What’s the Future of Digital?

If you want to understand digital trends, it pays to check in with Erik Qualman, author of Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence and the founder of the Socialnomics blog. Here are four insights he shared about the future of social media, and the companies driving digital innovation.

The Triumph of LinkedIn. Twitter and Facebook grab all the press, says Qualman – but watch out for LinkedIn. “LinkedIn is removing that paper resume and is going to dominate the landscape,” he says. “They drive the talent pool in your company.” Qualman speculates that LinkedIn will eventually become the go-to rating source for the best employers and the best colleges – because they’ll have exclusive data on where people are choosing to work and the educational path that got them there.

  • The Decline of Facebook. Has Facebook jumped the shark? Qualman agrees with social media experts Shel Israel and Doc Searls that the service is on its way out. “For Facebook,” says Qualman, “it’s not a question of if they’re going to go away; it’s when they’re going to go away.” Social networking will always be popular in some form, he says, but Facebook has made itself vulnerable through its lack of regard for customer privacy. Citing Fast Company’s article “The Great Tech War of 2012,” Qualman says, “Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook – you can even throw in LinkedIn – are all going after the same thing, and who [the customer] goes with is who they trust the most. Facebook is not necessarily likeable and that plays into it.” He also cites the exodus of some Facebook executives post-IPO, making it harder to compete: “When you’re hot in the Valley, you’re hot – and when you’re not, you’re not. Many people are in it for short-term gain, and once executives see, I’m not going to make my money here, and I’m smart enough to start my own company, that can happen in an instant. Just as they took a lot of talent from Google, now you see an exodus of talent from Facebook.”
  • The Precariousness of Google. In contrast to Facebook, Google has a very positive reputation, says Qualman: “You could argue they’re very likeable. People say, Google’s been so great, they’re giving me free tools, they don’t do evil.” But fundamentally, their business model is a risky one: “Google has a very precarious business model,” he says. “Ninety percent of their revenue comes from search and there are no switching costs, so if there was a better search engine tomorrow, we’d move to it…Google makes all their money because their search engine essentially doesn’t work properly, because if they gave you what you needed in organic [search], you’d never click on the paid ad.” Facebook’s failure to exploit this and own “social search,” says Qualman, is “where Facebook has dropped the ball.”
  • The Rise of Ratings. Amazon has been marvelously successful with its product reviews, driving sales and enhancing customer confidence in their purchases. But in the future, ratings won’t just concern products and services; they’ll affect people. “Everyone is going to be rated,” says Qualman. “With Klout, Kred, and LinkedIn, every person is going to have a rating. LinkedIn’s recommendations are essentially a ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ from your peers, bosses, and employees, and it’s important to have that.” For better or worse, professionals will need to become conscious of their personal brand – and the influence of companies that track it.

What do you see as the most important digital trends moving forward? Which companies will flourish, and which will fail?

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on September 25, 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.