Look how far social media has come! Our baby is growing up! Here are my predictions for trends that will matter in 2011.

Listening: Now hear this (ironic, right?!): Listening is the first rule of social media. No matter where you are in your social media strategy, listening should be your top priority. This means watching what your current and potential customer are saying. What are they talking about? What’s important to them?

All friends and fans are not created equal: According to the Forrester Technographics profiling tool MOST consumers are lurkers in the social media sphere. So don’t feel back if you have hundreds of “fans” but few comments. The key is to identify the INFLUENCERS.  Few actually create their own content. But, content creators have a higher chance of being a key influencer. Identifying key influencers and creating relationships with them will be an increasingly important step. But as I reference in my article about bloggers, this will become an increasingly delicate relationship as bloggers gain more authority and command more respect. All power social media experts will be approached at one point or another, who and how they work with the brand will largely be determined by how they are approached.

ROI Metrics worth tracking: Sentiment, Klout, Impact: As social media continues to mature, the demand for ROI will increase. While these metrics will be different than traditional marketing metrics, they will continue to be relevant in their own right. Its easy to say that the only way to measure social influence is by tracking conversions, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Again, social media is about relationships, the key measurement metrics measure more deeply how effective your relationships are and help you better understand what you can do in the future with your social media programs.  Some metrics that are available for tracking have more relevance than others.

Sentiment: What are people saying about you? Is it positive, negative or neutral. Contrary to popular belief, whether you choose to listen or not, people are saying things about you. And, if they are saying negative things, then you have a real opportunity!

Klout: This is the measurement of the ability you have to influence others to take action. Not only does it take into account the number of followers, but more importantly the likelihood that these users are engaged and will either share or take action based on your postings. This is perhaps the most important social media measurement and helps identify influencers in the social media sphere.

Impact: Slightly different from Klout in that it also takes into account your generosity towards others along with unique references to your brand and/or Twitter handle.

Social media marketing isn’t a silo, its a farm: I often say this: social media doesn’t work in a vaccum. Don’t expect that social media alone is enough to create engagement.  Don’t expect that simply by throwing up a Facebook page, you’ll receive thousands of fans. You’ll want your PR people, Advertising people, Email Marketing people, and social media people all working together. No doubt this will require effort and commitment. While some integration is easy (i.e.: using Facebook OpenGraph to integrate with your email and blog) other times it will require more strategy and planning (i.e. creating an editorial calendar for your blog that supports current PR initiatives). Marketing initiatives are designed to drive new customers should be reflected on the landing page of your Facebook page. Email programs to existing customers should be reflected in Facebook postings. YouTube videos that are designed to raise brand awareness should have a component that allows current customers to share their experiences. Creating an ad campaign around social media (ala Old Spice) took the collective will and brainpower of more than just an ad agency. Any way you look at it, your team should be just that, a team. A team that respects one another, that brings out the best in one another and supports one another’s initiatives.

Using Social Media as a Customer Service Tool: Two big brands really set the bar for this: Zappos and ComCast both use Twitter to very effectively communicate with customers. Both have received accolades and kudos from marketers and more importantly, customers for their willingness to respond to their customers in the medium of their choosing. But you don’t have to be a gigantic company to follow their lead, in fact, increasingly, customers will expect you to follow their lead. Get listening. Get empowering your staff. Get going.

Social Phone Apps: Ignore smart phone apps at your peril. Now that Apple doesn’t have the corner on smart phones, more and more people have them. Even Blackberries have apps. But you don’t necessarily have to create an app (it might not be the best tool for you), but you should be aware of those which are and start thinking like your customer – what would YOU wish you could do with your company/product/service while your waiting for a bus?

Tweet Chats: Still under utilized, but headed in the right direction. Associations, nonprofits, events, B2b and even some B2C products can all benefit from regular TweetChats. The key will be creating interesting topics, inviting experts (and hopefully influencers) to participate.

Distinguishing What Tools Work Best for What Strategy: Not every social media tool is right for you. Or, are they? Begin by analyzing your objectives then identify the tool that works right for you. The tools will likely be based on where your current (or potential) customers are already, what level they like to engage and what you hope to gain from communicating with them.

Hey Man, Where ARE You?: From Yelp to FourSquare to Gowalla and Facebook Places all have unique elements that appeal to different people. And they are growing both in usage and engagement. Get to understanding these tools and you’ll see that they aren’t just for retail and restaurant outlets anymore.

No one cares about your Press Release: Corporate blogging is about creating content that is important and relevant to your readers/customers/potential customers. If your using your blog simply to post press releases, you’re really missing an opportunity. If you MUST post press releases on your blog, make them relevant to the reader, not the press. Create a separate section for press releases. Your blog is a reflection of your corporate culture and your customers. Make it interesting, intriguing and relevant. If you can’t think of how to make content your customers would find interesting, its time to go back to Rule #1: Listening.

Ommmm. Release. Breathe: allow your fans to express themselves honestly. Release control.  It takes guts to not intervene on every blog post, discussion board, Facebook posting and Tweet, but learn to understand the difference. If you are lucky enough to have a Facebook where people engage and interact with your brand – then let them! When your fans start to feel as though the page is “theirs” then you’ve reached a pinnacle of engagement and your over-hyped, over-marketing messaging will only serve to turn them off.