The year 2011 may be the first for which people remember learning about world-changing events in a tweet. News of the earthquake off the Japanese coast, and links to video of the ensuing tsunami, spread within hours over social networks – as did ways to aid disaster-relief efforts. People up and down the East Coast interrupted their workdays to ask Facebook friends whether they, too, had felt the Virginia-based earthquake that shook their office. And the Occupy Wall Street movement used social media as its bullhorn, inspiring activists across America to organize local protests.
Still less than a decade old, social technologies have rewritten the rules of media, marketing, and customer interaction. Expect companies to replace static blogs with active social streams in 2012. Using social media on the job – often a no-no on company time – will instead become routine for many workers. With consumers expecting everything to have a social presence, social-savvy employees will represent the public face of their company or its products: chatting with fans, offering followers exclusive deals, or fielding complaints.
The next step is to blend the social media experience with immersion technologies like those now offered through online gaming. With workgroups increasingly scattered across different continents, people will scan internal company social networks for project updates or use avatars to represent themselves in meetings.
Outside of work, users’ trust in social media as their first source for news and opinion will continue to rise. The battle for votes in the 2012 presidential election is already raging on social networks. The campaign will be broadcast on social media from the front lines and magnified through users’ comments and retweets through Election Day.
Whether for business or to share breaking news, social networks will be our instant-gratification information source for round-the-clock updates. Just don’t let your boss catch you ... yet.