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It’s hard to believe that in 2009, Facebook was insignificant compared to the rest of social media.

Even harder to fathom is that one year later, Facebook asserted its dominance and became the undeniable leader of the social landscape, representing more than 50 percent of all time spent on social websites.

It wasn’t certain whether Facebook’s fame would be fleeting, especially in the wake of privacy concerns, but in 2011, this doubt was put to bed when Facebook became the only social platform that mattered.

Facebook now represents 95 percent of the time spent on social services and boasts nearly one in seven of the world’s population as users. Facebook’s dominance in social makes Google’s dominance in search look like child’s play.

The question for 2012 is whether or not any other company with skin in the social game can matter again. Both Twitter and Google+ have released new versions to compete with Facebook, even on the brand-focused Pages side. Perhaps they will generate enough activity to snag 20 or 30 percent of the time spent on social. Perhaps Google will figure out their only hope is to buy Twitter. But most likely not.

While 2011 was the year Facebook unquestionably dominated social media, 2012 will be the year Facebook takes over the world.

Facebook marketing is more than fluff.

In 2010, Facebook marketing was all about acquiring fans. In 2011, it has been all about engagement. In 2012, it is going to be all about performance and monetization. Enough of the social metrics and indicators: brands want true return on investment.

Brands are tired of assessing ROI using fuzzy metrics like trying to put a CPM value on earned media or determining a monetary value for fans and multiplying that number by their fan base. Facebook advertising is growing up and speaking in adult terms, like cost per acquisition and average order values.

In 2012, brands will be using the same language with Facebook as they do with email, search and the other lucrative forms of digital marketing. The campaign results will be competitive with these other channels, and Facebook advertising will offer a true, measurable, competitive marketing value.

In fact, these campaigns are already in the works, as we’ve seen with with several of our clients at Webtrends. Testing and validation are under way to establish best practices across verticals ranging from Fortune 500 CPG brands to specialty ecommerce retailers to B2B brands.

It’s an app world.

More than 7 million apps and websites are integrated with Facebook, and 500 million people use an app on Facebook every month.

During 2011, FBML (Facebook markup language) apps gave way to iFrame apps, making development on the platform more accessible. However, in 2012 the explosive new areas for Facebook apps are outside of

At this past year’s f8 developer conference, Facebook announced custom Open Graph actions and objects. Apps like Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix now all share the activity that occurs in their apps to the ticker and timelines of their users.

The value of this integration is in its infancy. Look for a new breed of external apps to become massively successful by leveraging custom Open Graph connections and timeline apps.

Facebook is the dominant ad network.

Out of the top five display ad networks in the U.S., only Google and Facebook have grown their market share in the last three years. The other players (Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo) have now formed an alliance to sell their inventory together.

Facebook has been outpacing Google in its growth of market share, but it hasn’t even played its trump card yet.

While some of Google’s display inventory is from Google properties like YouTube, Google Maps, etc., most of it is from the million plus websites that are a part of Google’s AdSense program. Facebook in 2012 will likely launch its equivalent of Google’s AdSense, opening a ton of new opportunities for advertisers on Facebook.

Think about retargeting and IAB standard ad units. When this happens, Facebook’s ad dominance will reach ridiculous proportions. Google has no such trump card left to play, unless it wants to acquire one or more of the tumbling top-five display ad networks.

What about Google+?

A big technology company spends big money to try to get into a lucrative space that it knows it missed out on. Sound familiar?

While Google+ is arguably a better user experience in certain areas such as friend segmentation with circles, it came to the party too late. Like Bing, Google+ continues to slowly make progress, but it’s measured in single percentage growth year-over-year and may never be profitable.

But wait — since the tech gurus are all on tGoogle+ here and touting it as the next big thing, won’t it be? Didn’t the early adopter tech crowd make Twitter a big thing?

The Twitterati become less predictive.

Despite adoption rates to the contrary, the old vanguard of the Twitterati have migrated to Google+ and are touting the platform as the next place to be. Robert Scoble is included in 202K circles, and Jason Calacanis is in 243K circles. These follower numbers are huge for Google+ just like they were when they were on Twitter.

But these same early adopters and thought leaders also tried to go to FriendFeed and claimed it was the next party after Twitter. And let’s not forget, Calacanis thought Google’s now-defunct Buzz would be the next party and eat Facebook’s lunch.

The truth is, celebrities (real celebrities, not high-caliber tech geeks) are the taste makers now. They surpass our geek royalty follower numbers on the first day they sign up. Do you think Conan O’Brien wants to tell his audience of 4.6 million Twitter followers to move to Google+?

Be wary of geek leaders telling you that Google+ is the next big thing. Recall that geek culture went through collective vetting of “how things work” on Twitter developing the first rule set to dominate its feeds. But when Twitter became a mainstream consumer platform, the rules established by the tech elite were lost. The general public made its own rules about hashtags and following back. And the Twitterati set out to start their own LAN party elsewhere, but this time the mainstream didn’t follow.

These guys are still driving adoption on new platforms, but that doesn’t mean that these new networks will follow the same consumer trajectory that Twitter did. Mainstream doesn’t need the next big thing. Google+ today and in 2012 will remain a self-segmented group of tech insiders.

As a side note, Facebook in this story is the “popular” kid at school. She doesn’t want to be BFFs with the geeks. Facebook got its popularity in the halls of Ivy League schools, then high schools, then businesses and then the public. Its roots were with the cool kids, which is why it is dominant today over Twitter.

But if Twitter can leverage its celebrity and media connections with their more accessible user experience, it might be able to take a run at the blue mountain.

Which leads me to my next 2012 prediction…

Facebook’s IPO: Say hello to Silicon Valley’s newest billionaires.

With the Facebook IPO slated for early summer, we can expect a lot of wealthy techies. We can expect this to drive a ton of innovation outside of Facebook as vested Facebookers break off to start their own companies and venture capital firms.

Innovation will be driven further inside of Facebook as well, thanks to the cash infusion. They can start to pay family wages and not just fresh-out-of-Stanford wages, which means:

  • Expensive talent acquisition
  • Real technology acquisitions (not just acqu-hires)
  • Maturation of Facebook ads for performance marketing

2012 is Facebook’s fairy tale year.

Facebook’s ad network is growing at a rate 125 percent greater than Google’s ad network did. Facebook also own more of the market share in social than Google did for search. Facebook is about to have the largest tech IPO in history. It is going to release the equivilant of AdSense and a mobile platform next year.

So is there really anything else of significance happening in social media next year? Probably not by comparison.

Justin Kistner is the director of social products at Webtrends, the global leader in unified mobile, social and web analytics. Kistner drives the development of social products and serves as a social media thought leader for the company. He led the development of Webtrends’ Facebook Analytics as well as the company’s end-to-end Facebook campaign solutions, a market first for the industry. He’s also a regular speaker on social media marketing at conferences like Web 2.0 Expo, OMMA Global, and Social Fresh. Kistner also founded Beer and Blog, a social marketing meet up in 20 cities from Portland to Tokyo. Follow Kistner on Twitter @justinkistner.

top image courtesy of Jolie O’Dell.


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