Instead it aims to be an online hub for spreading the word about a break-in, organizing a garage sale or getting recommendations about local businesses.
NEW YORK CITY has embraced social media on a wide scale. Despite its size and complexity, the city devised a sophisticated social media strategy that is paying off.
Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot, pictured above, says the city reaches 5.5 million individuals through its digital properties. In October, the city hosted its second annual Engage NYC: Digital Media in Government summit, an event featuring presentations from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google Plus. Not long after the event, New York City got a real-life lesson in emergency social media use when Superstorm Sandy arrived. In the days leading up to the storm, officials instituted an emergency social media protocol. “We set up a team of approvers who could approve new messages within five minutes or so,” Haot said. “This was very helpful because they could catch inconsistencies and also ensure that the tone of the messages was consistent and appropriate; that messages were authoritative, calm and respectful.” The city responded to hundreds of tweets, streamed the mayor’s press conferences and posted crucial information on NYC.gov and Facebook. “Social media really became a lifeline during the storm,” Haot said.
Nearly 1 million viewers watched the mayor’s press conferences on YouTube, more than 3.5 million people visited NYC.gov, and more than 325,000 visited the city’s Facebook page. Still, Haot says a broad social media strategy isn’t for everyone. “We try to discourage social media use by agencies that want to be there solely for the purpose of being there. The best way to approach that decision is to consider what you are trying to achieve, who you are you trying to reach, and where they ‘live’ online. We probably spent as much time pushing back on ideas we didn’t think would work as we did moving forward with ideas we did think would work.”
And local governments can get in on the action. Government representatives, like city managers and police officers, can use Nextdoor to connect with users and post information for them. However, they can’t see the rest of the conversation, including profile pages or the member directory. “They can simply broadcast into the neighborhood,” Leary said. Then it’s up to the users if they wish to contact the government representative for more information or to comment on the post.
“Local governments see this as a way to improve their reach and expand the number of people who are participating in a conversation to make the community better,” Leary said.
Chime.in makes it easy to connect people who have similar interests. According to the site, it’s “the place to find incredible content about whatever you’re into and other people who are just as passionate about it as you are.”
Launched in October 2011, Chime.in lets people share opinions, questions, interests, hobbies, etc. Unlike most social networks, Chime.in is organized around subjects instead of people and does not have the typical status updates. Instead, it has “chimes.”
Chimes are a cross between a Facebook status update and a blog post. They can be about any topic. Together, the Chimes make up topic-based discussions that can include links, videos, polls and photos.
“I believe that social [media] will be embedded in almost every kind of transaction within the next decade,” founder Bill Gross said at the Web 2.0 Summit in 2011.
#Waywire (the name includes a hashtag) is a video news-sharing service co-created by Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. The site is designed to democratize the news. The #waywire database contains raw footage from 60 content partners, including Reuters, so users can edit together their own reports on breaking news.
Existing Social Media Leaders Poised for Innovation in 2013
There’s always room for innovation, particularly in specialized areas, but experts say 2013 likely will be remembered more for improvements to established social media networks than for new players.
“What’s next are networks emerging to serve specific purposes they are good at,” said Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop.com, a social media site for government employees. “It won’t be about superseding sites like Facebook and Twitter that are already great at what they do. It’s about finding a niche that hasn’t been filled yet.”
Max Silver (pictured above), social media specialist at 451 Marketing, a Boston-based communications agency that specializes in social media, agrees. “We’ll see some new niche players, but we’ll also see a maturing of the current big players, which will mean they will make an even bigger impact,” he said. “This will be especially true for sites like Pinterest that are intuitive and easy to use.”
As the big players mature, they’ll become more in tune with what individual users want or need, explained Silver. Sites will make suggestions based on interests and integrate what someone is currently doing in their life and what they’re looking for next. This capability exists to some extent, but it will become more practical and commonplace.
“No one has done it perfectly yet,” Silver said. “It’s about who you talk to, what you like, using application programming interfaces to stay one step ahead. People are becoming less protective of their privacy, which is opening the door to this. The technology behind these sites will improve and enable them to make better suggestions and connections. It has the potential to be used for much more serious things that can help people manage their lives more efficiently.”
