2011 was an interesting time in the evolution of social media. It was the year that many people got used to the real-time statusphere. It was the year that location-based social software really started to socially map out the “real world” and encourage face-to-face connections.
Next generation social collaboration tools like Quora continued to make a splash, despite not being taken up by the mainstream. There was a ton of positive hype and emotion about social media. Some of it was justified.
A lot of it was overblown.
2012 is the year that many of the people who jumped into the social media honeymoon in 2009/2010 are going to get seriously overwhelmed and burned out. Some people who thought social media meant the end of real work and normal business concepts will be painfully disillusioned.
And it will be a very successful year for people who know how to filter and focus on specific parts of social media, and for those who offer tools and training for using social media more efficiently and effectively.
Syphons and Filters
Most people realize there’s way too much information for one human brain to process – but most of us aren’t yet very comfortable with filtering and aggregating social media streams. Yahoo Pipes is intimidating for even advanced users. Twitter lists and groups were still a little advanced for beginners.
Expect to see many more social media clients (external software apps) and interfaces with advanced filtering features, and countless new Web applications designed to make your social media life more manageable. Many of them will fail, but some of them will be essential smash hits.
The increase in aggregation technology and skills is going to raise the standards of content quality and originality.
For example, in 2007 almost anyone could write a semi-coherent blog that would bring in links and comments. In 2012, only the very best and most compelling content will attract attention: the rest will increasingly be “filtered out” as a matter of course.
As more and more people begin to suffer from social media burnout or career-endangering levels of productivity loss, the more experienced and connected users will, rightly or wrongly, become less generous with their time and attention.
Separation and Understanding
There are many different sub-cultures in social media: parent bloggers, small business owners, venture capitalists, cool kids, social news junkies, Make Money Online guys, social activists, and corporate and agency types.
But people’s understanding of the different segments of social media users is relatively basic. Most published social media advice is “one-size-fits-all” – which isn’t as potent as it could be. Marketing to venture capitalists vs. government bureaucrats has some important “little differences.”
The deeper your understanding of social media’s user base – their quirks, passions and hangups – the more successful you’re going to be in 2012.
Specialization and Market Forces
Specialization means knowing exactly what you want and going after it. People who specialize in general “social media consulting” are going to struggle to find clients amidst competition from thousands of consultants and agencies who are jumping into the same general basket.
That flew better in 2008 / 2009 when social media wasn’t as mainstream – but expect clients to become increasingly savvy, experienced and specific about the types of expertise they need.
Those who drill down and focus on mastering a certain aspect of social media and marketing are generally going to perform better. They will get more international clients who tend to pay better, and they’ll also get more sleep at night because they aren’t spread too thin and trying to “keep up with everything.”
Do you want to focus on training? Speaking? Consulting? Research? PR? Publishing? Programming? Professional blogging? What specific part of the market do you want to serve? Is this area over-saturated with more established providers? Do the customers who need these types of services/products have money to afford them?
Specializing in social marketing for musicians, or online reputation management for politicians, or custom blog themes for the green industry is a lot better than just getting into “social media,” “SEO” or “web design.”
Specializing in one area will let you brand yourself in as a leader in smaller area, and you’ll waste less time researching and entertaining inquiries that are outside of your zone.
And remember, you can always sell your strengths and buy your weaknesses – so just because you’re focused in one area doesn’t mean your business can’t offer multiple client solutions.
How about you – where are you positioning yourself for 2012 and what are you leaving behind?
image: Coffee de Amour