LikeSocial media has already had a huge impact on businesses both large and small. But according to the latest projections from the research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), there’s a lot more change coming. IDC analysts expect the coming year to be pivotal for social media in business with (among other things) a new emphasis on using social to grow profits, not just gather followers.

New social-friendly devices and computer operating systems will spur growth of so-called “social business” – business conducted via social media. New types of “discovery” shopping will evolve from a combination of tablet usage and an emphasis on visual, rather than text-based messages.

Drawing from the latest IDC research and internal brainstorming sessions among IDC’s analysts, here are six key social business and social media changes that could have a major impact on how you do business in the year ahead (follow us @140Main or check BizBest’s Social Media section for future updates):

1. Social platforms become the new shop fronts

Until now, most businesses have used social media as an extension of their public relations or marketing efforts, focusing attention on such things as news and updates. But as more and more small companies expand sales and customer service efforts to multiple channels, social media will become a true social business platform. In essence, social media will spawn digital storefronts for everything from local businesses to multinational corporations.

2. Sales supersede “likes” and followers

As business owners and marketers in general continue gaining experience with Facebook and other social platforms, they will become more demanding about the return they get on their social media investments. With businesses questioning the actual value of “likes”, fans and followers, attention will shift to real results and outcomes of social media efforts. It will become increasingly important to measure and track results from social media, and apply the information to your own definition of success.

3. Visual social takes off

Online marketing efforts that include a visual component (images, video, info graphics, etc.) get better results than text-only. As this sinks in, social platforms (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn) will add new features and focus on visual networking.  The success of the image-sharing site Pinterest is just one example of how popular and effective visuals have become in the digital world. The increasing popularity of tablets such as iPads – which are great for visuals – help drive this change. The newspaper industry currently has a major joint effort underway to reinvent the standard circular into a whole new digital discovery experience for tablet (visit Wanderful.com for info).

4. Groupon’s last gasp

As Groupon continues to struggle and face competition from countless similar services, the Groupon approach will give way to new types of group purchasing conducted via social media communities and what’s being called “Social Local Mobile.” In SoLoMo, local businesses make offers directly to customers on their mobile devices.

5. Social business gets a boost from new devices and operating systems

Apple and Microsoft are both integrating social into the newest versions of their mobile and desktop operating systems. As a result, social media will become an easier experience for the user and more effective for businesses that understand and leverage the new social business environment. With the release of each new device and system, the social media experience becomes a more integral part of everyday life for customers and prospects.

6. Gap between “haves” and “have-nots” widens

Despite the massive growth of social media, business owners and executives remain polarized on the role social media should play in running a business. The pro-social camp will continue to explore social not just as something new and shiny, but also as the very foundation of their businesses. They will expand their efforts on multiple fronts. The social doubters, on the other hand, see Facebook’s 2012 stock offering debacle as confirmation that the value of social media remains in question. This will give the social media adopters a continued advantage, just as businesses that embraced the Internet early on gained an edge.

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