by Jaremy Rich
If someone were to ask you what social media, CRM and online relationships would be like in ten years, how would you respond? How about five years? Well, at SMC Seattle’s February 2010 event, Adam Sarner, research director at Gartner, offered up a few predictions:
2011: More than 2 billion people will have gone online (some estimate more).
2015: 2% of people in the U.S. will be married to people they will never meet in person.
2020: A city will elect an anonymous persona for mayor.
It’s not Personal, it’s Persona
The future of social media and customer relationship management (CRM) is built around anonymous virtual personas, says Sarner. So much so, that by 2020, that marketing and sales of products for virtual personas will outweigh traditional B2C spending. What will that future look like? Think fragmented. Whereas we currently see many social media professionals currently try to aggregate their profiles and keep a common persona, Sarner argues that the general population will have increasingly fragmented personas (ex: one for Second Life, one for parenting, one for Amazon, etc). He believes that companies will move more towards selling to the persona, rather than the person.
During his talk, Gartner’s director of research pointed out that the meritocratic atmosphere of the internet helps fuel an optimal environment to satisfy Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. As we continue to utilize the internet, Sarner believes it will be more and more important to seek self-actualization, and the beauty of the internet is that it can fulfill any human need from physiological (food, water, breathing) to self-actualization (creativity, problem solving, personal growth).
Sarner claims that we have gone from an era (Web 1.0) of fulfilling the most basic human needs (eCommerce) to an era (Web 2.0) of fulfilling our needs for esteem and belonging (personal/social voice – e.g. social media). He stated that we will not be able to complete the top of the Maslow pyramid (self-actualization) until we move to a more virtual world based entirely on personas.
As we move forward to fill these needs in the future, Sarner raised his most controversial prediction: the idea of “Personabots”, calling them “the killer application for Generation V[irtual]“. Personabots would work to fulfill some of the most basic physiological necessities, and human needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, while managing the most mundane social media tasks and the ever-increasing amounts of data that we’ll consume.
So what exactly is the Personabot?
“The Personabot is an automated, personality infused, self-learning, self-replicating, virtual representative that will be used as a tool for facilitating life events, from tactical to the strategic.”
Got it? Well, imagine a world where you could set up a Personabot to set up bids for you on eBay based on your personal preferences and ideas. Imagine a world where your Personabot shops for what you need at the store automatically depending on a budget and your needs at home. Imagine a world where a Personabot goes to a hundred job interviews for you, and comes back to tell you which ones are the best fit for you.
These are all ideas in the realm of possibility for the Personabot, says Gartner’s director of research. In fact, during the Q&A afterwards, Chris Pirillo referenced a website that is already doing something similar to the idea of a Personabot called Alice; a service that manages the stock of products in your home so that you “never run out of toilet paper again”. Even still, a life ruled by sentient robots created by our preferences handling a multitude of our tasks seems far away.
Sarner answered a handful of thoughtful questions at the end of the talk, ranging from how the Personabot would truly work, to how people will be able to manage multiple virtual personas. Few topics are better at sparking provocative debate than bold predictions and prognostications of the future. This was no exception.
Only time will tell what the future will be like. At last night’s SMC Seattle event, Gartner’s Adam Sarner raised a number of bold possibilities and ideas. Though the social media world may never be like what Sarner describes, there are many aspects that we can analyze and embrace, and some probing questions we can ask ourselves about what lies ten years away. Just think: just ten years ago, the term “social media” didn’t even exist, and neither did Youtube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. What do you think the future of social media and CRM holds ten years from now?