By Patrick Clinger

The popularity of social media continues to grow, backed by Twitter’s successful IPO and Facebook’s $3 billion offer to purchase Snapchat.  Taking into consideration these recent events, coupled with feedback my company received from our recent 2013 Social Media Survey, I’ve made some predictions about what I feel is likely to happen in the social media market for 2014.

1)      Recent public focus on governmental monitoring and abuses of user trust will spur the market to adopt increased security measures for user data and privacy.  Respect for user privacy will become a bigger concern for users when choosing social media platforms, and they will tend to migrate towards services like forums that collect minimal user data.

2)      Market innovations will come from new, unexpected directions and companies, as the millennial generation increasingly rejects platforms they view as “uncool.”  Services like Snapchat and WhatsApp will come to replace older services that are “used by my parents.”  Millennials are the ultimate early adopters for new social media technologies and often determine the long-term fate of many services.

3)      Niche and special-interest groups will remain focused around forum communities as a way to conduct more in-depth discussions than the typical social media outlets.  The wide variety of content ranging in scope from local to international, combined with ease of searching that content, will insure the primacy of forum-based discussion for many years to come.

4)      Older services such as MySpace and Facebook will attempt to retain the interest of younger users by appealing to narrower audiences, such as music or social gaming fans.  Some strategies will succeed and some won’t, but these sites are beginning to reach a critical point and need to add features, functionality, and content to keep attracting young users.

5)      Companies will increasingly come to rely on the advantages of a forum-based, crowd-sourced solution as a resource for both customer support and marketing.  The obvious benefits of extending your customer service and marketing departments at a fraction of the cost of hiring more employees will drive more companies towards forums as a solution for increasing services while keeping budgets low.

6)      The continuing trend towards mobile devices for everyday content consumption will move faster, putting an even greater emphasis on designing social media experiences for hand-held devices.  The key will be to make social media integration easy, including adding and editing existing content, with features that are available across a wide variety of mobile platforms.

Though it’s hard to see how 2014 can top 2013 in terms of sheer seismic activity in the social media industry, there are bound to be new platforms and technologies emerging as well as continued industry consolidation.

Patrick Clinger (pictured) is founder and CEO of ProBoards, the world’s largest host of free forums on the Internet.  The company boasts over 3.5 million forums created, 22 million registered users, and more than 15 million unique monthly visitors on the web ( @proboards.