Where social media can improve and grow going forward.
The 2016 election was a painful time for most Americans. It was so mentally strenuous that psychologists are still talking about post-election anxiety several months after Election Night. And where did we process all that anxiety and frustration?
Why, Facebook and Twitter, of course. Some have even gone so far as to blame the results and tone of the election entirely on social media and the way real and fake information was shared.
Who among us isn’t still suffering aftershocks? Who doesn’t have strained relationships with friends and family after one too many political opinion posts? Who hasn’t been affected by use of the “delete” button? Social media, in its role as ground zero for viral political commentary, is invaluable, unavoidable, and exhausting.
But that’s not the only social media shift happening.
Demographics of social media are changing. Teens have been leaving Facebook in droves for years, and many can’t even be bothered to join because it’s what their parents use. In 2016, Facebook marked a 21 percent drop in original, personal updates as users have begun communicating more and more in shared articles and memes alone.
Privacy concerns are getting more pronounced as people become more aware of data harvesting, adding to previous concerns of identity theft.
Many in the industry are predicting massive changes as we move into the dramatically shifted post-election social media landscape. I recently interviewed Jeanne Lewis, CEO of Capsure, a new private social network for preserving memories, and she says, “Social media has really gotten away from us. It’s gotten to the point where we work for it, not the other way around. With social media as it’s been, the users are the product, which has caused some real rifts and problems between loved ones. It’s just not connecting us the way it was supposed to.”
Lewis isn’t the only one who feels that way, but she’s something of an expert on the subject, and she had some excellent points on how social media will transform in 2017 and on.
1. A focus on relationships
One of the first social networks was Friendster, a name which implies its purpose: Forming and maintaining friendships. That was how MySpace and Facebook ostensibly began, as well. However, as they’ve progressed, they’ve become more about personal brand maintenance and attempts to form and join various short-lived zeitgeists.
“Social platforms today have evolved into a broadcast tool both for companies and individuals,” says Lewis. “While this is valuable when you have a broad announcement to share and want to reach as many people as possible, these are no longer the vehicles for sharing photos of your kids, recording audio or staying connected with your inner circle of family and friends.”
To fix this, social media will probably begin to draw the focus back into relationships by emphasizing personal posts, photographs and small, intimate connections over outside content like memes and articles.
2. Diversity of personal posts
Until now, posts have been limited to outside material, pictures, videos and text. Don’t be surprised if, going forward, new players will introduce more diverse posting options, intermingling audio and visual components to create a unique experience for people viewing and creating posts. As digital technology progresses, people will be hungry for new and interesting ways to share experience.
Lewis emphasizes the importance audio will play in social media’s future: “Just as many of us gathered around a cassette recorder in our early childhood, the unique power of audio can be experienced once again using our smartphones.”
3. Users will pay for peace
Premium service will make a splash. This one sounds counterintuitive — after all, who would pay for a social media experience when they’ve all been free up to this point. Two things will happen to change that previous wisdom. First, with a more personal, story-driven experience, customers will want high-quality images, videos and audio files stored for posterity. Second, having a place to escape constant advertisements will become very important, something a premium social media experience will offer.
“In order to ensure our digital memories are stored and preserved there should be a direct and clear relationship between compensation and the service provided,” says Lewis. “Otherwise, what assurance do users have?”
4. Different types of groups
Google Plus tried something like this before to little success, but spurred by the frustration caused by people seeing the wrong posts, social grouping will make a comeback. In the last political cycle, many relationships were tested unnecessarily when people felt attacked by never-ending political rants. If you don’t want Grandma to see your stances on gay marriage, put her in your non-political group. This will become very important for relationship maintenance.
“Context is everything,” says Lewis. “The person we are with our family is not necessarily the person we are with our college friends. Nevertheless, there’s a desire to stay connected with all of these groups but in a separate forum.”
5. Increased focus on privacy
Privacy concerns have plagued social media since its inception, and are only getting more pronounced. Expect future social media companies to offer more advanced network and profile privacy than ever before.
6. Less gamification
One of social media’s key components is that it’s highly addictive, even going so far as to be described as more addictive than cigarettes. New platforms will try to gear more toward long-term customer wellness as a feature by staving off more addictive qualities. They will focus more on the communal quality of social media rather than offer quick hits of serotonin from gratifying and frustrating outside content.
7. Legacy building
As has been said many times, the internet is written in ink. It cannot be erased, and in the future, people won’t want it to be. Users will want their social media to existing as an ongoing time capsule, a living record of their lives. Smart platform builders will realize posting shouldn’t be a burst about a single moment in time, to be consumed in a few seconds and forgotten about immediately, but as a multi-faceted, interactive diary involving many writers, all telling pieces of their own and others’ stories.
“We’ve arrived at a place where we are as thoughtful about capturing a personal moment to preserve as we are about carefully curating our Instagram feed,” says Lewis. “It’s a question of the legacy you want to leave behind. If someone has 2 hours to flip through your life’s journey, what do you want them to see?”
8. Open to experimentation
The main social media giants are slow, lumbering machines, resistant to change, and unbearably clumsy when they do change.
Future models will have seen platforms of the past try different things to different levels of success and will be open to explore. They will try out wildly different ways of managing contacts, befriending people, organizing interface layouts, etc. Facebook has had basically the same layout since its beginning — don’t expect that to be the case with new platforms.
A mammoth advantage new platforms will have is that they about after the smartphone became ubiquitous. Facebook and Twitter both came before they could really function on a mobile phone, but future platforms will be designed with phones in mind from the beginning.
No clumsy borrowing between web and phone platforms — seamless integration. The future of the internet is mobile, so it stands to reason that mobile-native platforms will be built to last.
10. Build us up, don’t tear us down
The self care and heartfulness movements are big right now for a reason. In a world as chaotic and terrifying as ours, with such a constant barrage of information and stimuli, personal well-being is a thing we must actively pursue and maintain.
Family and friend communities have been part of humanity since there was humanity, and they’re there to build us up. Social media will begin to recognize that again.
11. Video, video, and more video
In late 2016, we saw a major development in social media video when Instagram release Instagram Stories and Instagram Live. Instagram’s parent company Facebook also released Facebook Live and Messenger Day. The focus on the live format follows in the footsteps of Snapchat and Twitter’s Periscope.
According to Jay Singh, CEO of PHL Venture Company, “We continue to see a shift toward live content that is composed through a camera. The camera keeps growing in importance and the ability to see through other people’s lenses in real time is becoming a powerful force in social media.”
The most recent political cycle has exposed a lot of what was rotten in social media, making us all so constantly aware of what is wrong with ourselves and others that we barely have space in our heads for anything other than frustration and anxiety.
If they’re smart, new social media platforms will understand that create a new kind of social networking — a kind that actually feels like a personal asset instead of a detriment.