Social media and interactive consumers will take the lead in transforming the multi-screen media landscape in 2010.
Consumers of all ages who have made it a national pastime to text, Tweet and share their lives on Facebook have become the most powerful force in digital media today. Collectively, they are the new mass media -- one interactive consumer at a time.
This power of numbers has catapulted Facebook and Twitter to leadership status, propelling everything from television and movies to advertising and e-commerce. Facebook (half of whose domestic users are over 35) is now the third-most-popular video site behind Hulu and Google's top-ranked YouTube, according to the latest VideoCensus numbers from Nielsen. The amount of time Web users spent viewing videos on social-networking sites increased nearly 100% from a year ago, outpacing growth in the number of online video streams as a whole.
Led by Facebook and MySpace, online video has become central to the Web experience -- particularly on mobile devices -- in ways that will have far-reaching implications for television and film. That users primarily rely on connected mobile devices makes the smaller screen as important as the mega high-def monstrosity. A Facebook friend's advice or a YouTube video have become as potent as this week's top-rated TV show or popular movie trailer. "The fusion of mobile and social and the appetite for apps (among both consumers and brands) will continue unabated," observes eMarketer analyst Noah Elkin.
Within three years, 43% of global mobile Internet users (some 608 million people) and 45% in the U.S. (or 56 million people) will be accessing their social networks from their mobile devices, according to eMarketer.
Consumers are changing their behavior and expectations as a result. Nearly one-third of holiday shoppers surveyed say their purchases are being influenced by social-media interaction, catapulting social networks to a new "marketing channel," according to comScore. Viral marketing and word-of-mouth could pay off this sanguine holiday spending season for brand advertisers that already have a social network strategy and presence.
With mobile commerce set to pass the $1 billion mark in 2010, retailers are seriously capitalizing on and measuring social media's impact on sales. As interactive consumers increasingly consider their social networks as ways to access the information, products and services they want, places like Facebook and even Twitter will become magnets for content producers and advertisers.
Google gets this. Google's new real-time search incorporates Facebook posts, Twitter Tweets and updates from other micro-blogs. It will heighten social media's power to influence how consumers inform, entertain, communicate, shop and buy. Although Google commands 65% of the search universe and is the engine for much media advertising, the rapid adoption of its Android operating system in mobile devices brings social network search and applications to a whole new level.
Netflix's new online movie delivery service will increasingly integrate social media elements, such as friend recommendations and reviews, to build a virtual community and profits. Television networks and live events have started to follow music producers and performers to the social media trough.
For instance, Facebook's partnership with ABC Television to stream the American Music Awards to its 350 million users (in direct competition with MySpace's new music strategy) is part of a broader move to use its platform to showcase talent and content. YouTube is launching a sports hub -- and advertising magnet -- featuring events, athlete interviews and other content from SportsAccord, which represents international sports federations.
Opening their networks to developers and new applications has allowed Facebook and Twitter to morph this year beyond all expectation.
In the search for ways to generate revenue, the services could soon create paid user mentions for products and services and pay walls to access certain account information and content, much like the profitable LinkedIn does for its professional client base.
There also is a sweet spot in matching consumers with information and friend assessments about the products, services and people that most interest them, creating a pathway through the clutter to premium-priced targeted nirvana.
Consider: one-third of Americans say they would be receptive to having their Web habits and searches monitored in exchange for more relevant advertising and information, according to a new Synovate survey. Where better to execute such a swap than a trusted social media network?
Little wonder that the value of these private social networks is appreciating in an improving stock market. Facebook is valued at about $8 billion, Twitter about $1.13 billion and LinkedIn about $1.25 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Facebook and LinkedIn are candidates to go public in 2010, and Twitter is often mentioned as a takeover target by Google.
In fact, Google's self-proclaimed acquisition spree, which recently included AdMob and could include Craigslist, appears to be fixed on social media-related advertising. The world's most powerful media company, which has relatively little social media connection beyond YouTube, also sees the connected consumer tidal wave coming.
It all comes down to one fundamental value: individual consumer relevance. It will become the mantra for anyone who wants to thrive in the digital media world and the driving force behind many media deals (from mega mergers and cherry-picking start-ups, to launching new business ventures, such as TV Everywhere and e-reading services) over the next 18 months.
Next week: More 2010 media predictions