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Should we be predicting the future, or joining the conversation?

December 18th, 2009 by Lloyd Gofton

It’s that time of year when we’re all looking forward to a Christmas break, and busily trying to finish off our actions to get away on time. It’s also the ‘predictions’ and ‘round-ups’ time of the year, when the great and good of, well everything, look back at the year and offer their pearls of wisdom on what the next 12 months has in store.

Before you click away, and think ‘oh no, not another one’, fear not, I will not be offering you either, well not intentionally, as I tend to sit in the growing camp of people that are very board of these already. Afterall, what do the majority of predictions actually achieve? Other than occasionally making people look very silly, as Danny Sullivan pointed out in his post on Search Engine Land this week; Is SEO Dead? 1997 Prediction, Meet 2009 Reality quoting a great prediction from 1997, which you can read on the post, but the highlight for me was this closing:

‘So in closing, I submit that search engines are dying. In fact, I would say they are dead already and just don’t know it yet – gone the way of the reciprocal link exchange and the “you have a cool page” award as an effective promotional tool. A victim of their own success.’

For those that don’t know, Google launched the following year, enough said…

So other than an easy piece of content to write with mince pie in hand, or something that your audience/clients expect as a regular feature, what purpose do predictions serve? Does anyone actually use them, do they shape the future?

In most cases I don’t think they do, but to some extent – perhaps, so let me give it a go: 2009 wasn’t a great year – but we survived, and actually did better than most – (well done, of course you did) and 2010 will be better, ‘and’ it’ll be the year of…(enter appropriate prediction: social media, mobile, Twitter monetisation, the end of obvious predictions) good, glad we’ve got that out of the way. I’m sure to look back on that in December 2010 and be content with my accuracy and insightfulness.

The other reason many people write predictions, and in fact offer these rather outlandish headlines (see above) is because they tend to attract reaction, debate and drive traffic, which is always a winner for those looking to bolster their readers/subscribers/visitors, etc, and it works, at the cost of reputation and maybe trust.

Was that too harsh? Possibly, and I really do not wish to tar everyone with the same brush, so allow me to clarify by highlighting those predictions that do prove useful and relevant. I’m not going to offer links or examples, just a profile of the people that will write useful predictions.

So who are these people? Well undoubtedly they’ll be the same influencers, call them what you will, that you look for on your tweets, the same RSS feeds you are subscribed to, and the people you would go to an event to meet.

It’s the same people that share useful and either new, or perhaps insightful, information throughout the year, and it’s the same people that you should be listening to and conversing with all year around, and yes it’s the same people that have gained your trust and built a reputation. They are also the same people that you want to emulate and perhaps be more like next year.

These people are those that have taken the time to listen, get involved in the conversation, and build reputation. These people predict, revise and discuss the future all year round, look at case studies of success and failure, and offer a balanced opinion of the issues in their relevant sector, industry, or area of expertise.

These are the people that we can call social communicators, those that ‘get it’ (if that is still a relevant term) those that have experimented, learnt from failings and can offer the benefit of their experience.

So no, not all predictions are space-filling, traffic-seeking, uninspiring deletion magnets, some are interesting, useful, educational and relevant. It’s just that these useful predictions are not a one-off, the great content is there all year round.

Perhaps, that would be the ideal prediction for 2010, that we all become more social in our communications and our approach, and just join in. In fact i think it’s a great resolution, and one that I will be trying to stick to.

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