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2011 in Review: Inspiration, experience, and lessons to guide us into the new year

What a year it has been for you our customers, for the social media industry, and indeed, for the world. From Tunisia and Egypt and Libya, to your incredible successes, career milestones, and record-setting ROI on social media, to the LinkedIn, Zynga, and Jive IPOs and Hearsay Social’s 6X growth, 2011 was marked by three overarching themes which I will reflect upon in these closing remarks for the year: Massive Change, Game-Changing Innovation, Incredible Growth.
Massive Change

2011 saw the toppling of multiple authoritarian regimes. Their timing with the upswing in social media adoption was no accident. The transparency, connectedness, and decentralized power resulting from social media played a critical role in every revolution. What can corporations learn from the Arab Spring? Tech editor David Kirkpatrick wrote a fascinating Forbes cover essay, ‘Social Power — and the Coming — Coporate Revolution’ on this topic:

“Civilizations have clashed in an unexpected way this year, as ordinary people using Facebook and Twitter knocked down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Social might is now moving toward your company. We have entered the age of empowered individuals, who use potent new technologies and harness social media to organize themselves… to force you to listen to what they care about and to demand respect. Both your customers and your employees have started marching in this burgeoning social media multitude, and you’d better get out of their way–or learn to embrace them.”

He goes on to talk about Hearsay Social’s role in all of this:

“Hearsay [Social]’s tools presume something elemental in a world of social power: that the empowerment of employees is directly tied to the empowerment of customers–because they will inevitably end up working, maybe even conspiring, together.”

Social media has been a catalyst for massive change in the World Order. It is having the same effect on the Corporate Order. Massive change usually means massive opportunity, and this is precisely why Steve and I started Hearsay Social two years ago. Yet we are just scratching the surface of the sea change about to come.
Game-Changing Innovation

In October, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Warren Buffett and Lloyd Blankfein at the Fortune Power Summit in Laguna Nigel. Since they have a pretty good track record when it comes to financial matters and predicting the future, I asked their opinion on the economy and whether we are headed for a continued downward spiral. Do you know what Warren told me? It was quite uplifting: he told me he believes with all his heart that innovation and entrepreneurship are what will ultimately lift this country out of recession.
Will we rise to the occasion?
2011 saw the launch of several game-changing social marketing innovations, all of which I am proud to say Hearsay Social was an important part of:

  • Google+ Brand Pages. We were thrilled to be among a small handful of launch partners for Google+ last month and see tremendous potential for brands to connect the power of Google search and local to social.
  • Hearsay Social for LinkedIn. Our February partnership with LinkedIn allowed marketers for the first time to effectively distribute content, tap into analytics, and drive brand engagement on LinkedIn in a corporate-to-local fashion. Also, for the first time, financial firms were able to achieve regulatory compliance on LinkedIn.
  • Facebook Timeline and Open Graph. Hearsay Social sat in the front row at f8 this year, where Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a fresh new profile layout and metaphor, which is coming soon to brand pages and will take customer engagement to even higher levels.
  • Twitter Brand Pages. Recognizing the enormous business value for brands on social media, Twitter finally followed suit and unveiled their version of social brand pages.

Incredible Growth and Learning
A year ago, there were 500M Facebook users, 100M Twitter users, 50M LinkedIn users, and 0 Google+ users (it did not yet exist). Today, there are over 1B people on Facebook, and the other networks too have more than doubled. A year ago, social business was still a hazy, nice-to-have concept. Today, social business is a must-have reality. 2011 was the year of social media maturation. As an industry, we have graduated from siloed one-off pilots to serious cross-functional enterprise adoption, integration with business processes, and impressive ROI. The greatest highlights for me this year were when many of you, our amazing customers, called, emailed, or tweeted on different occasions to share that our partnership had resulted in material growth for your business. With great excitement, you told me this not only justifies your efforts but is bringing much-deserved executive mindshare, additional resources, and yes, hard-won glory. Here are just a few of your impressive accomplishments:

  • Setting a Guinness World Record for the Greatest Number of Facebook Likes
  • Blowing past 16,000 active and successful social pages across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ (and making it look easy)
  • Forging over five million meaningful social customer relationships
  • Convincing your organizations to take social seriously – taking your vision from  “exploratory” to “critical business driver”
  • Taking on the ultimate personal and professional challenge, having the time of your life inventing the future of your company and industry

Just like the pioneers of the Internet fifteen years ago, you are the ones defining, shaping, and leading the social era. At a time when the business outlook still feels uncertain, you have stepped up to the plate with bold optimism, inspiring ideas, and a willingness to experiment, learn from mistakes, and share. Kudos to you for your hard work and conviction, and thank you for learning and growing with us.
YouTube video: Seven lessons we learned from working with our customers. “7 Habits of Highly Successful Social Marketers,” my keynote talk at this year’s ad:tech conference

As for Hearsay Social, we will continue our unrelenting pursuit of excellence, which for us means driving innovation and growth for your organizations so you can benefit from the changes that await in 2012.  Given your incredible successes to date, our collective learning and partnership, and the incredible team I am so lucky to work with every day at Hearsay Social, I have never been more optimistic about the future of business and the world. Here’s to 2012 – the year of social media success, innovation-led business growth, and global economic recovery. Thank you for inspiring us all.

Clara Shih

A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007. Her latest book, The Social Business Imperative, is a Wall Street Journal-featured bestseller. She is a member of the Starbucks board of directors.

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