crystal ball 2

In the past few months there have been some pretty breathtaking financial windfalls for social media properties.

  • Instagram, with 11 employees and no revenue, gets purchased for $1 billion by Facebook.
  • After the IPO, every Twitter employee has the equivalent of $1.6 million in stock.
  • The 23- and 25-year-old founders of Snapchat rejected a $3 billion buy-out offer from Facebook because they expect to get something better.

I guess you could say it’s profitable to make the right bet on the social media scene. Little wonder everybody wants to know what the next big thing will be!

Even the smartest and most-tuned-in people really don’t know what’s next. Who saw Pinterest coming? Nobody. But I think there are some trends we can turn to that might help us predict where the social media world is percolating …

It will be small

I think one significant trend is “small.” Six second videos on Vine. Infographics replacing dense blog posts. Pinterest as nuggets of visual candy.

The reason is simple. People have so many options to consume content that companies are “chunkifying” it into easy to consume pieces to get it through the limited pipeline to our brains.  Look for platforms to emphasize short-form content.

It will be dazzling

Following this theme that it takes something special to get through the information overload, there is also a niche on the other end of the spectrum — make it dazzling. Look at the recent Chipotle restaurant juggernaut where they are spending millions on lush animated videos and Coldplay songs to sell their burritos. Their latest effort garnered 4 million views in a week. A Dazzle Channel would work.

There will be an element of intelligent curation

I love those dazzling videos but I’m too busy to take the time to find them. And I’m tired of the same types of content being suggested to me by my limited number of friends. I want content to come to me, not just tailored to my tastes, but to challenge me and push me beyond the comfort zones set by search algorithms. I don’t want to see content that gets the most votes. I want the curation to know me better than I know myself.

It will efficiently and quietly gather personal data

The economics of social media are simple. It is driven by two things, and two things alone — collect more personal information that can be transformed into targeted advertising opportunities, and create provocations that will tempt people to spend more time on your site so they can see those ads.

To the extent that a new application can accomplish one or both of those goals, it would be a rich take-over target for one of the heavies.

It must dominate a niche

I am often asked what will overtake Facebook. We don’t need another Facebook … or Twitter or LinkedIn. The ones we have work just fine. Every hot new property has created a unique and independent niche instead of trying to topple the big players. The strategy on the social web is to find that niche, scale, dominate … and then figure out how to make money.

It will be video-oriented

While video consumption is huge, the amount of true innovation has been stagnant (for reasons well-articulated recently by WIll Overstreet). This area is so ripe for change and growth that I predict there will be some real breakthroughs in the next 24 months.

It will be wearable

Of course Google Glass and the next wave of wearable technology will change everything. What will content and apps even look like when the Internet surrounds us like the air that we breathe and the entire world is a display screen?

Like I said, nobody has a crystal ball. But watch out for a unique company that allows you to produce, share and curate small, dazzling videos through Google Glass. It could happen!

Help me out on this. What trends are coming together that excite you? What business opportunities are out there?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
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