What’s the first thing young women do when they wake up?Check Facebook. How do enterprise employees pass the time at work? With social media. With so many studies highlightingever-accelerating social media usage rates, the conclusion is obvious — social media is everywhere.
What follows are five of the hottest social media trends right now. Each are influencing our social, online and mobile behaviors in significant ways.
Entertainment checkin services are changing the way we watch television. Mobile loyalty applications are helping us connect the dots between our real-world shopping behaviors and digital rewards. A new breed of Q&A services are changing the way we search. Barcode scanning applications are making products social, and deal-of-the-day sites are giving us ways to save by recruiting our friends to the party.
1. Social Scanning
Smartphone owners have the world at their fingertips. As grandiose as that may sound, advances in mobile barcode scanning technology have given rise to applications that allow for comparison shopping, QR code place checkins and ultimately a social experience around product barcodes.
What this means is that at any given moment, any smartphone owner can pull out their device, fire up a barcode scanning application, scan a code and complete activities or gain access to a wealth of immediately relevant information. Really, what we’re seeing is the convergence of social media and barcode scanning to create “social scanning.”
The consumer’s scanning behavior is so significant that location-sharing checkin services such as SCVNGRare giving away QR code decals to retailers free of charge. Even Google is sending their own QR code decals out to small businesses with popular Place Pages. What makes the scan so significant? It is a tangible connection between the physical and digital world. For Google, SCVNGR, and the businesses they serve, it’s about access to measurable offline behavior.
These scans aren’t inherently social in nature, but because they can double as verifiable place checkins, they can also possess the social properties of a checkin: location-sharing with friends on the same service or via social network distribution.
Stickybits lets users add video, text, photos and audio to the barcodes they scan in the physical world viaiPhone and Andriod apps. It’s a clever way to use barcodes to help people tag, share and connect around items. It has also recently become more brand-friendly. “Official bits” are barcodes that brands can claim in order to highlight their own content. New social features allow for user response in the form of threaded conversations, and voting to ensure that the best content attached to the code rises to the top.
Bakodo’s iPhone app began as a barcode scanner primarily for comparison shopping, but it’s evolving to add social scanning functions as well. App users can scan barcodes of all varieties to review items and check out recommendations from friends. The barcode intelligence search engine combines a wealth of product-related data and socializes the process for a comprehensive product-driven experience.
As scanning becomes a more socially acceptable practice, the barcode scan will only become more social in nature. Expect future QR code marketing efforts to tap into the social opportunities, and for brands to explore ways to engage with consumers at the scan touch point.
2. Q&A and Intelligent Information Discovery
Web-based Q&A services have been around for years. Now the previously sleepy space is seeing renewed interest from some of the Internet’s biggest names. This second iteration of Q&A services will likely forever redefine the way we find information, because it re-imagines “search” as intelligent information discovery.
The most buzzy of the bunch right now is Quora, an intuitive and relatively straightforward Q&A site whose co-founder, Adam D’Angelo, is most known for his past role as Facebook’s CTO. Quora was founded in June 2009, released into private beta in January 2010, and immediately became a hit Q&A site with the technorati crowd. In fact, web celebrities have been known to use the site to answer questions about themselves.
There are few Q&A services that have received the same type of attention as Quora, but the just-launchedFacebook Questions project — which mirrors Quora in purpose and function — was released before Quora ever achieved mainstream recognition. Now the two products are essentially going head-to-head, competing for the same audience.
Facebook has the clear edge when it comes to its built-in user base, but we’ve repeatedly seen bigger companies fail at side projects — just look at Google Wave — simply because smaller startups can innovate faster and have the benefit of progressively scaling over time. Quora’s opportunity lies in Facebook’s somewhat bungled launch of Questions, and its smart exposure through search results.
Another notable Q&A site that contributes to the intelligent information discovery trend is Google’s Aardvark
Aardvark approaches the space with a model that helps users surface answers through friends of friends. It’s an algorithmic social system that should help Google improve its search algorithms. In fact, Google should be able to use the technology to provide socially-relevant answers in search queries.
Google does have a reputation for letting purchased startups wilt after their pre-acquisition bloom, but given how closely aligned Aardvark is with Google’s core search product, that likely won’t be the case here.
There’s also the freshly enhanced Ask.com, which is seeking to join the “people plus search results” party with its new beta Q&A offering.
Most of the key players in the space believe in the power of intelligent information discovery and define it as the intersection of people and their social circles, with scientific methodologies for surfacing the best possible answers in the shortest amount of time.
Apple-owned artificial intelligence app Siri, however, eliminates the social and instead focuses on the science of finding the right answer.
Right now the overlap between services such as Aardvark and Siri is minimal, primarily because Siri focuses on solving immediate problems of convenience — finding food, calling a taxi or making a reservation — and not on long-term, more conceptual problems. Still, Siri is unquestionably a mobile search engine keen on intelligent information discovery, which means the technologies could become more competitive in the months ahead.
Another startup to watch for in this space is Swingly. The private beta service describes itself as a “Web-scale answer engine designed to find exact answers to factual questions.” Humans are largely eliminated in Swingly’s machine-driven Q&A formula, so it too challenges the notion that social integration enhances the Q&A experience.
3. Group Buying
Group buying is the deal-a-day group coupon trend made popular by Chicago-based startup Groupon. It’s also a slight variation on flash sale sites such as Woot, an Amazon property, which originated in the early 2000s.
