2011: What's the Big Picture in Digital Media?

Now that 2011 is in full swing, a whole slew of predictions, projections and forecasts have come in about what the next year will bring to the digital realm. Digital media experts, social media gurus and industry thought leaders have collectively generated a laundry list of trends including almost every major development in digital media during the past few years – from 2D codes (such as QR [quick response] codes) to “mood check-ins” to cloud computing and so forth. The following represents my attempt to bring clarity to the discussion by zeroing in on what I believe will be the five major broadly defined trends driving digital and social media marketing this year. 
Digital Goes Local
Mobile finally broke in 2010 with Nielsen and others showing U.S. smartphone penetration at just over 25% by the end of the year. Already in 2010, we saw a veritable explosion in apps for smartphones powered by Android, iPhone OS or RIM software, including social-local apps like Foursquare. This year, we’re going to see more marketers capitalizing on the growing audience of consumers (Nielsen estimates that smartphone penetration will top 50% this year), which can be targeted anytime, anywhere with marketing communications and price promotions. Keep your eyes peeled for strategies that deploy QR codes that can be used to target marketing messages and price promotions at brick and mortar locations, as well as direct marketing strategies that make the most of increasingly more consumers making purchases directly from their mobile devices. This trend will also find additional impetus from the growing adoption of tablet PCs, which will emerge as a second mobile screen this year.

POEM (Paid + Owned + Earned Media) Mashup
Marketers are already realizing that digital inherently blurs the lines between paid, earned and owned tactics and, moreover, that robust digital strategies must capitalize on the synergistic effects of combining all three to achieve optimal success. Paid placements may be great for building brands in professionally generated digital media (“traditional” websites), but their role as a standalone strategy in consumer generated media (social media) is limited since consumers on social media sites tend to view huge paid placements as disruptive of their desired experience. Owned activations can be the hottest executions online, but without paid and earned placements to drive traffic, they could easily be left out in the cold. Earned media placements might be the most credible but, as we all know, it’s increasingly challenging to break through the clutter and achieve the reach clients are increasingly requiring with earned placements alone. This year we will see savvy marketers launching integrated programs that combine all three strategies. In other words, the best digital strategists in 2011 will be the “POEts” (“paid and earned and owned”). 

Measurement Gets Jacked
Earned digital media has reached a critical mass audience, and marketers are now ready to exploit it. However, they have also been raising the bar when it comes to accountability and measurement, and digital and social media measurement is no exception. Simply reporting on impressions and other output metrics will not cut it this year for the many marketers who increasingly want to see quantified results against marketing and even business objectives. Even agencies like Ketchum, with time-tested and rigorous methods, will be asked for proof that our activations are bringing clients closer to their business goals. Moreover, agencies will increasingly be required to prove the soundness of their measurement methodologies in this space amid challenges from marketers.

At Long Last – the Virtual Living Room
How long have we heard the marketing pundits prognosticating about the imminence of digital convergence? Well, this year it will finally become a reality, but not exactly the way previously anticipated. The digital living room as it is at last emerging will be a virtual one consisting of many viewers in many living rooms in separate geographic locations. This phenomenon of “social viewing” — whereby people in remote locations watch the same live video content and share feedback in real time — is being powered by the widespread adoption of networked devices for TVs (e.g., Blu-Ray players, gaming consoles, etc.). The launch of newer TVs with their own built-in networking capabilities will only expedite this trend. Social viewing on the Web, of course, is not new. Justin.tv has been providing a platform for people to watch live sports events and share commentary since 2007. However, as Justin.tv has been skyrocketing in popularity, many of the live video streaming sections of more mainstream sites now enable social viewing. Meanwhile, Blu-Ray manufacturers have already begun integrating these capabilities into some of their discs. All of these developments will provide will drive the expansion of the virtual living room – a space for cross-media consumption plus real-time, play-by-play commentary and feedback – throughout the year.

B-to-B Gets Social
B-to-B companies have long shied away from social media due to the latter’s “consumer” veneer. However, major B-to-B companies (such as Dell’s Large Enterprise unit) have been slowly realizing the benefits of social media for developing new products and solutions (i.e., “crowdsourcing”), managing customer relationships and providing real-time customer support. In fact, an audience member at the Web 2.0 Summit last fall asked Mark Zuckerberg if he had any views on the B-to-B applications for Facebook. This indicates that B-to-B companies are looking for direction on how to deploy social media to grow their businesses – even if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t understand the question (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Czw-dtTP6oU#t=59m28s).

Below I’ve compiled a monster list of all the existing pontifications about what the next year will bring us in digital media.