Social media enjoyed an evolutionary -- not revolutionary -- ride this past year, and the top social media news of 2012 reflected that trend.
With the big bang of Internet and social media change receding in the rear-view mirror, all the major social media platforms evolved slowly as they tweaked their tools and iterated their business strategies. Few, if any, major changes occurred that are likely to alter the major trends in social media. The top technology news of 2012 in general held few surprises, and none that appeared likely to change the direction of social media any time soon.
The overarching story continues to be how people, companies, organizations and governments are ramping up their use of social media, engaging with them in ways that are dramatically impacting culture and society.
One big factor fueling the boom in social communication is the increased use of the Internet on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices, because their portability gives people more time and opportunity to communicate and do things on the go that they couldn't easily do before the era of smart phones.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn Tweak Their Tools
When it comes to media platforms, Facebook and Twitter continue to be the two heavyweights of social networking, and both made many changes this year as they struggled to turn their communication platforms into sustainable businesses. The third major platform -- business networking giant LinkedIn -- seemed to find a more solid business footing, thanks perhaps to its narrower focus on career and business development.
Other, younger social networking platforms surged into the mainstream this year--most notably, Pinterest. Several early social media pioneers attempted comebacks or makeovers, including MySpace and Digg. But no radically new services appeared on the horizon that suggest the existing platforms are in danger of being displaced any time soon.
Top Social Media News of 2012That said, a lot of interesting social media news occurred in 2012, so here's a look at a dozen of the top stories:
1. News and Culture Reshaped by Social Media -- The biggest story of social media continues to be how people use these new communication tools to share information in ways that are impacting popular culture and people's perception of news--sometimes, even news events. Areas where these impacts were most on display in 2012 were the U.S. presidential election, the Summer Olympics, Hurricane Sandy and ongoing strife in the Middle East. Read more:
2. Facebook Goes Public -- Facebook staged its initial public stock offering in May 2012 amid high hopes on Wall Street that the social networking giant would help lift the NASDAQ and stocks in general. However, Facebook's IPO fizzled fast and suffered a shocking price decline in short order. Read more: Facebook IPO Flops
3. Facebook Buys Instagram -- Just before going public, Facebook announced it was buying the popular mobile photo sharing service, Instagram, for roughly $1 billion in stock and cash, a whopping price that reflected the growing significance of visual tools for sharing images on mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers.
4. Whither Twitter? -- Twitter implemented a ton of changes in 2012 as it redesigned its user interface repeatedly to make it more image and photo-friendly, simplify navigation, improve search, and allow downloading of personal tweet archives. But the biggest change was how the messaging network distanced itself from third-party developers by limiting their access to the Twitter messaging platform, a move that makes Twitter seem more proprietary and risks making the platform more of a walled garden than a true platform. Read more: Twitter API Change Irks Developers
5. Visual Web -- Pinterest, the image-sharing social network, became the poster child this year for how the social Web is becoming a more visual place. Pinterest used to require a special invite to join but opened its doors to all comers in August as usage skyrocketed.
6.Mobile Video -- Video status updates were one of many mobile video crazes this year as a whole new crop of video startups attempted to make video sharing easier and more fun on smart phones. Tout and Viddy were two startups that helped popularize the still emerging form of short videos for cell phones.
7. Crowdfunding -- Kickstarter and Indiegogo are two crowdfunding platforms that grew more popular in 2012 and illustrate the trend of raising funds by appealing to people directly to contribute funds online for worthy projects.
8. Social TV -- Traditional television embraced social media in a big way as people started using social media to chatter while watching TV. At the same time, YouTube added more original video and became a bit more like broadcast TV. Psy's "Gangham Style" music video became YouTube's most popular video of the year, and its horse dancing craze swept popular culture. Meantime, many startups emerged to measure social TV usage. Read more: Social TV basics.
9. Social Networking for Business -- The so-called social enterprise had a breakout year as more companies embraced private social networking tools such as Yammer, a leading private social networking tool bought by Microsoft. Read more: Yammer Review and Guide to Social Networking for Business.
10. Social Commerce -- From flash sale sites like Gilte Group to group buying services such as Groupon, social commerce was on a tear in 2012 as social shopping came into its own. Retailers responded by offering a wide array of social services allowing shoppers to communicate and share information about products. Read more: Social Commerce Guide and deal finder sites.
11. Peer-to-Peer Education -- One still-nascent impact of social media is in education, where 2012 proved to be a breakout year for a bunch of peer-to-peer education startups. The Khan Academy blazed the trail for free online learning aimed at secondary education, and some new players emerged focused on the higher education market, including Udemy and Coursera, which signed up dozens of universities to offer hundreds of free courses online.
12. Social Analytics -- As all this social media activity takes place, people and companies are struggling with how to make sense of it. The result is a rush to create tools for measuring and analyzing social media usage. Read more: Guide to Social Analytics.