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How to spot the 'Next Big Thing' in social media

Even the most popular social media platforms can quickly become deserted. How can marketers make sure they don’t miss out on the next Facebook?

In a feature that foreshadowed News Corp.’s $35m sell-off of the once-popular social media platform, last week’s BusinessWeek charted MySpace’s meteoric rise and rapid collapse into near-irrelevance.

The articleis a salutary reminder of how fickle things are in the world of social media, and how today’s hot property can quickly become tomorrow’s ghost town.  Friends Reunited, Friendster and Second Life have all suffered similar fates to MySpace, despite the hype that once surrounded them.

For marketers, one thing is clear: no matter how popular the platform, it’s never a good idea to bet the farm on it.  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn may seem like great channels for social marketing today, but you never know when they may suddenly give way to the Next Big Thing. 

It makes sense to remain constantly on the lookout for new social media platforms, getting under their skin and evaluating their suitability for marketing activity.

Extending existing campaigns to new platforms can be quick, easy and free, so conducting test campaigns to assess whether a new platform can deliver results isn’t the expensive, risky undertaking it used to be. If the platform takes off, you’ll have an early advantage, and if it turns out to be a damp squib (remember Google Buzz?) you won’t have wasted a lot of time and effort.

How to spot the Next Big Thing in social media

Of course, if I could really predict which new social media platforms will make it big, I’d be out there making millions as a venture capitalist – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good ways of identifying which platforms *might* turn out to be tomorrow’s Facebook or YouTube. 

Here are five tips for spotting up-and-coming players:

  1. Follow your audience: Through Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs etc., you’ve probably already built up a good online community of customers and potential customers.  Make it part of your monitoring activity to see what new platforms these people are using, and which ones are proving popular. That may be where you’ll be marketing to them tomorrow.

  2. Follow the followers:  Rather than try to look out for every new startup and platform yourself, watch the people who watch startups for a living. Techblogs like TechCrunch, Mashable and GigaOm will quickly give you an idea of what’s hot – as will following mainstream media publications like Wired, Fast Company and The Atlantic.

  3. Follow the buzz: Which are the hot new platforms everyone is talking about right now? There was massive online buzz around Quora when it launched, which should immediately have alerted marketers to start evaluating its usefulness for marketing purposes.

  4. Follow the links:  Some social media platforms suddenly explode into existence, others creep gradually towards the mainstream.  But if you start to see a lot of people linking to content on a particular platform, it means that platform is a) genuinely useful and b) growing in popularity. SlideShare and Tumblr fall into this “slow burner” category.

  5. Follow the money: Venture capitalists make bets every day on which new platforms are going to make it big.  Keeping an eye on what they’re investing in will give you an idea of what they think is going to be successful.  See a list of the top 20 VCs on Twitter ranked by their Klout score.

Using these pointers, platforms we’re currently investigating include Google’s all-new Google+, StatusNet and Visible Me. What have you currently got your eye on?