Part of the reason social media’s future will be more about maturing existing players than new players has to do with capacity. “Consumers can only connect on a certain number of platforms on a regular basis,” said Blake Cahill (pictured above), president of Banyan Branch, a Seattle-based social marketing agency. “Increasingly the consumer picks a few platforms to ‘hang out’ on and tends to stick to them.”
There’s also a shift in how users are consuming information. “The popularity of sites like Instagram and Pinterest suggest a shift emerging around images and pictures rather than words,” Cahill said.
Industry observers also see great potential in social commerce. Consumers not only want to use social media sites to view and share cool images, they want to complete the cycle and purchase those images. Connecting the consumer experience via social media platforms is likely to be a trend in 2013 and beyond.
Location-based services (LBS) also are likely to grow, but not in terms of how people think of them now with small loyalty rewards and badges, said Silver. “Instead, with services like Google Wallet and Levelup entering the mobile wallet industry, we will see integration of mobile payments and near field communications with LBS rewards through more passive check-ins,” he said. “This integration will allow you to check in simply by paying with your mobile wallet while making location sharing easier and rewards simpler to redeem for people and merchants because they will be tacked on after payment as discounts. The simplification of location sharing and the ability to more easily redeem rewards — especially on the merchant side — should push LBS more into the mainstream over the next one to three years.”
From a business perspective, more companies will begin to capitalize on internal social networks. “Companies are building these so they can connect better and share ideas at work,” Ressler said. “And it makes sense. If your employees are used to using social media in their private lives, they will want a more modern social network at work too. It’s only going to grow because that’s how people think now.”
This new social platform is moving forward with the mindset that video is the future of communicating, and it’s been described as a more socially conscious YouTube.
Traditionally social media has played a supporting role in the hiring process, by helping managers run identity checks and do the requisite due diligence on prospective candidates, for example. But some hiring-related social media startups like Antezen are gaining ground on more traditional job seeker portals by building their own referral networks using social media platforms. Such sites help pinpoint the right candidate for a job and may prompt a wave of change in corporate hiring.
Antezen is designing apps to bring like-minded professionals and businesspeople together. One app determines who a user likes to work with as well as who those people like to work with. It mines the data available about professionals on LinkedIn and arrives at a score, called a mutual affinity factor, indicating how much the user and people they don’t yet know might enjoy doing business together. Once enough data is collected, it can also suggest jobs for users based on who it predicts they would enjoy working with. Why is this important? Antezen CEO Shashank Shekhar said about half of employees leave a job within the first 18 months of starting it, not because they don’t have the right skill set but because of factors like disliking the work environment or not getting along with their boss. “All of the effort that goes into finding the right skill set, 42 percent of the time it ends up being a waste,” he said.
Another Antezen app, a skills matching engine, allows for more advanced searches pertaining to job descriptions. “The problem with today’s search engines is that a very typical job description says, ‘I want an expert in Java who has a little bit of familiarity with some other language,’ but none of the search engines today support a search like that,” Shekhar said. Antezen’s program will permit those advanced searches of resumés and is being tested by customers in India, he said.
The combination of the mutual affinity factor and skills matching engine could help provide a complete hiring solution, Shekhar said. They will determine not only who is the most qualified for a job, but also how much they are likely to mesh with future co-workers.
In less than a year of operations, some of these startups (others include Round One and HireRabbit) have signed on dozens of corporate clients and are testing applications with companies across the globe.
One trend likely to continue in 2013 is using social media to inspire people to get involved in community life. Ning is a platform that allows people and organizations to create custom social networks. It was designed to let users weave social conversations into content and inspire action. Though it’s not new (Ning was founded in 2004), its use is on the rise, particularly for nonprofit organizations looking to spread the word about their respective causes. Ning integrates with other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to help maximize its reach and audience.
For example, Keep Britain Tidy, an environmental charity and the anti-litter campaign for England, recently launched a Ning forum where people can turn conversation and debates into action, help change people’s habits nationally and organize local litter pickups. In addition, the government employee networking site GovLoop runs off Ning and provides chat functionality, blog posting and forums.
For governments or agencies that have a large workforce, Ning could be a way to update internal forums and increase collaboration among employees. It also can be used to encourage engagement among government stakeholders. While serving as Virginia’s secretary of technology, Aneesh Chopra used Ning to create a social network to connect health-care providers in the state and provide a way for them to share best practices.