December 22, 2009, 12:00 AM

Retailers will get more serious about social media in 2010, report says

In 2010, marketers will begin to treat social media as a mature channel, setting budgets and establishing formal listening and measurement plans, says a new report.

Online retail marketers this year have been testing social media tactics, ranging from Facebook and Twitter pages to blogs and communities. In 2010, marketers will move out of the test phase and treat social media as a mature channel, setting budgets and establishing formal listening and measurement plans, says a new Forrester Research Inc. report.

This will push the value of social media and its insights deep into company departments beyond marketing, leading retailers to set up organizations to fully embrace social media and to become more transparent and interactive with consumers, according to “Top Social Computing Predictions For 2010: Social Computing Gains Credibility And Accountability.” As social media matures, both marketers and vendors will feel pressure to not only prove profitability but also to ensure consumer privacy, the report says.

Following are six social media predictions Forrester Research makes for 2010:

  • Retailers’ social media teams will attain formal budgets and power. In 2009, a host of companies created “social councils,” typically cross-functional teams tasked with sharing ideas and exploring social media opportunities. However, many of these councils remain informal and without mandate, reliant upon the budgets and abilities of their members. In 2010, these councils will emerge as central groups made up of social media strategists who are empowered to allocate resources and prioritize initiatives across departments-giving them a chance to roll out actionable strategies that include cohesive social media policies, the report predicts.

  • Retailers will distribute more widely within their companies the insights gained by listening to what consumers are saying in social channels. While many companies engaged in efforts to listen to consumers on social networks in 2008 and 2009, few shared the insights they gained outside of their own interactive marketing or customer intelligence groups, the report says. In 2010, no good interactive marketer will make a move on social media without having a listening plan in place, it contends. Additionally, advanced companies will begin to push what they’ve learned through those listening efforts out to brand and product managers, as well as integrate those efforts into customer service, public relations and other areas of the company.

  • Marketers will focus less on fuzzy social media metrics and more on real marketing metrics. Marketers don’t think they’re very good at measuring social media: On average, they rate their own efforts to measure social initiatives at 4.5 out of 10, the report finds. With top management more likely to demand accountability, marketers can’t keep pretending that fans and followers are useful success metrics-in 2010, marketers will finally start to focus on metrics that match their objectives, metrics that chief marketing officers already know and trust, Forrester says. For most, this means using brand surveys and sentiment analysis to measure how their social programs have changed users’ awareness and opinions-and tracking leads, conversions and revenue to gauge how they’ve changed users’ purchase behaviors, the report says.

  • Twitter will become profitable or get acquired. Twitter must find a revenue stream by selling ads on searches, permitting targeted ad tweets, licensing premium content access to search engines or selling data analytics-if a combination of these puts the company on a path to $100 million-plus in annual revenue, it will take its place as another Internet powerhouse, the report says. But if these revenue streams do not emerge in 2010-and Forrester suspects they won’t-Twitter will not remain independent. The report suggests Google, Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook will acquire it, enabling the acquirer to offer a valuable new element to the experience of its existing users, the report predicts.

  • Facebook will get more hands-on to protect users’-and its own-interests. Privacy remains one of Facebook’s few major challenges-expect the site to protect its own interests by helping users to protect their privacy, offering new tools that furnish even greater and more intuitive ways to limit the visibility of their photos, updates and data to different sets of followers, the report predicts. But multiple privacy management tools on Facebook could create new challenges for marketers; for example, consumers with multiple pages-some private-will be harder to target, it says.

  • Incompatible mobile devices and siloed social applications will shatter the social experience. Already, consumers are dividing their attention among Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social applications, each of which requires its own identity. Yet, the dream of a common identity won’t be solved in 2010-in fact, users’ identities will grow more distant as mobile social networking becomes more common, the report predicts. Rather, consumers who connect most through social channels will focus on Internet-centric mobile devices because such devices are always near at hand and incorporate location and photo abilities. But with incompatible iPhones, BlackBerrys, Androids, Palms and Windows Mobile-based devices running social apps, the social experience will further splinter, the report says.

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