Facebook just hit 1 billion users. Brace yourself for the backlash.
This article is part of Inc.'s special report on How (and Where) to Make Money in 2013 (and Beyond). Follow the links at the end of the story for more game-changing trends, bold predictions, and hot markets to watch next year.
Remember everything you've learned about the power of Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media sites to promote your business? It remains true, with one caveat: In 2013, expect to see a backlash to the sheer massiveness of these sites--as well as the emergence of smaller-scale, niche networks. "In 2013, we'll see more users start to expect, if not demand, some tangible benefits in exchange for all the time they spend online and the personal information they're sharing," says Trendwatching.com's David Mattin. Adds Howard Tullman, CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, partner at Chicago High Tech Investors, and columnist for Inc.com: "Consumers are starting to understand the value of their information and asking to be compensated, whether with badges, rewards, preferred pricing, or discounts and perks." Tullman's prediction for 2013: "We'll increasingly see new kinds of virtual currencies and services--like Ticketmaster's Facebook app that lets you see where your friends are sitting at an event."
At the same time, the sheer massiveness of Facebook is creating opportunities for smaller-scale, niche networks. People aren't likely to flee Facebook outright, Tullman says, but they will increasingly augment their online social experience by using other networks whose size, privacy, and more customized parameters are better suited to specific tasks and goals.
Some good examples are Path, a free personal-social-network service that limits users to a 150-person circle; App.net, a subscription service that lets users create their own social networks; and NextDoor, a private social network that helps users connect with others in the same geographic area. MindMixer is a sort of virtual town hall that enables communities to define and discuss ideas. Yammer, meanwhile, helps businesses create internal networks.
The emergence of more and varied social networks will present a challenge to businesses accustomed to Facebook and Twitter. For one thing, many people use such networks specifically to avoid the increasingly commercial aspects of Facebook; in that case, you would be smart to start by limiting your presence to participation and listening, rather than selling. Eventually, however, smaller networks could become effective ways to reach specific geographic areas or professional groups, or build communities around a brand. The goal here, says Tullman, is less to attract new customers than to build deeper, longer-lasting, and more lucrative relationships with the ones you have. When you have that, word of mouth will naturally bring in the new business.