To quote Master Yoda, ”Careful you must be when sensing the future.” & ”Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
So here it is again. My Top Predictions for the next 5 years. It turns out I’m pretty good at identifying the trends that will emerge over the next several years, but I’m not as good at predicting the specifics of the coming year. If you want proof, look at my 2011 scorecard. I say that not to discredit myself but to put these 5 year trends in context. If you want to know what you should be working on if you want to be early to the market, these are the things. If you want to know what specifically you should do this year, then this is not that post.
I’ve also run into a problem with my 5 year trends. The last two posts from 2010 and 2011 are still trends you need to watch but I know need to come up with 5 more trends. So really I’m saying, here are 15 trends that are relevant this year. That’s kind of hefty task. Now I know IBM does this with their 5 in 5 series, but I’m not IBM and I don’t have a team of PhD’s working on this, it’s just me.
For a review here are the last 10 predictions. I’ve copied the entire predictions and their explanations over because I think they’re all still important and I want to make sure they’re well understood. If you’ve been reading here for the last few years, these may be old news and you can jump to the 2012 trends.
2010, 5 Year Trends
1 – The Recovery Will Accelerate Social Media Investment
The recession is not over, but it will feel like it’s over for most of us. If you worked in social media through 2009 you may not have even noticed a recession. It was a great industry to be in this last year. Everyone I’ve talked to has been busy all year and only been getting busier in 2010. (Like insanely busy to the point that you don’t know how you could possibly do any more.)
The recession, however, will flatten out in most industries and begin to recover in several key industries. This will feel like a full recovery to most everyone. Everyone except those who still wont find jobs in 2010. A jobless recovery is not much of a recovery in my opinion.
But this partial recovery will dramatically accelerate social media investments. Those companies that spent a little will spend a lot and many who didn’t spend any will make at least small, if not dramatic, investments beginning in 2010. As the market truly recovers over the next 5 years the investments will grow dramatically. The disruption we’ve felt over the last 5 years will only be matched by the level of adoption we’ll see over the next 5.
2 – Marketing Communications Consolidation
We will begin to see big companies do away with separate marketing and PR groups. In some cases we will even see HR and customer support get rolled up. (You can read my previous post on the great marketing/communications roll up here.) PR and Marketing, especially as it relates to their go to go to market activities, are largely duplicating each others efforts. It doesn’t make sense to have two separate groups *internally*. You will still have separate PR and advertising agencies. There will continue to be real value in discipline expertise. But some agencies will start (continue) to consolidate (see point 3).
We will see a few big brands do this in 2010 and I predict it will become a best practice over the next 5 years. Look for the McKinsey type consulting groups to make this a practice area and Harvard Business Review to publish an article on the topic in 2010.
3 – Agency Acquisitions
My first two points will drive this point. We will see a lot more activity among social media talent and company acquisitions. I mean A LOT. Enough to make your head spin. Both with high-profile individuals and niche firms. We’ve already seen a fair amount of this in the tail end of 2009. As the recession levels out and we start thinking about a recovery we will see the big agencies make huge investments in order to make up for lost ground in 2009.
As mostly publicly traded companies the big agencies suffered through the recession. They cut staff as fast as they could without hurting their cash cows. But the big agencies will do what they’ve always done – follow the money. They did this during the early digital days and they’ll do it again.
Companies that hold Agency of Record (AOR) positions with big brands will aggressively move in this direction to support the previous prediction.
4 – Enterprise IT and Social Media become BFF
The last 5 years have seen incredible IT disruption. In 2009 internal IT departments have been driven by one mandate from the CIO: Cut costs at all costs. Their second market driven mandate: adopt social tools. Fortunately a few smart IT managers realized that you could do both. Resourceful IT managers found a way to cut cost in one area enough to drive small investments in social tools. In 2010 budgets will loosen a little but market demands will continue to crescendo. IT managers will need to be smarter and more resourceful.
In 2009 we’ll also see API’s continue to standardize and big IT companies like Microsoft and IBM leverage the work they’ve done standardizing open source technologies for enterprise use. This work will drive greater social media adoption in the enterprise. 2010 will see huge investments, internally and externally but the real gains won’t be seen or felt for 2-3 years when the mainstream enterprise companies adopt this technology, largely driven by offerings from the big IT companies.
5 – Intranets integrating with external social networking
This is closely related to point 4 but I felt deserved it’s own point. This one may not be realized in 2010 but driven by points 2 & 4, IT organizations will come to realize the cost savings in leveraging external social networking applications and Communications groups will realize the efficiencies driven in employee communications as well the power of data mining those networks.
