Social media has introduced a completely different way of interacting with both people and organizations. From a little-known channel just a few years back, social has grown to become an important tool in brands' marketing and service arsenal and investment in social channels have quickly become a necessity for those companies that want to succeed.

As Duke Chung, Parature's chairman and co-founder, notes, "social is here to stay, at least for some time." Brooks Crichlow, vice president of product marketing at [24]7, agrees. "The number of customer interactions on social channels will continue growing," he notes. "We're moving to a point where social is baked into the fabric of organizations." In fact, John Golden, president and CEO of Huthwaite, notes that social is becoming mainstream with more organizations recognizing that they need a social strategy for their firms to succeed.

But as social continues to mature, we should expect changes to take place in 2014. Here are six shifts that organizations should start preparing for:

 

 

 

1.  A picture-perfect medium

For starters, social users, especially younger ones, are requesting a more visual experience, notes Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Curalate. "The way customers communicate is becoming increasingly visual, using pictures and videos rather than words," he notes. This is especially true of younger generations who are the up and coming customers of tomorrow, putting pressure on organizations to change their practices and embrace the visual experience.

However, in order to do this well, brands will need to implement new tools to measure social interactions. Gupta says to date, these tools focused mostly on text mining. "What will happen when there's no text to read?" he asks. The brands that find a way to understand imagery and visual cues are most likely to be successful in leveraging social.

2.  You snooze, you lose

Social is mimicking live interactions and companies need to be quick to respond with a witty retort. Organizations need to use this concept to their advantage and respond to customers or events in real time. Oreo really led the way in this year's Superbowl when it leveraged the blackout to send a very apt Tweet: You can still dunk in the dark. The initiative underlines that companies cannot have 9 –to-5 teams, but need to be constantly monitoring social channels to respond to any customer comment or make the most of a situation, as Oreo did so well.


3.  Quality over quantity

Organizations have been using social as a megaphone to extend their messaging and bombarding followers with information. But social users are discerning and will quickly stop following a company that sends them irrelevant messages. Especially with the emergence of new social channels vying for customers' attention, weak messaging will be lost. Instead of racing to send as many messages as possible, organizations should instead take a step back and think what they want to tell the world. "The social web needs to be a hub for sharing quality content with engaged and interested users," notes Eileen Bernardo, marketing manager at ViralHeat. "Make sure to invest resources into developing quality content."

 

4.  Bring the social party to your property

Humans are intrinsically social and it's therefore no surprise that social media has been such a hit. While many organizations are leveraging social channels to interact with their customers and prospects, the more forward-thinking businesses are finding a way to bring the social conversation directly to their online properties by providing customers with a space to interact with their brands and their peers. MyRegistry.com, a universal gift registry, is taking this approach through a Pinterest-style page that is constantly updated with items that other users add to their registries. Nancy Lee, the company's president, explains that sometimes people creating a registry feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice they have. "Seeing what others have chosen can serve as inspiration," she notes.


5.  It's all about collaboration

Shopping in the brick-and-mortar space allows for customers to discuss potential purchases with their friends. But while online shopping is seeing enormous growth, it is still a somewhat one-person experience. Some e-tailers are changing this by transforming online shopping into a social collaboration that allows customers to ask their friends for advice about different products. "Social collaboration in the online retail environment is going to be one of the trends for 2014," believes Chris Rallo, one of the co-founders of BevyUp. Jewelry designer Amrita Singh is adopting this strategy by providing customers with a mechanism to ask their friends for advice about particular items directly on the retailer's website. This strategy has helped Amrita Singh increase conversion rate and revenue per visit by more than 200 percent while the average order value went up by 44 percent since August.


6.   A user-owned experience

Because of its ability to bring different people together, social media is a perfect medium for user-generated content. Instead of fighting this trend, organizations should embrace it and provide customers with the space to interact with each other. "It's about bolstering your conversation and applying it to the brand," notes Eric Moujaes, vice president of creative services at Phunware. Moujaes uses the example of Waze, the free mobile GPS navigation tool that is leveraging users' willingness to share information to provide maps that are updated with traffic data, including images of traffic accidents causing a backup. Further, users can chat with their peers, elevating the app to more than just a map service.

Finally, organizations are expected to continue addressing the issue of social care and attempting to find ways to deliver customer service over social channels, notes John Huehn, CEO at In The Chat. As 1to1 Media mentioned earlier this year, customers expect brands to use social media as an extension of their service delivery channels. "The customer support function of social media will become more proactive," Huehn believes.