2014 Predictions for Social Media

Prognosticating is always a risky endeavor. It's even more precarious in social media. Any prediction about the future must rely on the available evidence, which is usually historical data. In an area such as social media-in which the dynamics are constantly changing and the players come and go like the changing tides-historical data is often only useful for short-term forecasting. As such, this column is an attempt to tread the fine line between obvious platitude and wild prophesy. The following are my top three predictions for social media in 2014.

Boom year for Hispanic marketing-Two developments will make this year a fantastic one for marketing to Hispanic people. First, the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform is bound to create new opportunities for new citizens, providing access to better-paying jobs, as well as the expanded ability to launch small businesses. These developments would help lead to a net increase in buying power among the U.S. Hispanic population. The second is the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. As noted in a previous column, 55% of Hispanic sports fans in the U.S. are interested in soccer versus only 20% of non-Hispanic sports fans. Add to that the fact the tournament will be taking place in Latin America and at least two of the top contenders in the tournament are Latin American teams, and the result is the perfect recipe for massive Hispanic-American engagement.

To meet this demand, companies will likely expand the portion of their marketing budgets devoted to reaching U.S. Hispanics. Social networking platforms will also likely augment the tools they offer marketers for targeting U.S. Hispanics, especially given the community's propensity for engaging via these platforms. Facebook already began this process at the end of 2013, launching a new ad product aimed at targeting Hispanic audiences and opening a new office in Miami dedicated to serving marketers who specialize in Hispanic consumers.

The year of sponsored content-Last year, advertisers began partnering with media companies and social networks to sponsor content such as posts and tweets. These initiatives will continue to expand this year as media companies seek to monetize the social media audiences that they've spent time and resources cultivating. At the same time, advertisers will increasingly seek to leverage these opportunities for more salient, branded engagement with potential customers. Meanwhile, social media platforms will continue to welcome the additional content as long as it is, indeed, contextually relevant and engaging for users.

Facebook expands its foray into the social TV arena-Thus far, Twitter has dominated the social TV ecosystem for three reasons. The first is that almost all Twitter content is public. The second reason is that Twitter content is generated in real time. Finally, because of the first two factors, Twitter has been faster to market social TV specific ad products such as Twitter Amplify and TV retargeting through its Bluefin Labs division. However, Twitter continues to face some key challenges. Despite its successful publicity efforts, Twitter's scale remains limited. As of September 2013, according to comScore, there were only about 38.3 million U.S. internet users on the platform, and Twitter continues to be disproportionately dominated by an elite segment of its userbase (about 10% of users account for 90% of tweets).

Meanwhile, Facebook, with its 139.9 million U.S. internet users as of September 2013 and more evenly distributed dynamics of content creation, is poised to capitalize on Twitter's weaknesses. Last June, Facebook introduced hashtags to enable users to engage more easily in real-time conversations about TV shows. Later, the company launched its Keyword Insights API which provides public access to anonymous data related to specific keywords, such as the names of TV shows. At the end of the year, the company implemented changes in its news feed algorithm that provide added impressions and reach for high-quality content from professional news media organizations. This year, it is likely that the major TV companies will be increasing investments in Facebook and experimenting with the new tools, disrupting Twitter's command of the social TV landscape.

Forecasting is no easy task, especially in the rapidly changing social media environment. There are numerous contingencies that can shift paradigms and create major disruptions in the market. The only certainty is that whatever happens in the next year in social media, it will definitely be interesting.