What is the future of social media?
Where are we heading with social media, not just in the near term but long term, too?
Have we hit a plateau or is the more to go?
Has Facebook won the ‘social media wars’ or will a new disruptive technology come out of nowhere and blast it away?
Social media is driven by people. Are we beginning to feel the fatigue? That ‘always on’ feeling, knowing that you’re a few screen taps away from envy on Instagram or outrage on Twitter.
The answer is, of course, the future of social media is a bright one.
Maybe not for some of the social media platforms or indeed for some of its users, but media that has a social component to it will continue to flourish for the next ten to fifteen years at least.
Because the genie is barely out of the bottle.
And in the ten short years of its mainstream existence, social media has helped facilitate revolutions, caused disruption in business and industry, made politics a public (and often global) debate and has (for better or worse) made a psychological impact on people who use it.
In this short time, social media has made a profound impact on society and there is no reason why it won’t continue.
The future of social media is not about the evolution of the technology and “why you need to embrace video!” but is about the cultural changes to individuals and society.
Below I’ve outlined six areas of what the future of social media is.
These aren’t a set of predictions for the year ahead. Instead, they are trends that I’m seeing without a timestamp.
Gary Vaynerchuk says he “day trades attention” because there is so much noise and content created on a daily basis, attention is the new currency.
I’d go one further than that as attention can be short-lived. People ‘go viral’ online all the time and often for the silliest things. This kind of attention is not wanted nor replicable.
Having influence, however, means you can draw attention whenever you need it.
Influence is the greatest form of attention you can have, which is why it takes much longer to develop. Once you’ve built trust with an audience it can last a lifetime provided you don’t neglect or take that trust for granted.
This is why the influencer marketing industry will take off over the next ten years as brands increasingly work with influencers over traditional forms of media.
Let me tell you a story.
My family were visiting me in London last year and, in typical style, we tend to do all the tourist activities the city has to offer.
One day we decided to go to the waxwork museum, Madame Tussauds.
My 13-year-old nephew, surrounded by the world’s most famous people, albeit their waxworks versions, didn’t care to have his photo taken alongside any of them.
That was until we found the room of London YouTubers. His eyes lit up and he immediately sat down on their bed (that’s where YouTubers usually film from) and asked for his picture to be taken with Zoella and Alfie.
There and then it confirmed to me that the future of entertainment and thus influence, from his generation onwards, lies in social media.
They essentially both do the same thing.
In fact, they both often work for the same news company, yet why is it that a person who writes news is less trusted than someone who reads it on TV?
It’s because we’re close to the TV news reader. We can see them and look into their eyes while they read us the news. We can read their body language and nonverbal communication and make subconscious judgements on what they’re telling us.
Call it primal or natural human instinct but, whatever it is, it makes us trust this person more than if we were reading the same words on a page.
Around 60 to 65 percent of personal communication is nonverbal.
This means the written word can be interpreted differently from what is intended.
Subtle nuances, sarcasm and emotion are difficult to get across in writing. You need to be an examplorary writer to do it. Emojis help but there is a time and a place for them.
This is why the rise of audio and video are important. Displaying your personality in both formats is much easier than the written word.
Tone of voice, vocal tonality and emotion are easier to convey in audio. With video, you have that and more.
That’s not to say writing is dead or dying but if you want to connect with an audience on a deep and emotional level you better get the microphone or camera out.
Charisma is the new data
For the last year or two, most social networks have pushed users towards video. They’ve encouraged us to consume and create it. Facebook has now publicly stated that the platform will prioritise video over other content.
This push to video means the future of social media is personality driven.
In an era where everything online is becoming either automated or done by technology, charisma cannot be replicated by a machine. Not yet, anyway.
Video and audio allow you to connect with people in a much deeper way. If you can carry yourself well, that is. If not, it may pay to learn.
Having charisma yields power, trust, influence and status. And while charisma works better in the real world, social video can make you charismatic ‘at scale.’
This is being driven by two kinds of users:
- The ‘documenters’ who can fire up a Facebook Live or Periscope from anywhere and give their opinion on breaking news
- The creators who can make compelling video with narrative, structure and emotional hooks
Of course, the technology and data are still important, but when it comes to connecting and influencing others, the future of social media is personality driven.
You can’t be all things to all people. Not in today’s world. Why? Because there are millions of other people just like you.
In the era of the long tail, you have to find a niche. Something that separates you from everyone else.
Just a few years ago, if you worked in digital you were niche. Now, everything is digital.
Sometimes niching down means polarising people. Some people will love you and others won’t like you. But this is the internet and there are billions of people online. If 99 percent of people don’t like you but one percent do, you’ll be hugely successful.
Media spend, including marketing, advertising and PR, continues to move online. Influencer marketing is set to grow considerably over the next ten years.
This shift is beginning to professionalise social media influencers. They now come with their own rate cards and criteria of how they work with brands and agencies. Just like a publication does.
The future of social media will become more professional as marketing money that once went towards traditional forms of advertising is now spent on thousands of micro-influencers for a greater ROI.
YouTubers who make their money from ads are currently having a rough ride with the ‘adpocalypse‘ but this is a blip in the long-term trend. There have never been more individuals making money from social than right now.
As well as this, affiliate marketing (or ‘performance marketing’ as it’s often known) continues to grow.
More companies are creating their own affiliate programs so fans can recommend their products or services and take a cut in the process.
As ecommerce spending continues to grow, affiliate marketing will grow with it.
Amazon Associates, the largest affiliate market in the world, has launched its own influencer program that allows influencers to promote the products they use via the Amazon website.
I’m on the influencer program and you can find my product recommendations are here.
Increasing complexity will lead to specialisation
The future of social media means complexity will continue.
Facebook is a complex beast and understanding every component of the platform is a daunting task.
It continues to evolve its features from the newsfeed algorithm to its advertising platform. It is in a constant state of change. New features are released while others abandoned on a weekly basis.
If Facebook is an important platform for your business, it’s likely that you’ll need to hire people who (or you’ll have to learn how to) specialise in not only using it but keeping up to date with it.
With over 2 billion users and counting, the ‘Facebook expert’ will be a more sought out role.
Likewise, understanding video is a learning curve. Recording formats, file formats, lighting, editing, producing and so on, all take time to learn and develop skills around.
The upside of social video in is it doesn’t have to be highly produced to be successful. This will change as more money flows in and consumers demand a more professional set up.
A-list influencers and celebrities who have money to spend on content will hire production teams to create content across all platforms, spreading their message far and wide.
For the micro-influencers just starting out, they will need to focus on one or two platforms and double down on them.
I started my first blog in 2005 which in today’s world is light years ago. Over the years I’ve created other blogs, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and so on.
I’ve also deleted most of them too including hundreds of thousands of words with passive SEO traffic and thousands of group members.
My online platform should be much bigger than it is now. I know many people like this too. Like me, they chose to start all over again when they/I should have just continued building.
Social media is a long game for most of us. Unless you have a ton of money or you have some unique angle that everybody loves, it’s about long-term reputation building.
You have to show up each day and provide more value than you take. The internet has a short memory and you can be forgotten quite easily. The individuals, organisations and brands who invest the most will get the most of it.
You have to think of it in two to three-year increments. Speak to most so-called “overnight successes” and they’ll tell you there was a long period of being alone in the wilderness.
That’s how I see social media evolving over the next few years. Get prepared for it.