5 Ways Businesses Will Use Social Media in 2011

This article is part of week-long series of social media stories, which you can read by clicking here .

A new report predicts four out of five businesses will implement social media strategies in 2011—but just how they do that remains to be seen.

BusinessNewsDaily recently interviewed dozens of digital visionaries, whose eyes are locked on social media trends. They all made bold predictions for how businesses will use social media in the next 12 months. We narrowed the list to these five:

Employee recruitment shifts primarily to the web

Businesses will spend less money on paid media such as classifieds, display advertising and job fairs and focus more energy on social media sites to find new employees. Recruiters will use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other websites more aggressively to discover and learn about top candidates.

“Our online footprint will determine our personal brand and potential to employers,” said Christina Pappas, inbound marketing manager at Zmags, a publishing platform provider.

Traditional recruiting tactics already are getting crushed by social media, with 60 to 70 percent of recruiting now happening through social networks, said Josh Bersin, president of research for the consulting firm Bersin & Associates. Social media will reduce the need for outside firms to recruit for businesses.

“Companies spend millions of dollars each year on external recruiting providers, but by using online networks, they can now bring in-house the tools and secret networks which used to be owned by external recruitment firms,” Bersin said.

At the very least, Linda Pophal, CEO of Strategic Communications, expects more communication departments and human-resource departments to team up to explore whether recruiting via social media can save money.

Demand for ROI statistics intensifies, shapes staffs

Better measurable results will emerge as businesses continue to ask, “What’s the return on investment (ROI) for our social media efforts?” and the statistics will determine how businesses grow or reduce their social media staffs.

“We will see more stories validating the business impact of social media in building brands. As a result, more marketers will move from experimentation mode to making social media as foundational to their marketing plans,” said Adam Turinas, global digital director of the public-relations firm Emanate. “2010 was the year of the big standout social media campaign, but 2011 is the year it becomes part of the fabric.”

Jason Mitchell, a consultant at online marketing agency Movement Strategy, predicts the new data will influence companies to expand their social media budgets. Mitchell believes better ROI results will materialize because more bosses will understand social media and insist on improved reports.

“The people running the social media accounts will not be able to get by with just showing community growth, real dialogue and all the buzzwords that have been thrown around over the last couple years,” Mitchell said. “(They) will have to replace those with more meaningful reports like return on ad spend, lifetime value of social media users and cost per conversion.”

Real-time conversations force better customer service

Many businesses aren’t really social even if they’re on social media websites. Why? They only talk about themselves, Chris Kooluris says.

“In 2011, more companies will wake up to the fact that the best way to use social media and most of their marketing dollars is to join consumer conversations in real-time,” said Kooluris, media specialist at advertising agency JWT.

Now more than ever, customers and clients expect businesses to interact with them, and businesses’ reputations can hinge on how they respond to comments criticizing their products or services on social media.

“Businesses that don't actively answer support questions via Twitter and Facebook will feel the sting in 2011. Smart companies have already taken advantage of these tools, but look for small businesses to become more involved,” said Ben Nesvig, marketing manager of Fuzed Marketing.

Aspire to genuinely communicate with customers, experts agree.

Advancements in location-based media ignite concerns

Innovative marketing methods using location-based tools — where customers let social media websites know their location in exchange for deals or online rewards — will surface but remain in their “awkward tween” stages.

“Instead of checking into The Gap to get a discount coupon from Foursquare, I see companies sending you information as soon as you are close enough to the physical location of things based on your phone’s GPS,” said Megan Hilts, executive vice president of the communications firm In10sity.

That’s just one of the many predictions that will sway companies to use the tools to offer discounts, coupons, free stuff and other loyalty rewards.

“More businesses will hop on the geo-location-based service bandwagon, with very good reason, and muddle their way through to ascertain how effective these can be to drive immediate offline sales,” said Andrew Kasprzycki, managing director of consumer-engagement company Proximity Chicago. “They’ll probably piss off a lot of users along the way as they learn.”

Law experts are bracing themselves for privacy debates.

“Marketers will have to find the balance point between consumers’ desire for privacy and consumers’ desire for valuable targeted advertising,” said marketing and advertising lawyer Kyle-Beth Hilfer. “We could see ‘do not track’ legislation on privacy as a result in 2011.”

LinkedIn becomes major business tool, grows to 160 million users

More business-to-business professionals will join LinkedIn to take advantage of its “groups” feature, which will target geographic and functional niches.

“LinkedIn has somewhat run under the radar but is an extremely beneficial and robust platform. They continue to innovate and introduce new features and services for the platform, which I believe will continue this year,” said Danielle Leitch, executive vice president of client strategy for MoreVisibility, a marketing firm.

Other new features include company pages and paid search advertising.

“As LinkedIn continues to add functionality and apps, more B2B professionals will get involved,” said technology columnist Mark Amtower. “I have watched the growing trend of geographic-based groups. I think the ‘groups’ area will become even more robust over the next 12 months, and I think LinkedIn will have something akin to ‘instant announcements’ for the groups in the first quarter of 2011.”

LinkedIn will soar to 160 million users, up from 90 million at the start of 2011, Amtower predicts.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer Brian Anthony Hernandez at Bhernandez@TechMediaNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BAHjournalist.