What the future of social media looks like  

Our biological desire to communicate was one of the reasons the internet itself came to be. It is no wonder then that social media grew to become a significant part of our lives. Some, with good reason, trace the start of social media to the invention of the morse code or the telegraph. It is generally accepted though that social media took root in online forums and chatrooms in the 90s and came to be in its current form in 1997 with the launch of Six Degrees. This was followed by the launch of Friendster in 2001. These basic social networks attracted millions of users with the ability to create profiles and connect with friends.

In 2002 LinkedIn was founded as a networking site for career-minded professionals. Launched in 2003 Myspace took social media networking to the masses, growing to be the most visited website in 2006. In 2004 Facebook was created in a dorm room, as a social network for university students, opening to the public later, taking social media to the world with billions of users.

More recently we have seen the appearance of giant tech companies that have grown to dominate key areas of social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn and Tik Tok. The recent emergence of Tik Tok shows that the evolving nature of social media makes it possible for a new social media platform to become a key player within a short period.

We are currently in a space in which competition between social platforms means that the user is king, with all platforms focusing on real engagement and incentivising the best content creators to be creating content for their platforms.  Social media platform algorithms then utilize the data they store on their users to predict and serve them content that they deem they will most resonate and engage with. It is these same AI engines that power the marketing platforms, that allow brands to tap into this data and laser target their messaging to their exact target audience.

The immediate future of social media will be shaped by privacy issues around how social media platforms collect and use user data. Government regulation will be central to this as we saw in the past few years with the introduction of GDPR in Europe and the POPI Act locally in South Africa. Regulators are flexing their muscles and issuing fines, some of which have amounted to billions of dollars to social platforms they have deemed as breaching their privacy laws.

Privacy issues mean brands will have to ensure they comply with local legislation in how they collect and utilize their data. Brands must be aware that social platforms are increasingly being restricted in their data collection. They should utilize the data that they have to optimize their marketing campaigns through each social platform’s API.  Linking their CRM data with a social media platform API enables them to enhance their customer’s buyer journey and push the right messaging depending on where the consumer is in their buying cycle.

There has been a growing concern that the dominant tech firms, particularly Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have grown too big. They have been subject to antitrust investigations by different regulators, most notably the US Senate, with discussions on whether they should be broken down to encourage competition. Breaking them down will mostly not happen, but the decentralization of social media will be accelerated over the coming year with the growth in the popularity of crypto and the blockchains that they run on.

What is decentralized social media? In traditional social media platforms, the social media company controls the data servers. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tik Tok own and control all the content that their users upload. In a decentralized network, no one entity ever holds all the data. Instead, data is spread between nodes, or connection points, within the network. Multiple networks can exist within a decentralized social media outlet. This means that individuals can choose which network they'd like to join. Any user can create their own network, allowing for individuals with similar interests or ideas to connect. Rules for the social network are not determined by a single entity.

When new social networks appear or threaten the existing big companies, it is always interesting how the big guys react. With a look into the future, Facebook’s parent company recently branded Meta, as the company looks to dominate the metaverse that is fast moving into the mainstream. Soon, sliding into the DMs will be a whole new experience, you will be able to speak to someone and feel like you are in the same room as them. Exciting times, and indeed exciting for brands, that will be able to interact, market and sell to consumers in these whole new worlds.

Another exciting technology that we watched grow and mature and are certain to see more of in the immediate future is Augmented Reality.  AR superimposes a computer-generated image into your real world.  With AR-based shopping experiences, you can see how a shoe would look on your feet before you buy it. You can view furniture in the exact spot you will place it in your room before you place your order.  

One thing that remains constant as social media changes is that everything hinges on the user, the content they would like to consume and their experience of the network.  Brands need to make sure they are not only just selling but improving their consumers’ experience of each social platform, mostly through content that engages, entertains, informs and in general, adds value to their lives.

With the constant changes, brands should not chase every new fade but should ensure that they are investing in the platforms that their target audiences use, and that brings in the best ROI. Investments should also be made to ensure that the brand stays on the cutting, and never on the bleeding edge.

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