Groupon is the brain-child of CEO Andrew Mason, who came up with the group buying idea after founding the earlier group-focused site The Point in 2007. The Point is a campaign platform designed to support group action around causes. In 2008, nearly a year after launch, the platform was repurposed to bring Groupon’s deal-of-the-day vision to life in Chicago.
Today, Groupon deals are available in cities across the world, thanks in part to the acquisition of international clone Citydeal. The company has also managed to come by a $1 billion valuation, partner with Twitter to power @EarlyBird deals, find alternative distribution via newspapers, and start personalizing deals for subscribers in select cities. Just yesterday, Groupon introduced its first nationwide deal — a 50% discount at the Gap — to much fanfare, attracting roughly 10 Groupon purchases every 10 seconds.
Over the years, Groupon’s successful model has been copied with ease. LivingSocial, 8coupons and a host of other clones have found their own way on the web. Recently, Yelp, Zagat and OpenTable have veered away from their core product strategy to bring group buying to their respective site audiences.
The clones and copycats keep on coming, but what’s also interesting is that a host of group buying enterprise-targeted software-as-a-service products are also cropping up. Each hopes to attract brand clients interested in offering their own Groupon-style deals. Wildfire has a Facebook-friendly do-it-yourself Group Deals product, Megachip Technologies just launched their own daily deal coupon software, and daily-deal site Adility launched a Groupon-like platform for small business earlier this summer.
All signs indicate that the group buying trend will only increase in popularity over time. Local businesses are finding that they can successfully attract new and repeat business by introducing customers to their services with a deeply-discounted group coupon. In fact, Groupon asserts that 97% of merchants featured on the site want to be featured again, which further demonstrates just how much demand they are dealing with.
In the future, look for more brands to create their own Groupon-style deals and for Groupon and its larger competitors to snatch up smaller clones in order to expand and enhance their offerings. Also watch for checkin and location-based services to intersect with group buying to create services similar to GroupTabs. The notion of having patrons check-in in masses to unlock deals is extremely business-friendly.
4. Mobile Meets Loyalty
As consumers purchase more and more smartphones and phone technology heads in the direction of the “super,” it’s only a matter of time before old-fashioned loyalty, rewards and club card programs head in the mobile direction. Two applications — Key Ring and CardStar give us a preview of what’s to come.
Both applications are designed to eliminate plastic loyalty card buildup with a single digital repository. The apps leverage barcode scanning technology so users can save gym cards, grocery store cards, drug store cards and the like, right to their phone.
This trend is just beginning to take shape as smartphones become more commonplace, scanners become more sophisticated and retailers become digitally savvy. In the future, we can expect integration with merchant loyalty programs, as well as integration with checkin services like Foursquare. The latter also demonstrates the inevitable convergence of social media with traditional loyalty programs, which we’re already seeing from Tasti-d-Lite’s innovative approach to automatic, POS-integrated social media rewards system.
Shopkick’s retailer-friendly automatic checkin service is currently being tested by Best Buy, Macy’s, Sports Authority and Simon Property Group. This early interest in Shopkick points to retailer interest in verifiable, checkin-driven rewards. There’s also private beta mobile app Pushpins, which seeks to leverage QR codes to further enmesh the in-store shopping experience with digital retailer rewards, the likes of which resemble the sophistication of SCVNGR’s recently released rewards program.
5. Checking-In to Entertainment
What are you watching on television right now? Whether it’s the latest episode of Mad Men or the next installment of a reality dating show, chances are that you’re sharing the entertainment experience either through face-to-face interaction with friends and family, or by posting outrageous and shocking moments to your favorite social media channels.
Consuming most entertainment media is an inherently social experience. A crop of services have popped up in recent months to refine that social experience through entertainment checkins — the act of checking into the television show or movie that you’re watching right now.
We’ve already explored why entertainment will drive the next checkin craze, and three of the emerging startups — Philo, Miso, and GetGlue — propelling this trend toward mainstream audiences.
There are a few other services in the same mix that are certainly worth watching. CBS recently released their entertainment checkin service, TV.com Relay. It’s a browser-based mobile app for most smartphones that allows users to checkin to live television shows and follows the same TV guide-style format that Philo employs.
The CBS offering is nice to look at, and offers content-driven badges like the other guys. It also excels in the real-time comment department. In talking with the Senior Vice President and General Manager of CBS Interactive’s Entertainment and Lifestyle Division, Anthony Soohoo, it became clear that the vision behind TV.com Relay extends far beyond entertainment checkins. Soohoo also iterated that the application, which is just a few weeks old, already has 100,000 users thanks to TV.com’s built-in audience.
Tunerfish is another mobile and web television checkin service. It’s backed by Comcast and boasts partnerships with networks including HBO, Showtime and NBC. App users answer the question, “What are you watching?” by typing in the name of a show or movie and clicking the “I’m watching” button. The service also provides behavioral incentives in the form of awards, and has been actively working to bring network-sponsored,show-themed awards into the mix.
The re-purposed entertainment version of the checkin is a smart way to link entertainment consumers with content they love, enhance the social experiences around television, and potentially inspire new audiences to tune into trending or friend-approved television shows. The enormous amount of competition in such a brand new space means that things are just starting to get interesting.
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