2012 was another exciting year for social media, including the “Social Media Olympics,” the rise of Pinterest, Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, and the growing role of social media in political ferment around the world. There were also plenty of not-so-spectacular moments, like Facebook’s busted IPO, LinkedIn’s security breach, and Instagram’s terms of service fiasco. And of course it ain’t over: looking ahead, 2013 is certain to be just as interesting, in both the positive and negative senses, for this fast-growing, fast-changing industry.
I’m not sure why human beings love to issue predictions, considering that it’s basically begging to be proven wrong; I guess if the predictions come true, we think it makes us look smart (rather than just lucky, considering many issues basically boil down to a 50-50 chance). But New Year’s is prediction time, so here are some of my predictions for social media in the coming year, and an invitation to share your own in the comments section.
1. Facebook’s stock price continues to recover. As noted, Facebook’s much-anticipated IPO on May 18, 2012, quickly degenerated into an inglorious rout, with the stock tumbling from the debut price of $38 to below $20 by September. Since then, however, shares have rallied to $26.37 at the time of writing -- and I think there is reason to hope for a continuing (moderate) recovery. The reason is Facebook Exchange, the company’s new ad-targeting solution, which incorporates behavioral data and real-time bidding for display ads, and which has produced strong preliminary results, according to a number of marketers I spoke to recently. Of course, Facebook Exchange is less useful for reaching mobile users, who will increasingly dominate the Facebook audience -- but on this front Facebook’s mobile newsfeed ads are also garnering positive reviews. According to a recent forecast eMarketer, Facebook is on course to take in $339 million in mobile ad revenues this year, jumping to $851 million in 2013 and $1.2 billion by 2014 -- not bad for a company with no mobile ad strategy at the time of its IPO. On this note, with my Crystal Ball of Guessing I predict that Facebook’s stock price continues to recover in 2013, although it won’t return to its IPO level until 2014 or beyond.
2. No Twitter IPO. Before Facebook’s IPO, lots of people assumed Twitter would be next out of the gate, with an IPO sometime in the latter half of 2012; after Facebook’s IPO, not so much. Twitter’s cold feet will continue through 2013, says my Crystal Ball of Guessing, as the company continues to take a conservative approach focused on building sustainable ad revenues. There are two crucial, and hopefully compatible, requirements here: demonstrating ROI for advertisers while managing to avoid pissing off users with excessively disruptive formats or placements. So far, Twitter’s promoted tweets seem to be striking the right balance, delivering a modest number of targeted, attractive offers rather than carpet bombing users’ Twitter feeds. And this is producing some real revenue -- $350 million in 2012, per one estimate. That’s great, but it’s not enough to take Twitter public in 2013. I predict that will come in 2014-2015, when revenues approach $1 billion.
3. Groupon CEO forced out. While it might injure their pride, there’s no shame in the founder of a company getting kicked upstairs or over into the position of “chief innovator” or something similar. Sometimes the person who came up with the idea and fostered a company in its youth isn’t necessarily the best person to lead long-term growth, which presents a whole different set of challenges. Jack Dorsey gave up the top spot at Twitter, and Sergey Brin let Larry Page take the corporate reins at Google so he could focus his genius on sci-fi genius stuff. Thus the Crystal Ball of Guessing shows me Groupon’s board of directors forcing founder Andrew Mason out of the CEO position. Actually it’s a wonder they haven’t done it already. The company’s costs are still out of control (despite laying off 650 people in the middle of this year) and merchants are increasingly disillusioned with the onerous revenue-sharing terms. Everyone and their mother now has a social commerce offering (seriously, ask your mom). Groupon’s revenues from daily deals fell 16% in the third quarter compared to the same period last year, to $424 million. No surprise, then, that the stock price has sunk from $20 at the IPO in November 2011 to $4.89 at the time of writing -- a performance that can only be characterized as craptastic. Rumors were circulating they were going to force Mason out in November, so it’s just a matter of time. Maybe they can create a position of Chief Naked Yoga Officer?
4. Pinterest stays homosocial. That means its user base will remain mostly female, despite the company’s efforts to get more male users on board. Personally, I don’t see what is so great about getting more male users: if Pinterest’s original environment was more attractive to women, I consider that an asset to be exploited, not a liability to be jettisoned. There are plenty of media entities focused on serving one gender or the other, where indeed gender is a central part of the brand identity -- why not a social network? There are a raft of male-focused Pinterest knock-offs (whose success remains to be seen). Anyway, whatever your opinion, the fact is that Pinterest’s user base hasn’t shifted much over the last year: it was 70%-80% female in March 2012, and roughly the same proportion as the year draws to a close, according to Nielsen. The Crystal Ball of Guessing doesn’t smell more testosterone in its future.
5. 2013 is the Year of the Woman on social media. Speaking of women on social media, the Crystal Ball of Guessing says to get ready for a tumultuous 2013. Like the Arab Spring, this has less to do with social media, per se, and more to do with what’s going on in the world at large -- with social media serving as an invaluable facilitator. The last couple months have already seen the rumblings of what could turn into a wave of feminist agitation across the developing world. With growing economic power, increased literacy, and improved access to news and opinion via the Internet, women in the developing world are less willing to tolerate oppression and discrimination -- as demonstrated by huge protests by women in Pakistan and India denouncing violence against women in both countries. The Crystal Ball of Guessing predicts that growing social media adoption and political awareness among women will converge to trigger another wave of social revolution, this time focused on gender equality, in 2013 and beyond.