Typically, I avoid prediction posts for the simple fact that the social marketing and social business space changes so dramatically almost every day. Human behavior is hard to predict and the way we leverage tools and communicate with each other is always evolving. However, after reading a few 2012 Social Media Prediction posts already, I can’t help but share my thoughts as they are a bit different from some of the other recognizable names in social.

So, without further ado, here are my 5 Social Media Predictions for 2012.

1) C-Suite as Content. Several prediction posts reference the C-Suite as Journalists or Content Creators. While it sounds excellent, it’s still wishful thinking. After spending the last year training and developing strategies with some of the top C-Suite Executives in the world, there is still major concern over the time commitment and fear of the “potential” missteps. Additionally, not all C-Suite executives should be freely participating in social media. A more suitable expectation for 2012 is that the C-Suite will become part of the content. As more organizations evolve into Social Businesses, executives will recognize that their participation, opinion and voice is one of the most valuable contributions to the digital discussion. While some may adopt style’s similar to Brian Dunn at Best Buy or Richard Branson at Virgin, most will empower an internal team to create a more rounded social strategy that leverages their time and thought leadership in a manageable way.

2) Gamification Overload. Several in the industry are hot on gamification and badges, but ill-conceived initiatives are flooding consumers with useless icons in an effort to increase public advocacy. Ford Motors, typically a leader in social media initiatives, pulled together a nice experience with a variety of badges in 2011 and even asked customers for advice on creating new badges. However, the badges have no value or purpose. As a Ford owner, I can’t think of one reason to “get a badge”… and I love my Taurus. Badges and gamification build off the desire to be an “insider” or the best at certain activities. They play off the competitive nature in all of us, but over time, having the most “badges,” being atop the leader-board or having the most Klout in Basket Weaving gets old. Take Foursquare for example – they’ve recently upped the badge ante, but the badges add no real value to the user. It’s more about being the mayor in an effort to get free or discounted items. Even then, most users will give up on trying to be mayor if they face competition from someone more committed to achieving that status. Gamification will still be a major player in 2012, but if the value proposition isn’t amplified or differentiated, expect an initial burst of activity and then a steady decline into badge fatigue.

3) A Return to Inside/Out Social Media. If 2011 was the year of “Social Business Theory,” than 2012 is the year of practical execution. Several large organizations have turned their focus to internal activities recognizing that old policies and programs were not nurtured effectively. As a result, employee social media activity was siloed and disjointed. Moving forward, an increased effort will be placed on training, enabling and coordinating employee social media activity. More business leaders are recognizing that every employee has a voice and is engaged in the conversation in their own way. Focus will turn to finding internal advocates and building programs that enhance their work rather than impede it. If social media is all about relationships and conversations, we must recognize that our employees are the other necessary party in that activity. Otherwise, customers are talking only to each other, or a small team of social media practitioners that will quickly become overloaded (if they are not already) and decrease the value they are able to offer.

4) External Collaboration Grows Up. Over the past 6 or 7 years expectations have remained, “if you build it, they will come.” By now, most should have realized that this is not the case. Passionate customers and advocates want to be a part of something. For many, it’s about being included, appreciated and heard. While we can give them a platform to share their thoughts, it’s simply not enough. Some of the best stories in social media success come from the movements created in 2011. The way that people come together around a common cause (Occupy, Middle East, etc.). It’s not easy to create a movement. Someone has to take the lead and be the voice to rally the others. While creating a movement around a brand or a product is certainly a more difficult challenge, it is possible if the right people are at the table. In 2012, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the advocate. It’s not simply a “pay for content” approach, it’s an absorption into the cause. This will be incredibly challenging for many marketers and agencies as it moves them further away from the campaign mindset and focuses more on the long term day-to-day engagement.

5) Social Media Gurus Get Exposed. This may be a bit of wishful thinking, but with the increasing credibility and long term potential of social media, it’s hard not to believe that companies are becoming more savvy at identifying the pretenders. In 2012, actions will speak louder than words. The talk has reached a deafening pitch, but many of those talking have little experience in actually deploying social programs or building social businesses. In 2011, it was impossible not to encounter a “Guru” around every corner. Many of whom were selling their brand of social media training or strategy with less than 1 year experience if any at all. While it may have made sense to take the risk in years past, 2012 will see a greater emphasis on proven results and long term execution. Large organizations will demand quality metrics and substantial knowledge about how social programs impact the business. The need for one partner that can handle strategy, execution and measurement will help eliminate the need for many of the talking heads. Proving your credentials will be necessary and that has nothing to do with Klout scores.

In conclusion, 2012 will be as exciting as 2011 and the years that preceded. More mistakes will be made and exceptional executions will appear in every industry blog. Twitter and Facebook will change again and a few LBS companies will be acquired. It’s the reason we do what we do. Whether my 2012 predictions for social media are right or not, it doesn’t matter. The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be back here in December 2012 with another post of predictions and feeling just as optimistic as I do right now.

What are your thoughts on the state of social media in 2012?