(FORBES) – In the nine short years since Mark Zuckerberg launched the facebook.com, social media has evolved from dorm room toy to boardroom tool. Last year, 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies were active on Twitter, while more than 80 percent of executives believed social media engagement led to increased sales.
So what does 2013 hold for social media in the workplace? It looks like many of the big (and sometimes overhyped) promises that have surrounded social media – better insight into customer behavior, improved office productivity with internal networks and, of course, signficant, measurable ROI – will finally begin to bear fruit. Here’s a look at five ways social media will impact the way we work and the bottom line in 2013.
- Social media goes company-wide
Thus far, social media has largely been limited to marketing and community building functions at companies. But a recent report from McKinsey showed that a majority of the estimated $1.3 trillion in untapped value from social technologies lies in “improved communications and collaboration within and across enterprises.” In other words, social media is poised to become an office productivity tool, much the same way that email did in the late 1990s.
Already, HR departments are using social media to connect with job seekers and streamline the application process. Sales teams use social media to generate leads and track clients as they move through the sales funnel. Operations and distribution teams forecast supply chains, while research and development squads brainstorm product ideas. In 2013, the idea that social media is a soft, networking tool will slowly give way to its acceptance as a serious business tool.
- Email use declines as better communication channels open
The basic idea of email has remained essentially unchanged since the first networked message was sent in 1971. And while email is great for one-on-one, formal correspondence, there are far better tools for collaboration. In fact, instant messaging and wikis have already become office fixtures, allowing for real-time communication and centralized information sharing.
But increasingly powerful communication tools are also available, which borrow features from popular networks like Facebook and bring them into the office. In 2013, expect to see internal business networks like Yammer and Chatter make serious inroads into enterprise settings, enabling employees to form virtual work groups and exchange ideas on centralized message boards. Among the greatest virtues of these tools is their ability to unlock the “dark matter” normally trapped in email inboxes, making relevant content accessible and searchable for the entire company.
- Social media command centers become mainstream
Social media has given companies access to unprecedented amounts of information on client behavior and preferences – so-called Big Data. But making sense of it all and turning it into actionable policy has been elusive. Larger organizations – including Gatorade, Dell and the Super Bowl, as well as the Red Cross – have led the way here, pioneering dedicated command centers for real-time monitoring and analysis. Social media mission control rooms are staffed by multiple employees, the centers outfitted with banks of screens tracking everything from tweets and Likes to customer sentiment, using a range of analytical software.
In 2013, expect to see this same technology streamlined and made accessible for a broad range of businesses and organizations eager to make sense of their social data. New tools can now compress entire “command centers” onto single monitors and even smartphone screens. At a glance, directors and department heads can see real-time analysis of social metrics and use this to inform business decisions. These tools are already being used by Nestle to track customer sentiment, GE to speed up repairs to the electrical grid, the auto industry to predict recalls, Wall Street to forecast stock prices and T-Mobile to prevent customer defections.
- Social media compliance becomes a priority
In June of this year, Morgan Stanley – and its 18,000 advisors – entered the Twittersphere. This decision wasn’t made lightly. The same strict SEC rules that govern the firm’s communications with the public and stakeholders on traditional channels, from magazine ads to print brochures, extend to social media. Every last tweet and Facebook post, in other words, represents a potential lawsuit.
And it’s not just financial services that face scrutiny. Any sector that sees its communications regulated, from food and healthcare to pharmaceuticals and government, must ensure that its social media is compliant. Many industries, for instance, require that all social messaging – each and every work-related update – be archived for at least three years. While all of this isn’t terribly exciting, it does represent a significant regulatory hurdle for companies increasingly reliant on social media.
Fortunately, technology has kept pace. In 2013, expect to see companies turn to business-grade social media management systems that feature built-in archiving (Social media management systems are software for managing multiple social profiles across different networks). Many of these tools also come with access to online training programs and webinars designed to bring employees up to speed on industry-specific compliance issues.
- International and niche social networks present new challenges
While savvy companies may have unlocked the secrets of doing business on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, a host of new networks has suddenly entered the picture. This year, Instagram saw its share of social media traffic grow by 17,319 percent, while Pinterest grew by 5,124 percent. 2013 will likely see the ascent of brand new players. According to analystJames Murray of Experian, “Offering deeper functionality combined with a lower technical barrier to entry will mean new leaders in social media being created in a matter of days versus weeks and months.”
At the same time, international social networking is entering a phase of dramatic growth. In 2013, new users are expected to grow by 21.1 percent in Asia-Pacific (including China, India and Indonesia), 23.3 percent in the Middle East and Africa and 12.6 percent in Latin America. Last year alone, China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo nearly doubled its base to 400 million users(easily surpassing Twitter’s 170 million active users). What does this all mean? Brands and companies leveraging social media in 2013 will have to monitor and engage in an expanding ecosystem of social networks. Expect social media management systems to become as common as email clients as companies work to streamline and automate this process.
Last year, Harvard Business Review surveyed 2,100 companies and found that 79 percent use or plan to use social media. But a mere 12 percent of those firms felt they were using social media effectively. 2013 should see this frustrating gap between social media hype and reality begin to close as new social technologies take root, companies institutionalize social practices and improved analytical tools show the real ROI on social investments.
This was first published Here on Forbes.com
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