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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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What's next for the net after social media ?

Alex Tan’s trying on a new suit. He adjusts the jacket, frowns at himself in the mirror and then grabs his iPad. He’s Skyping his personal style concierge. She agrees - this time they didn’t get it right. He’s returning it via express delivery.

Job done, Alex gets an alert from his home’s integrated monitoring system saying that the fridge is running low on milk. He taps an icon and updates the weekly grocery order, before checking Facebook to get the address for this evening’s dinner. He scrolls through his news feed and notices that his daughter’s just scanned a QR code at the Diesel shop which automatically posted a Like on Facebook. He calls her to find out why she’s not doing her homework.

It wasn’t long ago that the Alex Tans of this world accessed the Internet through desktop-based, static websites alone. Today, the emphasis has shifted to mobile devices and social networks – they’ve transformed the way we communicate, and Singaporeans certainly lead the way.

Both mobile technologies and social media provide huge scope for narrow-cast marketing, ensuring that the user gets tailored, optimised content based on their location and – increasingly – their social graph.

But what’s next?

Don’t be fooled by the big social networks’ current dominance. Both social and mobile networks are already starting to behave like utilities, with users choosing which tools and channels they use to join the conversation – from Google’s new social layer through online gaming to group messaging apps – the list is long.

The concept of “going online” is becoming obsolete. Increasingly, “online” is all around us: in our pockets, on our TV screens, inside our appliances and outside our homes.

Expect the end of check-out queues as “RFID” smart codes allow shoppers to whizz through shops without having to wait for clunky old-school barcodes to be scanned at a cash register. With payment taken directly from their bank account via their smartphones, there will be no need to queue at all.

If you’re a retailer, this is something worth considering – what happens to the juicy impulse items you used to dangle in front of peoples’ noses whilst they queued up to pay? Luckily, the very same technologies that destroy existing sales channels can create new ones. Examples are in-store networks that drop suggestions to users’ smartphones based on previous purchases; smart inventory systems that respond to patterns in QR-code scanning and consumers’ online chatter; or augmented reality apps that allow users to visualise themselves wearing items of clothing without having to queue to try them on.

Embracing social business

With such a rapid pace of change, few people are daring to make predictions beyond 2015 right now. Some of today’s largest companies didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Although the growth of Facebook, Google and others have been impressively disruptive, it’s important to remember that they brought innovative solutions addressing ancient needs (finding stuff, talking to people).

Inspired by social media, innovative Internet-driven business models are appearing, typically involving customers or suppliers more directly. Naked Wines “invest in independent winemakers”, whilst Made.com allows users to vote for their favourite furniture designs, which are then “sourced by travelling from Italy to India to find the best furniture makers in the world”.

This time it’s personal

Smart businesses are finding creative ways to tailor and humanise their brand experience throughout the sales cycle using gamification, augmented reality, live video chat and virtualised sales characters. Opportunities to innovate and redefine the customer experience have never been so plentiful.

Facebook fan pages are yesterday’s news. The new Internet will increasingly enable brands to become personal rather than just social, characterised by a seamless cross-platform integration of devices, networks and services. The challenge for brands is to find those channels that work best for them, and they must have strategies flexible enough to adapt when behaviours change. This is a huge challenge, but it also creates incredible opportunities.

Margaret Manning, CEO, Reading Room

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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