We always go to SXSW looking for hot new trends or trying to find out what everyone is talking about. In conversations this year with both the badged and the badgeless, I’m noticing a trend that gives me a bit of hope even among all the excess. What are people talking about? Two things:
1) Measurement tools and the importance of demonstrating some sort of ROI (however that is defined)
2) The continued — and necessary — integration of social strategy with business strategy
This bodes well for businesses, for serious practitioners and for social media’s maturation as a business practice. If the talk holds true, the days of social as a standalone program, where “engaging” for engagement’s sake and a million Facebook fans is considered success, are coming to an end — increasingly replaced by pragmatic expectations, measured progress against those goals, and utilizing robust and increasingly accurate or incisive tools to demonstrate it. The tools are getting better, as is the desire to use them wisely.
A side effect of this development, however, would be the tragic extinction of the unicorn.
When businesses look at social less as an experiment and more as a business platform deserving of an integrated strategy, and when robust tools exist for the measurement of progress against that strategy, there will be a lot less emphasis on the fluffier aspects of social business. “The conversation” will be de-emphasized in favor of purposeful conversations. Visibility for its own sake will be less important than whether that visibility is actually occurring with the right audiences. Having a set number of fans becomes less important than whether a brand is driving its fans, whatever their number, to take a desired action or engage in desired behavior. “Engagement” won’t be an end in and of itself, but rather a means to an end. And the voices within the social mediasphere advocating a utopia full of unicorns and rainbows in which brands just talk to people and get value in just being in the room? They’ll be a little less influential.
I suppose one might argue that this represents a little bit of lost innocence, or a departure of sorts from where brands in social have been during the first five years of social as a business practice. But it’s reflective of a maturation process that speaks well of how far we’ve come and where we’re going next. And I’m thrilled to hear these ideas as a recurring refrain during hallway and lounge conversations.