At the end of 2011, ‘The State of Social’ presentation from E-Consultancy presented an ever changing social media landscape, which saw companies investing an increased amount of time, effort and budget in building a social media presence. It reported an increase in the usage of social media for gathering customer feedback, reacting to customer service issues and publicising new content.

So what does 2012 hold? A recent report commissioned by The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) suggests that 87% of mid to large sized UK companies are going to maintain or increase social media spending in 2012. Whilst this may seem staggering, I am convinced that this represents a changing mind-set, and an understanding of the way in which social media can be used to underpin customer service.

Furthermore, the report revealed that companies are increasingly electing to freeze or limit increases to their advertising/marketing budgets this year, in favour of using social media as a more cost effective communications tool.

Following the report, John Dixon, Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms from Royal Bank of Scotland CIB, said: “UK businesses clearly understand the importance of social media. It is an effective and cost-effective tool, and its increased popularity comes at a time of increased pressures on marketing. The challenge for firms will be to maximise their investments beyond 2012.”

All of these statistics are not just to startle and amaze, they are indicative of the impact that social media is likely to have on marketing communications this year. As social media is becoming of increasing interest to senior Management, it is now an accepted part of organisational strategy.

What does this mean for your business? Well, if you are not already on Google+ I anticipate that you may be persuaded in 2012, as competition between Facebook and this medium gains momentum. I think this will be interesting to watch, as I am sure that attention will be turned to how the platforms are generating advertising revenue.

I also have no doubt that the use of mobile social media will continue to increase, meaning that our target audiences have access to even more information about our brand at their fingertips. I think this will see larger brands investing in further app development for smartphones and tablet PCs also.

I also see a real opportunity for developers of plugins for the existing key social media platforms. As the different social media sites become more sophisticated, so do the services that plug into this existing environment.

Finally, and most importantly for those of us working in PR, I see that social media will continue to change the way in which we work with journalists. As we continue to exploit the ability to contact journalists and publications directly, I think we will also continue to be exposed to breaking news via these platforms. Just think what this could mean for your brand reputation!

Whilst 2012 will inevitably be a period of change for social media, I don’t expect to see a huge change in the key four platforms; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. In my opinion, these platforms now have such a base of subscribers that it would be foolish for a competitor to try to establish another platform in a market which is already considered by some to be overcrowded.

Equally, the need for a social media strategy that is aligned with your wider business goals will remain paramount in planning your social media activity in 2012. As your competitors are increasingly active on social media, it is becoming ever more important that your activity is strategically focused.

Will your company be investing in social media? Let us know below.