5 social network predictions for 2012
by Rafe Needleman
Facebook is the power hitter in social networking today, and is likely to drive the most activity and a fair share of the innovation in social networking in 2012. But it’s not the only company driving things forward.
Here’s are five ways social networking is likely to play out in the coming year.
1. Mobile social networking means good news for new social startups
In the U.S., the majority of consumers will soon have smartphones (Neilsen puts the figure at 44% today). Smartphones are about the most important thing to happen to social networking since Harvard sent its acceptance letter to Mark Zuckerberg.
Smartphones know where you are, who your friends are, who’s nearby, and soon thanks to NFC, they’ll know what you’re buying and where. They are the key element of the next, mobile phase is social networking.
Facebook is serious about mobile social networking, but it is not the leader in this space in terms of design or technology. Smaller companies, like Path and Milk (with its first app, Oink) are coming out with new takes on mobile interaction. Square could play in this economy as well. All these services will likely use Facebook’s network to put people or businesses or in touch with each other in new ways. More specialized mobile networks (really riders on top of Facebook) will appear next year.
2. Twitter makes big impact with brand marketers
While Twitter‘s new brand pages won’t eat into big advertising or marketing budgets in 2012, the new business-friendly features will make an impact. Twitter is a highly effective platform for spreading brand messages via consumer/fans, and it doesn’t take much to create an effective Twitter-based campaign.
While Facebook is still the most important and best social vehicle for marketing, Twitter will matter a lot in 2012 due to its simplicity and effectiveness.
You won’t see a Super Bowl ad in 2012 without a Twitter tag on it.
3. Social Networking will tell the tale for the 2012 presidential election
We have seen how social feedback and link-sharing can bomb a presidential campaign: the YouTube and Web reaction to Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad. And in 2008 the MoveOn group might have made the critical difference in the Obama campaign.
In 2012, the major political campaigns will be even more dependent on social networks, possibly to the extent that effective social campaigns will be more important than broad-stroke and increasingly expensive TV ads. Certainly, no candidate will be able to succeed without a strong following on each of the major social networks.
4. Google+ remains a critical success but a consumer flop
Google+ has a lot of good features, but it needs much more than that to take on Facebook and Twitter. Even Google’s tacit promotion of Google+ on its other services and toolbars won’t be enough to make it part of the daily diet of social networks for the hundreds of millions of users that Facebook has in its thrall.
Google+ also doesn’t have enough muscle to be a big player as a branding tool, compared to Facebook and Twitter.
Even inside Google, we hear, employees don’t use it very much.
So, the prediction? Google won’t kill Google+, not after its failures with Orkut, Buzz, and Wave. The company will continue to blend Google+ into its other offerings, in particular GMail, Picasa Web, and its search result pages. But few people in the real world, if any, will switch over from Facebook to Google+.
The smart thing for Google? Buy Pinterest. But this is a predictions story, not an advice column.
5. Facebook and Yelp: Social network IPOs do well
For all the bad-mouthing of the Zynga IPO, it’s not doing all that badly. As of this writing, it’s down 5% from its offering price, and the stock has only be trading since December 16.
In other words, the stock wasn’t priced crazy-high nor crazy-low, and if it doesn’t drop much further, its middling out-of-the-gate performance will be unlikely to cool the ardor for social network stock offerings in 2012. Facebook and Zynga are two sides of a coin in the social network business. The one’s success fortifies the other.
Interest in Facebook stock will be high as the company nears its IPO. The fire for this one will be stoked by the press, by politicians holding it up as an example of American technological and economic prowess, and of course by underwriters. From a financial perspective, it’s far too early to tell if the IPO itself will be aptly priced. But Facebook’s influence is growing, the company is making a lot of money, and a successful IPO will be good news for every social company out there. The forces are lining up to make sure this IPO is incredibly well-orchestrated, and successful in the right ways: that is, it pops when it goes public, but not too much.
Rafe reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business. Feeling lucky? Send pitches to email@example.com. And watch Rafe’s tech issues podcast, Reporters’ Roundtable, every Friday.
Google+ May Top 400 million Members by End-2012
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Google is adding 625,000 new users a day to the Google+ social-networking service, which may total 400 million members by the end of next year, according to independent analysis of its growth.
The site’s popularity has accelerated in recent weeks, with almost a quarter of its total user base joining in December alone, said Paul B. Allen, the founder of Ancestry.com, who tracks the numbers as Google+’s “unofficial statistician.”
Google, the world’s largest Internet-search company, aims to challenge the social-networking supremacy of Facebook, a site with more than 800 million members. Google+, which lets users organize their friends in circles, was introduced earlier this year as a test project and then opened up to the general public in September.
Google+ may be benefiting from the popularity of Google’s Android mobile operating system, which makes it easy to sign up. As the service gains traction, more people will invite family and friends to join, further accelerating its growth, Allen said in a Google+ posting. He works at FamilyLink.com, a company he helped start in 2006.
Katie Watson, a Google spokeswoman, declined to discuss the current user numbers. The company last gave an update during its October earnings conference call, when Google+ had more than 40 million users.
Google+ surpasses 62 million users
by Lance Whitney
Running queries on different surnames to gauge the number of total users, Allen and his team found a surge in daily signups over the past several weeks. Around 625,000 new users have been hopping aboard the social network each day, which means almost a quarter of all Google+ users joined in December alone.
Assuming that rate continues, Allen’s crystal ball sees Google+ hitting 100 million users on February 25, 200 million on August 3, and 293 million by the end of 2012. But can Google maintain and even increase that growth rate? Allen believes so.
“I expect the growth to continue to accelerate,” Allen said. “Google can continue to integrate Google+ into its other products and word of mouth will continue to build. Most importantly, 700,000 Android devices are activated daily and this will become a very significant source of new users for Google+. That number will also grow next year.”
Google has been busy the past few months integrating Google+ into more of its products, such as its core search engine. The company has also been fine-tuning its social network by adding more features and sanding over some of the rough spots. It also unveiled its Google+ Pages in early November in an attempt to reach out to the business world.
Still, Allen’s numbers alone don’t paint the full picture. His team records how many people Google+ is signing up. But they don’t factor in how frequently those people actually use their accounts. Data from ComScore and Experian Hitwise released this past summer showed a decline in the number of weekly visits.
More recent data from ComScore found Google+ with 65 million global visitors in November but with no clear indication how often those visitors return to the site.
And rather than just relying on word of mouth, Google realizes that it also now has to tap into the world of advertising, using such celebrities as the Muppets to promote its social network to the average user.
Lance Whitney wears a few different technology hats–journalist, Web developer, and software trainer. He’s a contributing editor for Microsoft TechNet Magazine and writes for other computer publications and Web sites. Lance is a member of the CNET Blog Network, and he is not an employee of CNET.