Social Media is now an integral part of both our personal and work lives. As PR and marketing pros, it's almost hard to imagine our work without it. That's why having the right media intelligence tool is essential, as is building the right foundation for a robust social media strategy.
When social media first started to emerge in the mid-2000s as a popular way to connect online, marketers and consumers split into two camps. One camp boldly proclaimed that social media was the wave of the future. The other denounced social media as a fad (something people still occasionally insist today, more than 10 years later).
It’s clear that social media has had and continues to have a substantial impact on our daily lives—and it’s hard to imagine sites like Facebook ever going away, with more than 1 billion people currently using the platform. But when you look at the broad context of social media, and some of the recent developments shaping the industry, you have to wonder—are we heading to a post-social media world?
Coming and Going
For starters, let’s take a look at the rates of emergence and decay of social media platforms. In the early days of social media, and even as recently as a few years ago, new platforms would spring up constantly, looking for a piece of the social pie, and they’d die off just as quickly when their user bases wouldn’t grow to sustainable levels.
These days, that rate has substantially slowed, and people are gravitating only to a handful of apps—Facebook earns the attention of 79 per cent of adults, with a cluster of other apps (WhatsApp, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter among them) hovering close to the 30 per cent mark.
This slowdown means a couple of things that could indicate progress toward a post-social future:
- Normalization of social media. With social platforms becoming more stable, less novel, and more intuitive, users aren’t focusing on social media as separate from their daily lives. They’re becoming more integrated, and over time may cease to be considered distinct entities.
- Centralization of platforms. It’s also worth noting that single platforms are rising above the fold, giving them the power to dictate the future of social media development in the same way that Google dictated the development of search for years. As this trend increases, social media platforms will likely start heading in newer, bolder directions that leave our old conceptions of “social media” in the dust.
Live Streams and Constant Interaction
Many platforms are also heading toward further integration with the “real” world; user interest in live video and other “in the moment” posts is enormous, especially when compared to reflective or retrospective posts. This is at least part of the reason why Snapchat has become as popular as it has; since messages are temporary and capture a specific moment in time, they’re a form of interacting with the live world.
The fact that most social apps cater to mobile users is another indication of this trend; mobile users are more likely to share things as they happen, rather than waiting to post about them at a later time. Social media apps run in the background, and users interact with each other on a constant basis. Already, social apps are becoming more like instant messaging platforms than a distinct entity on their own.
Wearable Tech and New Interfaces
As technology evolves, we’ll likely see new worlds of socialization emerge. Wearable technology and smart home systems like Google Home are encouraging users to decrease their reliance on screens and traditional interfaces. For a technology like smartwatches, screens are too small or unnoticeable to present easy engagement. For smart home systems, hands-free communication and functionality are essential. That doesn’t leave any room for the world of social media as we’re used to it—a place to browse through the posts and photos of your friends and family and interact accordingly.
Augmented and virtual reality will make this trend escalate even faster, and given Facebook’s interest in the technology already, most social media platforms are clamoring to get to that next level. With integrated AR and VR, you can talk to people as if they’re in the same room as you, and you can even experience what they’re experiencing vicariously, complete with a full sensory experience and no need for the platforms of old.
What the Post-Social Media World Looks Like
Any social media interface you can imagine will be long gone. There might be buttons or menus that allow you to do things like call up a specific contact or stream a projection of your current line of sight, but online social interaction won’t exist the way we know it today.
Instead, social media companies will be focused on advanced forms of messaging and broadcasting, which will transcend our current limitations by a factor we can’t yet imagine. I imagine most interactions like “comments” and “likes” will disappear too, in favor or real-time feedback, and decades down the road, all this technology may become so minimalistic and so integrated that it doesn’t exist as an external device.
This projected reality of social media is exciting and may sound a bit too sci-fi for your taste. That’s fine; I encourage you not to make any bold business or marketing decisions based around this far-off projection of what’s to come.
In reality, social media will likely evolve gradually, with no major revolutions over the next few years. But don’t write off these developments too far—if I had to nail down a date, I’d argue that we’ll start seeing a full transition away from traditional platforms within a decade.
But before that happens, if you have questions about setting up a social media program for your company, consider downloading our ebook, Social Media Playbook: Planning & Measuring Campaigns.