Predicting the next big trend, in Social Media

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, what’s next? People were predicting for a while that Foursquare, or Gowalla would be the next big Social Media play. Heck, for a while, I started to think that perhaps location based services, or even predictive services, like Plancast, would be ‘the next big thing’. But as time progresses, and new tools and platforms continue to emerge, like Quora, I think there’s very little evidence of any new ‘game changer’ on the horizon at the moment.

Location based services have their own intimate challenges balancing privacy, with public broadcast of your location. Whilst they have a bunch of potential, there’s just not been that ‘compelling’ use case that arose through Twitter. The community element hasn’t been as captivating for people outside those circles, and whilst innately useful, they haven’t yet morphed into the essential services that Facebook, or Twitter have become for so many of us.

Having recently heard Michael Wu, from Lithium Technologies talking at #Digital Surrey in May, and also starting to do more research around the science and concepts of Gamification, I’m forming the opinion that ‘gaming’ social media is going to be the next big trend. Now when I mean gaming, I’m not talking about those people that ‘game’ the growth of social media communities, for the sake of artifically inflating the size of a given community, or driving large volumes of unqualified traffic. No, when I talk about gaming, I’m referring to the process of acknowledging, rewarding, and encouraging participation within a given community, or context, to encourge greater engagement.

There’s science, and research, to suggest that through non-monetary based rewards, acknowledgements, and conferring of virtual honour, and status, it’s possible to encourage, and generate repeated behaviour, by members of a community. Naturally, it’s not going to apply to everyone all of the time. But if the success of CyWorld, Moshi Monsters, Farmville, and Habbo Hotel are anything to go by, clearly there’s a huge untapped potential, through gamification, that leads to repeated engagement, community building, and the furthering/progressing of the evolution of online community that we haven’t yet begun to see.

Whether the next big thing manages to isolate out the mechanics of gamification, or has them deeply entrenched within it’s platform/play, I don’t know. But my gut instinct tells me that as the amount of Social Media tools/platforms/channels grow and increase in number, we’re going to need reasons to keep coming back or participating. And we’re going to need more reasons than just, ‘because our friends are there’.

Tech entrepreneurs may be busy building platforms, and tools, and services, but they need to identify what the intrinsic value might be for users, and reward them with positive feedback. On top of that, users will need to feel as if they’re a part of a community beyond just having a problem/pain that’s been solved by the platform. Maybe then we’ll have the makings of the next big thing, but not before.

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