What does the Future Hold for Social Media?

In my last post, I blessed you with a riveting exploration of social media’s past. Besides providing an opportunity to take a crack at some low hanging fruit -- Friendster & MySpace -- my meditations led me to draw some key insights from the success and failures of declining social platforms. Let’s take a look at how we’ve been moving forward with those lessons in mind.

The Future

Perhaps the most important lesson we learned from social media’s past is that NOTHING online lasts forever—besides that awful old profile picture that seems to resurface every couple years. Eventually, Twitter and Facebook will go the way of MySpace and Friendster—it might be worthwhile to start thinking about what’s next.

Visual Media

Let’s be honest, the primary reason many people are on Facebook is to creep on people’s pictures; social media has always excelled as a means of sharing images and this seems to be increasingly the case. Both Facebook and Twitter have recently undergone photo-centric redesigns, replacing messy URLs with photo previews and generally privileging posts involving images and videos.

Visual content is easier to process quickly and in general, people seem to prefer a pretty picture over a block of text; photos on Facebook generate 33% more likes than the average post.

Lesson 1

Lead social content with an image or video; even if you mean to ultimately draw consumers towards a piece of written content, a flashy photo or graphic will help your post to stick out in a crowded news feed.

Facebook and Twitter’s transitions towards image heavy formats can in part be attributed to the rise of a new class of social media site—those based solely in the distribution of visual content. Trimming the text-based fat from browser-based platforms, Instagram hit the scene in 2010 to the delight of foodies and amateur photographers the world over.

In August 2012, Instagram surpassed Twitter for daily active mobile users—followed by an 8.5x increase over the following six months. Facebook, perhaps prophesizing inaction leading to their own fall into relative obscurity, purchased Instagram that same year for a cool $1 billion. In order to cash out on their investment, Facebook has begun to experiment with things like paid placement and sponsored hashtags; and yet, most marketing success stories on Instagram have resulted from good content, plain and simple. Image-heavy social media sites -- Instagram in particular—are perfect for sharing exclusive behind-the scenes looks and product previews.

Still, Facebook seems to be banking on the eventual dominance of targeted Instagram advertisements. So far, the application of such technologies on their main site has netted them a ton of money and from a customer service standpoint, customized ad experiences might be a good thing. However, the champions of social targeting seem to be neglecting the mounting societal aversion towards what is essentially the destruction of digital privacy. Sharing pictures over social media is a ton of fun, but inevitably some of us will end up regretting parts of our Facebook or Instagram presences—we certainly don’t want that dirty laundry aired in front of advertisers.

Lesson 2

Provide value. I mentioned earlier how powerful and important data-driven targeting over social media can be; that said, make sure that you’re cultivating a social presence that’s actually worth following. Reaching potential consumers is only half the battle—in order to keep them and convert them to brand advocates, provide the types of can’t-miss content that they’ll anxiously await and want to share with their friends.

Mobile

I won’t dally too much on mobile because there’s a lot to say on the topic—and I’ve reached that 1200 word sweet spot where attention is waning—but in brief: people spend a ton of time looking at their phones; so far advertisers have had a hard time capitalizing on that fact. Social media seems well positioned to provide an assist here as, on both iPhone and Android, social networking apps are among the most frequently used — about 20 times per user per month. The recent success of Instagram and Snapchat can be partially attributed to the fact that both were built with a smartphone in mind; meanwhile Facebook and Twitter have been playing catch-up with repeated mobile re-designs. And there’s definite proof that these moves are paying off—Facebook more than tripled its profits in the first quarter of 2014 on account of a shift in focus towards mobile UI and marketing efforts.

Lesson 3

Your most captivated audience might not be at the computer. As digital media progresses and mobile becomes increasingly important, it’s crucial to start considering the unique ways in which people interact with their cell phones—trends in social media can provide an excellent window.

07/01/2014 at 08:53

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