In fact, in 2010, I believe we will see Business Intelligence (BI) and Middleware security companies begin offering products that securely facilitate Intranet integration with multiple social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. What I don’t know is if we’ll see an existing startup pivot in this direction or if we’ll see one of the big guys develop a specific practice in this area. There’s probably someone already in this space I may just not be familiar with.
2011, 5 Year Trends
1 – Byte Sized Work and Making a Living in the Crowd
As portable computing devices get smaller and more powerful and the cloud fills in the gaps and boosts capabilities more work will continue to shift to outside of the office. Office space will become increasingly irrelevant, especially as mobile video conferencing increases, and office hours will become more of a barrier as people have to collaborate with global teams.
Simultaneously, work will continue to be broken down into smaller and smaller portions and yet still require more and more specialty. With more people wanting more flexibility to balance, family, lifestyle, hobbies and work people will start to make respectable (and in some cases significant) income people will be able to take on micro-projects, probably manged through a central service (think design competition sites meets temp service agencies).
Yes people do this today as consultants and freelancers but the difference will be anonymity, cross discipline and self opt-in.
2 – Socially Gaming Your Life and Work FTW!
Gamification is a hot buzzword right now but we’ve only barely touched on its application. I encourage you to check out the Gamification Wiki, especially the part on Game Mechanics. So other than pointing out an existing trend what’s my point? We’re going to see gamification take place in very unlikely areas.
Why not build game mechanics into CRM applications? The biggest flaw in every CRM is getting people to enter data. There’s no good way to do this why not make a game out of it. Sounds trite but I guarantee you’ll see better results than you see now.
With the advent of social and mobile data there will not only be more an opportunity for gaming but also more of a need. Not everything is intrinsically motivating and sometimes a little rewards works well.
3 – Language Becomes Irrelevant on the Web
When you do a search on any service from Google to Bing (client) to Twitter search to whatever comes out next month how likely is it that the most relevant search isn’t in English? Yes, that’s the predominate language right now but that will eventually change.
All the major search engines have the capability to translate any search result. Even Twitter can translate status updates for you. Is it perfect? Far from it. But it’s getting better and better every day.
Within the next 5 years you will do searches and the results will come from multiple language sources but will be presented to you in your language of choice. It still won’t fix some of the problems with traditional search but it will be a huge differentiator.
4 – 3rd World Business Innovation for the 1st World
My entire professional career I’ve made it a point to watch the fringe. If you want to know what will be popular in fashion, music, movies, food, tech, watch the fringe. Hang out with skaters, hard-core music geeks, inner city teens etc. But there’s one fringe that the developed World has not been watching and that’s the developing World.
Most of what we’ve seen in countries like China have been knock offs of US/EU startups. That will change especially from areas like Africa, Brazil. China, India and the rest of Asia will always play a part but Africa and Brazil are extremely social cultures. They lack wide access to the Internet but they are already doing much of the social behavior we have but by only using SMS. I heard a great quote that I can’t attribute and I’m probably paraphrasing but it went something like: “SMS is the 3rd World’s Internet.”
What happens when they have reliable access to the Internet? We’re going to see some major innovation.
5 – Web to Mobile vs. Mobile to Web
Or more accurately, Web to Mobile Fragmentation vs Mobile to Web Supported. My final prediction is similar to my last one but specifically around one aspect of the coming innovations.
In the developed World we are moving from a Web centric World to a mobile centric World. And that mobile World is more fragmented and proprietary than we’ve ever seen. Windows (client), Palm, Apple, Android, just to name a few and the trend right now is towards proprietary and closed rather than free and open, like the Web was.
In the developing World they are moving from a Mobile only world to a Web enabled World (mobile will still be the primary connection device). In the developing World free and open still rule. Not just because of economical situations but because developing countries are more communal. They believe in community and sharing over profit and commerce. Not that there isn’t a place for capitalism it’s just that the value proposition of many of our current business models won’t translate globally.
I believe this will cause us to rethink everything about how we publish information and how we build services.
- How do you build a website that the users will only access via SMS? Navigation and traditional UI is pointless at that point.
- How do you publish content that will be accessed via Web, apps, “mobile” screens ranging from 1 inch to 11 inches, SMS and other simplified messaging formats?
- Then how do you make money on all of this?
This is where, again, US/EU businesses need to take a study of the models being deployed in the developing World. If our current industry leaders believe that we can use the same approach we’ve always used, they’ll lose out to leaner hungrier startups coming from countries they’re not expecting.
2012, 5 Year Trends
After that review of the last 2 years predictions, let’s jump right into this years predictions. What do the next 5 years have in store?
