Its time to look ahead and (attempt to) predict some important aspects of web strategy for the year to come. Is all the fuss over social media or mobile applications really worth paying attention to as a business owner? What essential tools should your business have to attract top employees? Read on to find out more…

1. Social Media

Ive said it once and Ill say it again: social media is going to be big this year as corporations invest the time and money into social media strategies for their business. As I mentioned in a blog post earlier this month, SMEs are largely ignoring social media and online marketing has a lot of room to grow. As older generations increasingly access social networking sites (Australia Internet users in their 40s using social networks has increased by 26% from 2009) and online retail takes off in Australia, businesses should rethink their social media strategy (or lack thereof) in order to remain competitive with overseas markets and local competitors.

2. Apps Are Overrated

Looking at the numbers, mobile applications seem to be endlessly rising – Apple has over 300,000 applications in its iTunes store, an app store for the iPad and a new app store for Macs is due in January. Android (unofficially) hit the 200,000 app-mark this week, and Google will have an app store for the Chrome browser next year. A report from International Data Corporation predicts that the mobile app market will grow to $35 billion by 2014. But where is this app explosion going? What about the many applications that are downloaded and never used by the user more than once or twice? Companies are now recognising that the investment it takes to create a mobile app often doesnt pay off – especially when compared to an excellent mobile website that can offer greater returns in the long run. Mobile websites are also ubiquitous and can be used across mobile devices and platforms, and with HTML5 and the rise of smartphones mobile web browsing is more enjoyable and simpler. While 2011 will not mark the demise of mobile applications, it will be a year to reconsider what all the fuss is about. Unless you have an app that can really engage with customers and have something exceptional to offer, dont bother.

3. Collaboration Software is Essential

The importance of online collaborative tools will increase in 2011 as workers increasingly go mobile and work beyond their desks and offices. Here in Australia we didnt just survive the GFC but are now growing and workers who were laying low during the crisis are now actively looking for new employment. Collaborative tools will be an essential aspect for job seekers who will want to work remotely and use collaboration tools that they have either had in their previous jobs or that they know will increase their productivity and flexibility. Collaboration also requires integration and the ability to quickly and easily access information across others tools. IT security will also need to be reconsidered in order to secure data and let mobile workers know how to operate safely.

4. Mobile Continues to Grow

In a related note to the point above, using your mobile as a workstation will continue in 2011, especially as smartphone purchases rise in Australia. Mobile will also remain important when it comes to eCommerce, social networking and accessing the Internet. Like many other online activities, users of all ages are going online from their mobiles for personal and business use. Technology-free time is bound to decrease as we are able to stay connected to the Internet and each other while at work, home or while travelling. Unions NSW has called forcompanies to implement rules against accessing email and the Internet for work over the holidays, saying that we have become addicted to email at the expense of our personal lives. A nice idea, but I doubt it would take off.

5. Year of the Tablet – Really This Time!

2010 was supposed to be the year of the tablet – and then came the iPad. In 2011, will the iPad 2 again drown out any other competitors? Research indicates that the tablet market is about to erupt, with 42 million tablets to be sold in the US in 2011 alone. With devices set to be released from Dell, Asus, Microsoft and Motorola, to name a few, there will be plenty of competition for the iPad with tablets operating on platforms like Android and Windows 7 and offered at different prices, which may make tablets more attractive for a larger number of consumers who werent willing to fork over $1000 (AUD) for a Samsung Galaxy tab or $630 and up for an iPad in 2010.

6. Compliance and PCI 2.0

The new Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) doesnt have to be implemented until 2012, but businesses should be thinking about the impact of these new standards and creating a corresponding strategy for 2011. Online shopping, for example, is a growing trend in Australia and retail websites should be prepared to comply with global standards rather than looking to local websites in order to provide the best experience for their customers, reduce perceived risk and separate their businesses from the pack (check out an earlier blog post of mine for more on online retail in the future).

7. Privacy

As smartphone use increases and location-based social networking applications like Foursquare and Facebook Places are growing in popularity, privacy issues are going to remain a hot topic in 2011. A recent Wall Street Journal series on Internet-tracking technology and 101 popular smartphone apps–games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones–showed that 56 transmitted the phones unique device ID to other companies without users awareness or consent, and many consumers are uncomfortable with the loss of control over their private data. The US Federal Trade Commission has announced support for a Do Not Track system to protect consumer privacy similar to the Do Not Call list for telemarketers, and in Australia, the advertising industry is expected to release a review of its online behavioural advertising standards and recommendations for regulation in 2011. But is privacy online a dying concept or will something be done to increase our control over private information and online identities? Our digital footprints are here to stay, and most companies really dont care about our privacy because our private information helps them – and we often enjoy the personalised experiences of the web. That said, privacy tools must get clearer, more thorough and be able to evolve as social media and the web go forward.

8. Brand Loyalty

Recent research in 2010 shows that 90% of Brits use a different travel operator each time they make a travel booking. This raises interesting questions about brand loyalty; are disloyal consumers the fault of the companies themselves or is it just the nature of the Internet? With 82% of Australians going online for information on products and services, 2011 must see an improvement in website usability and brand trust in order to stay relevant and increase customer loyalty. Use your website to fulfil the users needs, whether they are looking for information on products/services, comparing prices or looking for answers to their questions. For example, your site should be easy to navigate, makes the user feel secure, and use an easy check-out system that wont cause a shopper to dump their cart in frustration and try another website, whether in Australia or overseas. Again, we see how social media can play a part as happy customers share their experiences with friends and followers and help brand loyalty grow.