In 2010, we saw Social Media come into its own, with large and well-known companies in Australia and Europe following the US lead by sitting up and taking notice of this new and demanding channel.

No longer is social media seen as a “nice to have”. it is now a permanent line item on all of the pitches I am seeing come across my desk.

Real budgets (and I’ve personally been involved with 6 figure social media opportunities in 2010) are now available as brands are realising they can no longer sit back and watch customers discuss their marketing campaigns.

As we look towards the new year, I thought it timely to look at some social media trends to watch for in 2011.

Monitoring tools

In 2010 it was all about social media monitoring tools, and recently ex-Forrester Analyst Jeremiah Owyang mentioned at a Word of Mouth Association Conference that the social media technology landscape is “crazy with 145 monitoring technologies, 125 community technologies, and 30 engagement tools”.

This makes it harder for companies to start listening if they have to spend time working out how they even begin to listen. We will see some significant consolidation in this space towards the end of 2011 as smaller companies merge, and the larger ones leveraging their scale and reach to become “must have” tools on the desktop.

This will hopefully make it easier to select which monitoring tool is the right one for a particular company or agency.

The lessons from 2010 in the social media space should be that no matter how many metrics and statistics you have from all these tools, they really mean nothing unless you can turn all of this into social intelligence.

By social intelligence I mean the ability to integrate everything happening online and offline into something that can actually make a real difference. As social media is about a conversation, brands must realise this and not simply use social networks as another pipe to push promotional messages at consumers.

This will definitely change into 2011 as the smarter brands work out the right balance between promotion and conversation, driving increased sales and customer satisfaction as a result.

Peer Advocacy

Another one to watch in 2011 will be the rise of the peer advocate, and the start of a gradual move away from big above the line advertising delivering most of the success for a product or brand, but instead a move towards sourcing and acting on recommendations from peers on social networking sites.

Peer advocacy is a huge opportunity for small businesses that don’t have huge marketing budgets, but instead can sensibly use their base of satisfied customers and advocates to drive product awareness and sales.

PR and social media

The integration of existing television programs with social media via #hashtagTV is something already happening more in the UK and used extensively in Australia. Sue Unerman from MediaCom covers this well on her blog.

The benefit of using twitter on live TV is that everyone can contribute (the only barrier being a twitter account) and while not all of the tweets will be shown on air, the ones that never make it can be seen by all those participating in the program – enhancing the feeling of community around a particular program.

Big network TV events such as Masterchef have gained an additional element with the discussion about the TV show becoming an instant water-cooler discussion which can then be extended the next morning at work.

Journalists and Twitter

The recent #twitdef situation in Australia where Julie Posetti live tweeted what Asa Wahlquist allegedly had to say about her former editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, editor of the Australian newspaper may be a pointer of more to come, and an indication that social media is challenging traditional journalism.

The 2010 trend I saw was that the savvy Journalists were harnessing the immediacy of twitter not only to break as well as source the news. In May I found out that David Cameron was to become UK Prime Minister via a tweet from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg @bbclaurak and not from live TV.

Smart Journalists are also keeping an electronic ear to the ground using twitter to source stories and people to comment on then.

Corporate meltdown

We will most likely see more corporate meltdowns into 2010 as we saw from companies such as Nestle. Thankfully the Greenpeace Facebook episode made the Nestle execs see the power of social media and embrace it earlier than they may have done otherwise.

As more and more companies “go social”, many of them do so without having a real reasoning behind why they are doing it.

Into 2011, more companies will feel the need to introduce corporate media policies, coupled with a well thought out and structured program to collect and respond to customer feedback via social networks.

Listening but not Hearing

What 2010 has told is that when it comes to social media it is not about just ticking the boxes

Facebook page – tick
Twitter feed – tick

Instead it needs a more dedicated approach.

A recent report commissioned by FedEx and carried out by Ketchum PR contains probably one of the most useful quotes I saw all year:

“If you’re not open to feedback, you’re not ready to play”.

This is so true. The reason frontline service organisations such as banks have been slow to embrace social media as a channel is because they know their support systems are broken and thousands of customers are already complaining – and they don’t know how to accept, and respond in a supportive way.

Companies who cannot fix their existing problems should not engage in social media until they have the process in place to deal with this avalanche of feedback.

In 2011, we need to go from just listening to what is being said about us on social media , but instead hearing what is being said and acting upon this.

What’s next for 2011

Social CRM will be one to watch in 2011, when corporates finally realise that the link between @darth_vader47 and Bill Smith, and that Bill is actually a high value customer too enraged to communicate via one of the company’s preferred channels, so instead he takes to twitter to complain – and in doing so tells all of his followers there is an issue.

Joining the dots with social CRM may be as simple as an extra field in a CRM system, but in 2011 those companies brave enough to ask for a customer’s social media profile (Twitter name, Facebook page etc), in return for some real benefit, along with information on how the information will be used are likely to be successful in social media.

The rise and rise of Facebook

The main story in 2010 was Facebook hitting 500M users, with an amazing 200M of those via mobile. Not to be outdone, Twitter membership is now as large as a top 10 country and has cemented a place in consumer and corporate life – but what innovations surprises and new networks will 2011 bring us?

Facebook will need to be careful that they balance the privacy, and data sharing concerns of consumers with those commercial needs of wanting to make money from Facebook users.

One of the most frustrating things about Facebook is that is currently it is very difficult to extract information on Facebook, even when a member’s privacy settings are set to public.

Where Facebook can help the industry and hence themselves is to make the public information more easily available to 3rd party tools – meaning that brands can clearly see issues and opportunities as they arise via Facebook.

At the moment this practice is quite manual and time consuming which discourages brands from investing heavily in this area.

Search gets social

One emerging trend of 2010 likely to continue into 2011 is that search and social will become more important. Just look at the way Google has adapted tweets into their search algorithm instead of trying to beat Twitter, they are pulling them into the mix of what they do best – search.

This has got to be good for social but also extends the advertising story with Google into social networking without them having to build or buy their own social network (yet).

What’s next for Twitter?

During 2010, Twitter started to monetise their site with “promoted tweets”, and this will continue into 2011. My view is that Twitter’s most attractive feature for brands is actually the analytics behind each tweet.

In late 2010, Twitter released their beta analytics product to allow a small number of brands to test this feature. I would expect that they will refine what is available into 2011 to provide some really powerful insights into what people are saying via twitter.  Clearly the more useful and relevant the information, the more they can charge for this service.

Twitter’s proposed move to London to establish a presence (if not their European Headquarters) signals the company is recognising that they have a significant opportunity in markets outside of the US, and need local bases in order to properly service these new markets.   This move will be one to watch in early 2011.

As more companies adopt social media as a valid and credible channel, and more insights are available via the numerous tools on offer, we might start to see social media’s coming of age in 2011 as a very powerful way to do business for companies of any size, anywhere in the world.