I’ve always been a fan of gaining the wisdom of the crowd. And when you listen to the right crowd, you can learn a lot. This is why I have asked industry leaders to step back for a second and share an important insight of relevance to all of us in 2012. Note that we are not going for the “cool trend”. Rather, we are talking about what really matters as we move ahead from the perspective of an organization.

Here is “what’s next and important for 2012:”

Becky Brown, Director Social Media Strategy, Intel – “To understand the young generation, you need to hire them!”

Fifty percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30, and in the world of marketing, there are probably very few brands that don’t classify them in some form as their target audience. This is the first generation where technology is part of their life, and as a result they are the highest users of social media, and 24/7 connected. It’s one thing to have research teams watch their behavior and write reports, but having them become part of the teams that create and implement the programs to reach them is even more critical. They inherently know what’s “in” and the trends because this is their new life. For marketers, we have to consider that this younger generation wants to be included in this new era of a socially connected world, and they want to make a change…for the good of the world. Instead of looking at your talent pool by the years of experience, we must consider the experience the new generation brings and how they add a unique and fresh perspective on how to innovate and resonate. There’s nothing more powerful than having someone on your staff to ask during a meeting “is this cool”, and you get a candid “definitely cool” to validate your ideas.

David Witt, Global Digital Marketing & Brand Public Relations, The Hershey Company & 2012 WOMMA Board Chair – “Showing Favoritism – differentiating between fans and advocates”

Just having fans isn’t enough anymore. Brands’ use of the terms advocates and advocacy skyrocketed a couple of years ago. We will begin seeing earnest efforts to develop real advocates and generate measurable advocacy (WOM) for brands.

Chuck_Leavell, Founder & Director Environmental Affairs, Mother Nature Network & Keyboardist, The Rolling Stones – “Green Still Growing”

…and Green knowledge is growing in new ways. Mother Nature Network, which Chuck co-founded with Joel Babbit, has more than 3.5 million unique visitors each month, proving how important it is to share perspective on our environment. Many environment-focused sites limit “your world” to only “your planet.” However, as our knowledge of what green means grows, it is encompassing many different aspects of our lives (family, health, lifestyle, business, community and our planet). In a nutshell, it used to be that scientists, activists and experts were the ones driving all of the conversations and learning online. Now, the world’s 2.1 billion people online are making this type of learning mainstream in their lives. Green is growing, since the “rest of us” are getting more engaged.

Andy Sernovitz, Founder and CEO, Socialmedia.org – “Social media stops being about the tools and more about the customers”

CXOs will stop asking “are we using Twitter, Facebook, or Platform X” and they’ll start asking “Are we there for our customer wherever and whenever they need us, irrespective of media or technology?” Because serving customers is what it’s all about.

Michael Marinello, Senior Advisor, Bloomberg Philanthropies & C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group –“Urban sustainability is arguably the defining concept of our time”

Its possibilities and its urgency have become top-of-mind for all manner of thinkers. Artists and industrialists; philosophers and physicians are joining the league of policymakers, engineers and economists who see cities as our future. Cities have long been emblematic of innovation and “what’s next.” In tackling climate change issues, as an example, cities are forging solutions while nations and international bodies are stuck in neutral. Solutions in buildings and transportation; enabling sustainable economic growth and better quality of life for citizens in urban areas; as well as actions to prepare for droughts, floods and storms that often affect the most vulnerable populations. By developing and implementing policies and programs; and by working together, sharing knowledge and borrowing ideas, cities are steadily transforming urban infrastructure and systems. And the collective success of these individual cities is benefiting all of us. It is no surprise that TED announced the unprecedented step of awarding its annual prize not to a person, but to a concept: The City 2.0.

Yann Gourvennec, Director of Digital and Social Media, Orange Group – “The end of social media … as we knew it”

Change is happening now. Four to five years of social media practice in the enterprise world have shown us that the social web is pertinent to business and – when used properly – it can enhance our online and even offline reputations. Yet, so many years later, social media can no longer be considered an “innovation”. We need to structure our initiatives if we want to get through the rough patches ahead and thrive beyond 2012. This implies that those who haven’t done so already cease to use social media as a standalone or lame advertising practice but integrate it into their core activities. For example, start with these good old websites of ours which need to be made social. I don’t believe that the Web is dead, but it is certainly being turned into something new, more interactive and more social, which encompasses social media; not the other way round. And it’s happening today.

I can’t resist. I’ll add in one more – “Key aspects of the marketing model will change forever”

We have seen much innovation in social media the last few years. In 2012, we’re going to see the first big shifts to evolve how we conduct media planning and buying, how we conduct market research, how we utilize search and much more. Think about it for a second. We will be able to create media plans based on watching the traffic of our customers, ranging from which sites they visit to what content they prefer to who they actually influence. Market research will start to focus more on understanding online behavior first (long-term, sub-conscious behavior) vs. doing primary research first (short-term knowledge). And search, well, it will evolve in several critical ways. Imagine the convergence of e-commerce and search, the rise of search engines as emerging rivals to Amazon.com for the selling of goods and the relevance of local search to understand what is being said in real-time by street address by store.

I want to thank my colleagues for sharing their insights. This is truly a unique, diverse and valuable collection of insights for the business world.

Happy New Year!