1 – The New Distributed Institution
Every established institution is cracking under the stress. From education, to governments, financial markets to large “too big to fail” companies, and it’s only going to get worse. I believe we’re on the cusp of large-scale change in the form of distributed, scale free networks. Large institutions have been necessary because the scale and critical mass they were able to achieve were necessary to provide the kind of order and stability they needed. This isn’t the case anymore. Thanks to the internet and now social media we can self organize and reach critical mass through a million different nodes. The power of scale-free networks has barely been tapped. All financial institutions are ripe for disruption at a global level.
I think that even the notion of things like ones nationality will come under attack. Just because I’m American or British, or Brazilian, does that mean I self identify with other people of my own nationality more than I do the people I associate with online?
2 – The Micro-Global Conglomerates
This is similar to the above point but different enough that I want to call it out separately. I’m actually starting to see this happen as I work with clients in Africa and the Middle East. These are “Small and Medium” businesses as defined by most Enterprise corporations and they are often family owned and almost always privately owned, but they are multinational with footprints usually across other developing countries, often in South America and Asia, occasionally in the Middle East.
What makes these companies so interesting and relevant is that they often operate under multiple business models, have huge multinational reach, are hugely profitable and very independent. To me these companies represent the way forward for niche social media startups. As we move towards 7 Billion people on this planet and many experts predicting that almost all of them will have smart phones in the next 5 years there is so much room in the market for millions of social networking services that not all will be able to be acquired or go public so the growth forward for these companies is to expand in multiple markets and/or develop complimentary businesses alongside their existing service, not just on top of.
3 – You will give up your privacy to enable Service as a Service.
Services like Task Rabbit, Coffee and Power and Zaarly, are amazing and are only going to become even more so. In fact they are the actualization of my first trend from last year about byte sized work and making a living from the cloud. But in order for these truly useful services to work we need to know enough about and trust the people performing them for us. This will only happen as we give up more of our privacy. Now I know that a lot of you are going to freak out on me about this and that’s okay. I understand your concern. But this will not be the first time that something that seemed like a privacy or security concern turned around 180 degrees. Last year I wrote about this topic.
Charlene Li likes to point out the fears raised when caller ID first rolled out. It was perceived by many as an invasion of their privacy. That has flipped 180 degrees now. Do you answer blocked or unknown callers? I don’t. It used to seem frivolous or even dangerous to give a teenager a cell phone. Now I freak out if my 12-year-old daughter doesn’t have her cell phone on her.
I don’t expect most of you to agree with me right now. Let’s chat again in a few years.
4 – Wearable Computing Get’s Real
This is one I’ve written about a lot but haven’t officially put it in my 5 year trends. We already see this realized in the fitness world with devices by Nike and Jawbone but I believe we’ll start to see real wearable computing in many other fields, the first one being wristwatches, but we’ll eventually see glasses and even sensors throughout our clothing for a myriad of yet to be imagined purposes.
5 – Personal Analytics and Benchmarking
Like the above example, we see a lot of personal analytics in personal fitness and years ago Mint.com made the first moves into personal analytics and benchmarking for finance but I think there is still huge untapped potential in all areas of finance, banking, and the one I want to see the most, insurance.
I predict that within the next few years you will be able to sign up for a service and release all of your personal information (remember my third prediction) and have that service tell me based on calculating my credit rating and my health risk and many other factors and then benchmarking those across their database of clients that are similar to me what should I be paying for insurance, what should my interest rate be, how much should I be spending a month on electricity, groceries, etc., etc.
I believe we’ll see a slew of service startup that will manage my data much like a bank now manages my finances. Your data – all your data – is an asset and we will need asset managers for it. Banks and other existing asset managers may try to get into this space because it’s hugely disruptive for them but I believe it’s the big tech companies, in the end, like Google, IBM and Microsoft that will play best in this space.
Here’s to the next 5 years.
So there you go. Those are my current 5 year trends and a look back at the previous 10 trends, 15 in total. I’d love to know what you think, either of my current 5 year trends or of the previous ones. Any you disagree with? Anything you think I’m correct about but maybe an aspect of it that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- 2011 Social Media Predictions Report Card (newcommbiz.com)
- PR/Social Media Predictions: Who Got it Right? (forbes.com)
- Learn To Make Stuff Or Make Stuff Happen (newcommbiz.com)
- I Called It: The Branded Android Gaming Device (newcommbiz.com)
- Sifting Through the Noise: Lessons Learned From Malcolm Gladwell and a Bucket of Lego’s (newcommbiz.com)