Stop me if you've heard this one before: An untested social media company with no revenue gets a mind-blowing offer. Against all advice, the cocky, twentysomething CEO refuses to sell. Meanwhile, competitors come out of the woodwork with lawsuits claiming their ideas were ripped off.
The parallels between Snapchat, the upstart "sexting" service, and social media behemoth Facebook (FB) in its early days are uncanny. We all know how well Zuckerberg's long bet paid off (not to mention how thoroughly he vanquished those dastardly Winklevoss twins). Could Snapchat's future be just as bright?
Here's a look into social media's crystal ball for 2014. Will Snapchat catch fire? Will those annoying Promoted Tweets keep invading your Twitter stream? Will your boss finally learn to tweet? These five trends are poised to shake up the industry and the way we use social media in 2014:
The rise of ephemeral social networks
Regardless of whether or not you think Snapchat is worth the $3 billion Facebook offered it, one thing is clear: There's an appetite out there for so-called ephemeral networks, where content literally vanishes seconds after being received. And, contrary to popular perception, this isn't just about sexting and X-rated selfies (though it definitely is about that, too). As content on the major networks becomes more corporate and commoditized, Snapchat and services like it restore some of the fun and spontaneity to social media. Just like a real-life interaction -- where ideas flow freely and you generally don't worry about everything being recorded for posterity and broadcast to the world -- SnapChat and networks like it offer a channel for genuine, unfiltered exchange. And the kids really like it. While Facebook's own CFO officially acknowledged last month that teen use of his network is declining, the number of teens on SnapChat -- at least anecdotally -- is exploding.
Learn to tweet. Your boss expects it
You know the old guy who's been at the company forever and still can't figure out email? If you don't get up to speed on social media in 2014, you'll be that guy. Compared to last year, there are 13 times as many jobs advertised on Indeed.com that mention the use of social media. "We are seeing an increased demand for social savvy candidates across the business -- from human resources to product to customer service," Amy Crow, Indeed's communication director told Quartz earlier this year. Not only are departments like marketing, sales, and customer service expected to be on Twitter and Facebook, teams as diverse as R&D, logistics, and HR are increasingly using internal networks like Yammer to streamline operations. Social media has grown so critical to the workplace, in fact, that major universities are beginning to offer certificate programs for socially inept corporate types to get up to speed.
Social customer service kills the dreaded phone tree
The ability of customers to air their dirty laundry to the world via Twitter and Facebook has already changed the customer service game. A 2012 Nielsen survey shows more than half of all customers now turn to social media for redress; meanwhile, some 81% of Twitter users expect a same-day response to questions and complaints. But this fall, things got even more interesting: On Sept. 2, British Airways passenger Hasan Syed spent an estimated $1,000 to purchase several promoted Tweets blasting the company for losing luggage. With paid social media now in customers' arsenal, 2014 may mark the beginning of the end of abysmal customer service at major airlines, credit card companies, banks, and other repeat offenders, characterized by endless phone wait times and those automated "phone trees" (i.e., "Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, 3 to waste your entire afternoon on hold ...").
Social media finds you as you browse
From the beginning, social networks have been effectively walled off from the Internet. The treasure trove of content on Facebook, for instance, doesn't generally show up on Google. But does it have to be that way? Wouldn't it be convenient to see Twitter search results automatically displayed alongside a standard Google search, for example? And why, for instance, don't the latest tweets about a restaurant pop up when you're searching Yelp? The competing interests of different networks sends this content behind proprietary walls, but a number of tools offer creative ways to bridge the gulf. (Full disclosure: My company has developed one such tool.)
Get ready to see ads from the neighborhood pub on Twitter
Native social media ads -- the ones that appear right in your Twitter and Facebook streams -- exploded in 2013. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're only getting bigger in 2014. This year, expect some significant, if slightly creepy, advances in location-specific targeting. Twitter, for instance, just unveiled a feature enabling paid Tweets to be targeted by zip code. You walk into a neighborhood, for instance, and suddenly Promoted Tweets for the local watering hole, dry cleaner, and McDonald's pop up in your Twitter stream. This kind of "geo-fencing," which Facebook has had since 2011, enables businesses to court nearby customers who might actually want to get ads offering special deals, in-store specials, etc. The upside: more relevant ads and promos you can actually use. The downside: more ads.
Ryan Holmes is the CEO of HootSuite, a social relationship platform.