‘Tis the silly season of course and in recent weeks I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with plenty of people across media and marketing, public relations, social media and business generally.

Of the many (sometimes ‘lubricated’) chats I’ve had, one thing keeps coming up in conversation: what next for marketing, PR and social media? (Let’s face it, it’s a pretty broad subject but the over-arching theme is the same in that people are trying to make sense of a dynamically ever-changing communications environment).

Now, obviously the topic is always going to skew that way given the types of people I’ve been hanging out with, but even with business entrepreneurs and corporate types, there is still a lot of interest in marketing, communications and the evolving media landscape.

One thing I am pretty sure of is social media is not going to go away. It’s not a fad. The technologies will come and go but the ethos of what social media is all about – sharing of knowledge and ideas, increased collaboration, peer-to-peer recommendations, user-generated content creation, openness and transparency, genuine conversations and story-telling – we love these things as human beings.

The social web helps us be more ‘human’ in that respect, so no, we’re only going to become even more immersed in the online community as we become more comfortable with new media technologies.

This, of course, is a seismic shift. It doesn’t happen overnight but there are plenty of indicators that, in isolation might not mean much but when aggregated, the big picture becomes a lot clearer. It’s a bit like the stockmarket. You never know at the time when the market has bottomed out and started its ascent from the depths of a crash.

However, looking in the rear-view mirror some months down the track, a pattern emerges as you see the market’s steady climb.
Statistics are one key measure and in the case of social media, they’re certainly telling.

The phenomenal growth of the likes of Facebook and Twitter get the headlines, but there are also amazing stats around the number of videos being uploaded, the number of blog posts being written and the number of apps being downloaded on, say, iPhones.

Then you have the number of articles being written in the mainstream press about social media, which in turn feeds the public interest in the whole phenomenon. The cycle continues. And let’s not forget the ongoing introduction of new platforms and applications. This year Posterous.com caught my eye.

I think it’s a deceptively clever but also powerful medium in its own right and provides people with a simple and effective way to get into blogging without having to maintain a ‘proper’ blog.

Many other social networking platforms don’t make the headlines as they’re niche (and sometimes super-niche) but often they serve a distinct market need and therefore can be influential in their own way.

Someone the other day mentioned to me the word ‘niche-ification’ – it’s made up, of course, but it actually says something about the world in which we live.

Other indicators the world as we know it has changed forever are more anecdotal, which brings me back to the conversations I and everyone else has been having as the silly season hits its stride.

People from all walks of life are talking more about social media. There’s a keenness of people wanting to know more about it.

I’ve given a lot of talks on PR and social media this year and have a steady flow of bookings for the first part of next year. Many of these talks are to member organisations and industry representative bodies. Having such groups interested in social media indicates to me they understand things are changing rapidly and they need to be across it for the sake of their members.

The public lead these types of revolutions. That’s happening now and looking back on the year, 2009 was a watershed year in terms of social media take-up.

Marketing departments follow pretty quickly. We’ve seen this occur also this year with a good number of high-profile brands dipping their toes in the social media space. Some have done it well, others not so well.

Smaller entrepreneurial companies adapt pretty quickly. To them, social media is Manna from heaven as it levels the playing field and allows them to reach greater numbers of potential customers – with an increased intensity of connection – than ever before.

Senior business management tends to arrive last. They’re inherently a conservative, risk-averse bunch and sometimes it takes a while for them to see the writing on the wall. All indications are they know change is afoot. 2010 will see greater interest in social media from the ‘C Suite’ as they realise how it’s fundamentally changing the way people communicate, connect and collaborate.

For the marketing, PR and communications space, they’re right in the thick of this change. Will 2010 see Twitter crash and burn or will it move dramatically further towards its goal of one billion users globally, who knows? But one thing is for certain, we living in challenging times and the smart marketers and PR people will be those who can understand the changes we face and adapt quickly.

Bring it on!