Monday, June 21, 2021

What We Can Learn by Looking at Past Predictions

We were cleaning up our office last year, sorting through paper files if you can believe it, when we saw a document entitled "Social Media Predictions 2009" -- a simpler age, or so it seems from a near-post-pandemic period.

So we thought it would be fun to see what some of those predictions were, from the perspective of being able to determine if that future ever arrived.

  • They were talking about Web 2.0 back then. The prediction was that social media would bring about a "culture of rapid response." That certainly seems like that occurred. Social media spreads news -- accurate or not -- much more rapidly, often scooping traditional news sources. We do now expect quick response when we post a complaint about a service or product. That was from David Armano, then with Logic + Emotion.
  • One prediction said that in 2009, marketers would move from assigning "responsibility for social media strategy to the most logical person in the communication team" to allowing the most passionate individual from any division to lead social media efforts." Even now, that sounds like a smart move. But the reality is that social media marketing is often handed off to the youngest team member, based on the hope that they understand this social media thing better than Boomer bosses.
  • That same prediction also said marketers would go from reaching "out to the biggest bloggers you could find" in 2008 to targeting "the most relevant bloggers for your campaign, (offering) them something of value and build relationships." Again, interesting idea. But we've seen clients who want to reach the biggest bloggers and podcasters (something that wasn't a thing back then) and shy away from those who are passionate but don't have broad reach. Influence can't always be measured by reach, and podcasters often don't have (or prefer not to share) metrics, the way traditional media does. We think it makes sense to target relevant bloggers and podcasters even if they don't have huge numbers but it's important to justify the executive's time or else walk away from the opportunity.
  • Another prediction was that "2009 will also be the year we rediscover the appeal of 'live intimacy,'" live conversations with online consumers and also that we will "see more companies doling out good old fashioned hand-written notes and letters" based on the premise that "intimacy touches emotion." We think that was a swing and a miss. Not that hand-written notes and letters might not break through the clutter -- we think they would. But it takes time, special talent and more time, to be able to hand-write notes to customers.
  • One pundit said "TV will be a big focus, because viewership in aggregate is actually going up." Perhaps it did. But more than a decade later, TV viewership even of once-major events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl, are in decline.
  • Chris Brogan had two interesting predictions. He said there would be a rise in Velvet Rope Social Networks -- sites that "aren't 'come one, come all.'" We don't think that's entirely true but Clubhouse certainly fits that. He also said there would be "Lots of Consolidation and Shuttering." He was right about that, too. For a client interested in reaching regional business-oriented podcasters as well as national innovation-based podcasts, we found that many ideal podcasters stopped production as recently as 2020 but there were tons of reasonable podcasts that ceased production in the three years prior. 
  • One prediction was that while clients "are eager to explore the benefits of social media engagement, (many) are absolutely terrified of the potential downsides...The tipping point has not only not been reached could still tilt away from social media if negatives outweigh positive examples." We think it would be interesting to return to a world before social media mattered, where companies could walk away from social media. But that's not the world we live in. So most companies, even complex B2Bs, do need to find a way to engage via social media.
  • Ann Handley of MarkteingProfs said that companies will increasingly craft content. That's certainly true. With traditional media shrinking (as it has for much of the past decade), companies must generate their own content.
  • Scott Monty, then at Ford, had a couple of accurate predictions, including: "Twitter will continue to achieve legitimacy." It certainly has. He also said, "Online video will come into its own." That also became true and I don't think it was so obvious back in 2008.  
  • Other predictions:
    • Google would buy Twitter.
    • "Blogger outreach from PR pros will get better, but not much." We think this one from Jason Falls, is accurate.
    • Better metrics. That may have come true but we still need better, more accurate and faster metrics.
    • eCommerce will go social by allowing "consumers to use the critiques from people they don't know." 
    • "People will rally to support companies they love when hard times hits." We think this prediction from Andy Sernovitz came true.
    • "We finally settle the debate over whether PR or Marketing 'owns' social media." Sorry, we did not. Although we've seen PR functions integrated into Marketing, which means Marketing probably does 'own' social media after all.
    • One pundit said that "After much election season talk about Obama's social media presidency,'" many will "realize that his win had less to do with his innovative use of social media than we'd thought." Well, that may have been true. But we did see how Trump's use of social media was vital to his visibility and reach.  
The conclusions included: "We understand the technologies but need to employ them with a human empathy" and that measurement and relevance are key to success. That still seems to be the case. We guess this is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.