By Marcus Leach

It has been another busy year in the world of business, complete with the ups and downs we have come to expect, but nevertheless a year that ends with seeds of positivity hoping to flourish in the new year.

And so, as another action-packed year comes to an end, we take a look ahead to 2013. In this new series, 2013 Trends: What can we expect, Fresh Business Thinking examines different industry sectors, and what can be expected from each.

Here, Fiona Harkin, Stylus’ Senior Vice President for Content, gives an overview of what 2013 has in store for social media, and how brands are tapping into this ever-changing medium.

The main evolution for social media in 2013 is mobile, Harkin said. Successful companies will no longer have a 'social media strategy' or a 'mobile strategy', which will be about as useful as a 'desktop strategy'.

Instead, they will have a content strategy that spreads across multiple platforms with sophistication and continuity. This is because the internet will be everywhere; there are now more mobile phones in the world than people, as of this year. Thanks to this proliferation of mobile devices, the internet will literally be in everyone's pocket. With the spread of 4G, only recently launching in the UK, social media habits will be accelerated through mobile devices.

In 2013, one of the greatest challenges for brands will be working out how to communicate with consumers through social media without “getting in their way”. Consumers are becoming more sceptical about social brand engagement, so branded content strategies that truly wrap around consumer needs and interests are essential.

For brands, social media will become the starting point, driven by consumer recommendations, exchanges and sharing. Not only will brands have the license to become content publishers but, in turn, consumers will also become integral to monetising these content exchanges.

Just as consumers have become publishers, they can now become retailers through ‘C2C marketing’, enabled by new tools such as Kiosked, a content activation and distribution platform. It’s all about consumer curation. Users are making sense of brands in their own way; brands should encourage this and open communication to allow for a flow of inspiring ideas and collaborations.

Last month, US-based feminine care brand Kotex tapped Pinterest’s 10.4 million user base for its Inspiration Day campaign, which entailed sending personalised gifts to Pinterest users based on their posts. The initiative fed this curative element and was integrated across other social platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The splintering of social media into niche social sites, counteracting the blanket noise of Facebook and Twitter, will continue in 2013. This is about creating meaningful conversations and cutting through the twittering masses. For brands, this is about charting the 'interest graph' and tapping into community groups with niche interests rather than using the Facebook model.

In 2013, social media will also become more visual. We've already seen the meteoric uptake of Instagram and other camera apps that allow social image sharing. This visual sharing (led by sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr) will continue to influence consumers and businesses — and will allow users to be ever more creative. A great example of this is US retailer Zappos Pinterest-based web service. Even Coca-Cola has launched its own image—sharing app, while companies such as Warner Bros are turning social imagery into entertainment with photo-sharing services such as OutMyWindow.

This focus on visual sharing, together with faster data speeds, will inevitably lead to more video sharing; this is evident through a variety of new video sharing site launches, such as the easy-to-use and very simple Lightt, as well as Qwiki and Vimeo's app. Matt Elek, MD EMEA at Vice, said in London that 90% of traffic online next year will be video. "This is a big shift and it will happen quickly,” he told the audience at Hill & Knowlton’s Demystifying Digital conference.

Entertainment will also become more interactive and social, from music to TV and film. Social media users want to be entertained; 88% of people consider social media an entertainment platform, according to a recent poll by LA-based entertainment industry publication The Hollywood Reporter. More than 50% of Facebook’s usage is entertainment-based. An excellent example of entertainment and social media working together is through GetGlue. The New York-based company produces a social media app that rewards users for “checking in” to live TV events by offering entry into sweepstakes.

Another example is US TV channel NBC’s The Voice Live app, which allows viewers to create “fantasy” teams for the TV singing competition, earning points as their chosen competitors advance. Shazam has also evolved its business to essentially be an aural QR code for any type of programming, now including advertising and television. The Shazam for TV initiative allows viewers to unlock special messages and additional content from both advertisements and television shows.

Running as an undercurrent to all of the above is a growing awareness of privacy on social media with, for example, Facebook users becoming ever more savvy and cautious about the ways in which their 'data' is being used. As a result, there is an increase in sharing apps that cater for consumers’ privacy concerns; a great example is the aforementioned Warner Bros app, Out My Window, which allows for private sharing.

Pinterest has also recently launched private boards, and there are even apps that encourage disconnection from social media. However, this move towards 'disconnection' is not ‘anti-technology’. There is a growing sentiment that technology can actually help us disconnect and reconnect with the 'real'. Arianna Huffington, editor of The Huffington Post, said at Cannes Lions in June this year that those brands that allow space for the user to disconnect in some way will have the wind behind their backs over the coming year: "A year from now, I believe strongly that brands which embrace these mega-trends of Reconnect, Recharge, Resonate are going to be winners because they are going to tap the zeitgeist, connecting but also disconnecting so that we are more compassionate, creative people."

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