The adoption of new technologies will lead to changes in how people connect and relate to each other, and in the process, how companies market, promote, and sell to their customers and prospects, according to Forrester's top analysts, including Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, and Peter Kim, along with Josh Bernoff and Scott Wright.
"In the fast-changing world of social computing, there's only one constant--that people will continue to connect with each other in new and different ways, causing upheavals in the way companies and institutions relate to them," the report warns.
More than ever, corporate participation is expected to bring social applications to the mainstream this year. In the wake of early stumbles like Wal-Mart's "flog," companies are thinking more carefully about genuine social Web contributions, according to Forrester.
Emboldened by the success of pioneering efforts like Victoria's Secret's Facebook page and extensive private communities like Procter & Gamble's beinggirl.com, companies will move beyond one-off experiments in social media to establish full-fledged initiatives.
YouTube videos, social networking groups, and widgets will become a standard part of online marketing campaigns, further pushing adoption by mainstream consumers.
"Early-adopter purists will bug out to ad-free zones, but they'll be replaced by floods of ordinary consumers testing the waters because their friends, and companies they trust, have shown that social applications are not only safe, but also fun and useful," Forrester predicts.
By the end of 2008, marketers will be searching for concrete ways to measure return on their investments like the social networking "momentum effect" or a standardized engagement metric.
As a result, companies should formalize internal processes so that they can quickly and consistently integrate social media initiatives into online marketing campaigns, Forrester believes. This includes securing buy-in from internal departments like IT, legal, and corporate communications in advance so that these initiatives are not hampered by repeated internal reviews.
"The social technology world is evolving at a faster pace than any other technology market we've ever encountered," according to the report. "To best prepare for an unknown future driven by the customer groundswell, companies need the means to monitor and respond to changing customer needs, a clear idea of their objectives, and nimbleness and flexibility in their social initiatives."
"There's no excuse not to track the social conversations taking place about your products and services," according to the report. "Don't have budget? Then leverage free tracking and alert tools from Google, Icerocket, and Technorati to track at a minimum key mentions."