Social media predictions for 2010

Make no mistake about it: 2009 was the year of Twitter. Not only was it an inescapable and oftentimes annoying pop culture phenomenon among the general populace, but when the service's popularity exploded in the early spring, those who signed up for the service weren't just office drones who wanted to feel a part of something they didn't quite understand. Plenty of athletes, teams and leagues joined the rest of America by hopping on.

We saw athletes tweeting at halftime, giving out free tickets to a game if you found them in a mall and, well, sometimes revealing things that got them in a wee bit of trouble.

We saw teams tweet out relevant news and information, while leagues, after recognizing just how much the service and other social media had connected with some of their athletes, set parameters on just when they were allowed to bust out the iPhone in and around games.

So what does 2010 hold? Let's make some predictions, shall we?

Twitter levels off

Like most buzz-worthy Web services, Twitter is bound to see a dip in usage from some sports personalities.

Does this mean everyone will abandon the service for the next big thing? No.
Does this mean no new athletes will sign up for the service? No. Does this mean athletes won't continue to connect with fans unlike they ever have before? No. Does this mean every athlete will grow bored with it? No.

But some will. Chris Bosh -- who, through his follower contest with Charlie Villanueva this past summer, was a serial tweeter -- took nearly all of October off from Twitter and took a 20-day hiatus from the service in November. His reason for hopping back on the service and being more active the past few weeks? He had his DVD, which dropped on Tuesday, to publicize. Convenient.

This is just what happens sometimes on the Web: We sign up for some service, and after messing around with it for a while, we just sort of lose interest or move on to something else.

And instead of hearing late-night talk show hosts crack wise about it and seeing trend pieces pop up in countless publications throughout the year, Twitter will simply be more interwoven into the fabric of news and information consumption. It's no longer your new, exciting lover; Twitter will become the comfortable relationship type -- we've seen how it works, its ins, its outs; we know it'll be there when we wake up in the morning and when we go to bed at night. It'll no longer be an emerging, new media service, it will become more of a legitimate news source, a real-time portal where the news comes to you.

Twitter matures

In 2009, we saw several athletes learn the hard way that Twitter isn't a place where you can mouth off about your team or coach or, really, anything; it's as public as a postgame news conference, even if it doesn't feel that way when you're quickly typing away on your BlackBerry or responding individually to one user. If your account is public, anyone with Internet access can read your words and thoughts.

And with leagues and teams -- and their thousands and, in some cases, millions of followers -- more closely monitoring what athletes are tweeting, it's likely these slipups will die down some in 2010, although they're still bound to happen from time to time.

Business accounts

Earlier this week, Twitter unveiled some preliminary functionality for business accounts -- the feature is called "Contributors."

Think of it as a signature on each tweet; multiple users can tweet to one main account, and we can see just who is doing the tweeting.

So what does this mean for teams, leagues and athletes? Well, it could add another level of transparency and intimacy -- make things a bit more authentic. As a hypothetical example: NBA commissioner David Stern could create an account, and if he wants to also occasionally drop something on the NBA's official Twitter feed, we could see his name in the footer of said tweet and know it's from him.

And if athletes don't mind revealing some of the PR people pulling the strings on their Twitter accounts from time to time, we could be privy to just who is tweeting. We'll know when it's an athlete actually tweeting or whether it's his or her management team.

Venturing into the mobile market

I wrote about iPhone apps back in October as a market that's still untapped by athletes. It's a lot more involved than just setting up a blog or Twitter or Facebook account, but it could create a nice revenue stream if it's done right.

With Motorola's Droid seeing successful sales numbers in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a Google-manufactured phone, the Nexus One, rumored to be hitting the market in January, iPhones won't be the only smartphone for which application developers will develop software.

Currently, few athletes, teams and leagues have taken advantage of the mobile landscape. As an example, the NBA, perhaps the most progressive league in the technology department, has an iPhone app. But only one team, the Lakers, has one, according to a search of Apple's iTunes store.

But it's possible as more consumers gobble up these new phones in 2010 that sports brands will expand more into this market, especially if there's money to be made.

The wild card: e-readers

This technology is still in its infancy, but there are several options besides the Amazon Kindle. Recently, Time Inc. unveiled its own e-reader for some of its magazines, complete with a video demo for Sports Illustrated.

If this technology takes off in 2010, it's no stretch to say content providers might look to partner with athletes, leagues or teams to provide exclusive content for their e-reader product.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.