Looking back on our 2008 Predictions

By Jeremiah Owyang and Josh Bernoff and cross posted on Forrester’s Interactive Marketing Blog

At Forrester we tend to look forward, not back. In fact, right now we are preparing our predictions for what 2009 will bring in the social application space. But the end of the year is also a time to reflect. So we looked back at our 2008 predictions to see how we did. Overall, we had one big mistake (vendor relationship management went nowhere) and we were too optimistic on several other predictions. Optimism, it seems, comes along with this space. But we were pleased that the entrance of corporations into the social world seems to be coming along fine, despite the recent Motrin kerfuffle, to cite one example.

Hindsight is 20-20; it’s harder to remember what life felt like in December of 2007, before the recession loomed large, Barack Obama used social technologies to win the election, and social technology became mainstream. But cast mind back 12 months, and then see if you would have agreed with our predictions . . . and what can be learned from the mistakes we made. Here they are, along with the grades we give ourselves 12 months later. (Note: these predictions were in a Forrester document available to our clients (Update: Which included the help of Charlene Li and Peter Kim, who have since moved on to become alumni). We’ve reproduced the predictions, with some edits for length that don’t affect the content.

Our 2008 Prediction: Corporate participation will bring social applications to the mainstream. . . .Emboldened by the success of pioneering efforts like Victoria’s Secret’s Facebook page and extensive private communities like Procter & Gamble’s beinggirl.com, companies will move beyond one-off experiments in social media to establish full-fledged initiatives. Sponsored communities, YouTube videos, social networking groups, and widgets will become a standard part of online marketing campaigns, further pushing adoption by mainstream consumers. . . . By the end of 2008, marketers will be searching for concrete ways to measure return . . .

Result: Give us a B on this one. There were indeed many more social applications, as evidenced by the 150 excellent entrants to the Forrester Groundswell awards. And, there is definitely a renewed focus on metrics. But social is far from universal, and the state of measurement sadly lags social deployments.

Our 2008 Prediction: Community manager roles will gain prominence in companies. As companies realize how important social applications are to their marketing and business strategies, formal budgets and roles will become more standard at large marketers. The staff in charge of those applications might not all have the same title, but they will share similar duties and responsibilities, namely, to develop a social technology strategy and start to deploy social tools and programs.

Result: A-. Community managers aren’t universal. But there are an awful lot of them, and the ones we know have definitely risen in prominence within their companies, see this list compiled of community managers at enterprise class corporations.

Our 2008 Prediction: Corporate social responsibility will take on a new meaning. Corporate participation in Social Computing hasn’t had the greatest run, between fake blogs and flat marketer profiles on social networks that shout at, rather than talk with, site members. Moreover, consumers have become more vocal about preserving control over their information and experiences. . . .Just as Sarbanes-Oxley provides guidelines for internal controls, companies will find themselves answering as well to a growing community of external auditors.

Result: B-. Recent events like the Motrin fiasco show the groundswell is keeping people honest. But we still hear the occasional corporate executive asking us if they can fake it. (We always tell them that would be a very bad idea.) We still think this will come true, but may take another year or more.

Our 2008 Prediction: Customer needs will gain a voice and launch demand-platform prototypes. . . . Customers will state their intention to buy products or services via a Web-based marketplace. eBay’s “Want It Now” program will get a turbo boost when the company turns the existing bulletin board/announcement service into a bidding-based marketplace. College students on Facebook will organize buying clubs centered on an entire dormitory, allowing marketers to move bulk merchandise with a single purchase order. Meanwhile, search engines like Google will create prototype vendor relationship management (VRM) tools that will enable both customers and marketers to find, aggregate, and match user requests to providers.

Result: F. Proved to be far too optimistic; never happened.

Our 2008 Prediction: Micromedia adoption will increase, and marketers will learn to join in. Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, Utterz, and other micro-blogging and micro-media tools will give users the opportunity to share short sentences or audio clips with trusted friends. Better search and aggregation tools as well as the ability to have differentiated, group-based distribution will make these “micromedia” conversations more useful and relevant, extending their use beyond the early adopters. Marketers will learn how to use the new tools to monitor and target these ephemeral conversations and participate in relevant interactions on the fly.

Result: A-. Twitter dominated the micromedia market. Companies from Comcast to H&R Block to Zappos have learned to accomplish real business goals with it. We expect a whole lot of further growth in marketer use of Twitter in 2009.

Our 2008 Prediction: The social graph will open up. In 2008, we will see social network members clamoring for greater control over their social networking site profiles, specifically, the ability to express their personal social graphs across multiple sites, for example, on both Facebook and LinkedIn. What will break down the walls in these walled gardens? Perhaps a disrupter like Microsoft or Yahoo! will open up their respective relationship maps from Web-based address books and instant messenger buddy lists and allow outside developers to build apps on that truly open the social graph. This will set the standard, and every other social networking service will need to follow suit shortly thereafter, or risk the wrath of members unable to control their profiles.

Result: C. This trend is powerful, and will develop, perhaps even the way we predicted. But standards move slowly and we see fragments of technologies from Facebook’s Connect, Google’s Friend Connect, and OpenID. Look for this opening up to gather momentum in 2009 where a standardized protocol between all of these technologies to merge.

Our 2008 Prediction: Social search will make its debut. Social search will finally inch its way into the mainstream by re-ranking search results based on inputs from your personalized search history as well as the searching patterns of your social graph. For example, people with similar searching patterns and people like you within your social networks might have favored a particular site over other results in a search for “china.” If so, that link will move up higher in the results. Leading the path to social search will be small vendors like Collarity, Eurekster, Mahalo.com, Wink Technologies, and Wikia, which will begin with site-based social search results. But also look for Google and Yahoo! to start testing and inserting limited social and personalized search results, and eventually ads, as an optional advanced search at the top of search results pages.

Result: D. Social search didn’t catch on very well. But Google did add the ability to promote or demote search results to its mainstream searches but it lacked a true social element. We did start to see tools that help people quickly share information like ex-Googlers at Friendfeed but the tool doesn’t highlight search as a primary effort. Now that large web platforms like Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL are expanding their social features we should expect search to be impacted in the next year. Social search will get here, one way or another.

That covers all our predictions from last yea, it’s important that we review who made a prediction and to own up to how accurate it was, and more importantly; what changed and why? We’ll be publishing our predictions for 2009 in a report for clients, keep an eye out for that.

What are your best ideas for what’s going to happen in 2009? And what predictions already out there do you think are right or wrong?

16 Replies to “Looking back on our 2008 Predictions”

  1. They are not that bad of predictions. Predicting is always a hard thing and this year I definitely predict that twitter will not end up on top.

  2. Hey, I just applaud you for looking back at your predictions from a year ago and making an honest assessment on them. Usually, folks are too busy making up predictions for the next year to be bothered.

    Bryan | @BryanPerson

  3. Bryan, Exactly, what good are predictions if you can’t validate how well your previous ones were.

    Good stuff Shiv, thanks.

    We’re not being hard on ourselves, we’re being accountable. It’s important to me that I hold myself up to the same rigors as I do the market.

  4. This is great Jeremiah – I appreciate you looking back so that looking forward has more purpose and insight. I would love to learn whether you have additional lessons learned, unrelated to your predictions.

    I’ve attempted my great lessons learned (mistakes) of 2008 here http://www.socialceo.com. I would love your input.

  5. Jeremiah, nice to see a good honest assessment of predictions, including admissions of where you went off track. It’s very helpful to see. But I agree with one of the other commenters here: I wouldn’t be quite so hard on yourself.


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