During a panel on social networks, Crowley talked about current trends and future developments in social networking. He acknowledged that his website, which offers geo-location services that allow users to notify their friends about where they are shopping, eating or drinking, is looking at models where local store owners could offer incentives for users who "tweet" or "check-in" each time they frequent a location. Some advertisers already offer consumers rewards for "tweeting" when they use a product or service certain companies want to market. Crowley expects this type of practice to increase.
And while the technology doesn't yet exist, Crowley believes it will soon be possible to link credit card accounts to Facebook and other networking websites for the purpose of tracking consumer purchases. Crowley and other panelists at the event said that the next key development in social networking would be finding a way to link the many different types of information such sites collect from consumers to determine which consumer behaviors and advertiser actions increase the probability of a sale. Such a development would help companies determine the return on investment for their social networking strategies.
"The ROI is important, but we haven't been able to figure that out yet," said Ben Edwards, vice president of digital strategy and development for IBM. "The data is not connected."
Though they cannot yet tell whether their strategies are profitable, many companies remain committed to using social media. Whether they are marketing new products to specific audiences, chatting with consumers to bolster their brand, handling customer service issues or inviting consumers to share new experiences and make recommendations, companies acknowledge the value of maintaining relationship with consumers via social media tools.