In the late 1980s, computer knowledge became extremely important in securing well-paid and demanding jobs.

Today, we are at a similar crossroads for social media.

It is not yet taking over our networking or communications, but it does enable a convergence of content, conversation and different communities through different technologies.

One thing is for sure though — social media is not just a communication platform, and it is not just an advertising tool.

Social media is a new way of life that eventually will affect our way of doing business in the not too distant future.

Let’s take a look at what 2012 will bring for social media:

* It will form a bigger equation in the overall corporate communications strategy; 

* More training will be needed for many employees in all organisations;

* Hiring the right talent with a balance of skills and emotional quotient (EQ) will be a challenge for a social media manager position; 

* Social gaming will begin to take centre stage for many applications;

* Corporate social media will enjoy a bigger budget; and

* Social networking will focus not just on size but also the quality of network.

The importance of  content on social media

If social media strategy was a game of chess, content would definitely be the king on the chessboard.

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of social media content: original, co-created and user-generated.

In Web 2.0, where interactivity is the key, the social media community no longer makes buying decisions based on original content like advertising campaigns, promotions, celebrity endorsements, brochures and exhibitions.

Social media has shifted the power of broadcasting to anyone who can create unique content on their own.

*   Original content: Companies will no longer be able to dominate the market space with original content unless they have some form of collaboration with the social brand ambassadors.

* This collaboration gives rise to co-created content on social platforms through videos and pictures. In original content, the focus is on the product.Co-created content is often produced with collaboration among different stakeholders in the social media community. There are still some levels of control over such content.

* User-generated content is the most creative and convincing content of all as it is produced by different target audiences. A company usually has no control at all over its development and extent of reach. In all user-generated content, the focus is on the brand’s popularity.

The art of social media conversation

There cannot be a good campaign without good conversations online.

Many brands are too eager to use social media as an alternative to broadcast without listening to what the market wants.

It is important to gauge market sentiment by following threads and other conversations.

Create surveys or quizzes to build new databases and study the insights for new trends.

Draw your conclusions from market demand and expectations.

It is easy to talk about yourself in advertising. The challenge is how to make others talk about your brand positively.

Always share knowledge and sell only your expertise on social media. Comment and discuss constructively. 

Learn to filter out the noise and develop a Response Strategy Map within your organisation to handle different kinds of discussion and enquiries.

The crux of the matter in conversation is to manage negative comments and criticism positively. 

The ability to turn a crisis into a blessing will enable your brand to occupy a bigger mind share than before.

Being transparent, responding quickly and engaging in a personable way are essential ingredients in communicating your personality as a brand.

Any social media fire must be put out with social media water.

Building your social communities on social media

There are generally three main types of community within your social media network:

* Thought-leaders of your industry are the influencers of your brand. They set the tone and premise of conversations. 

* Your peers may be your competitors or strategic partners in the business. Their presence and participation will help to build a more comprehensive understanding of your brand.

* Your customers will eventually form your brand community. Engage them by inviting them to join your web portal in a social network environment similar to platforms like Facebook or Myspace.

Consequently, the essence of developing different communities is to draw them back to your brand and become your advocate in the long run.