For some of us, social media is a simple means of communication making it easier to stay in contact with friends and family.
For others (like me), it’s an inexpensive marketing channel we can leverage to power our businesses.
In both contexts, social media has become a permanent fixture of our society, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a future without it.
The brands might change and the platforms might evolve, but the social media concept is here to stay.
That being said, social media isn’t perfect, and it’s not without its challenges.
Consumers and brands alike are starting to notice the flaws and weaknesses of these systems, and even major players like Twitter are starting to feel the pressure to address these fault points (or fall out of relevance).
As we look toward the future of social media, there are pivotal challenges that the next generation’s platforms will need to address.
Acknowledging and anticipating these changes can help you get a leg up in the marketing world.
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1. The Distinction Problem
Twitter, a company that seemed unstoppable just five years ago, appears to be on a downward trend. Why?
There are a few reasons, but the most important is that it doesn’t offer anything that other platforms can’t offer.
It doesn’t have the niche demographics that LinkedIn does, nor the unique functionality of something like SnapChat.
Instead, it’s like Facebook, but with a character restriction. Because of this, users are losing interest. Next-gen social platforms can’t just “be another _____,” they have to offer something entirely new, or they’ll collapse in a matter of months.
Up until now, the social media world has been relatively new and malleable; now that we have major, near-permanent constructs, there’s less room for imitation.
2. The Public-Private Dichotomy
Privacy has always been an issue for social media; putting your personal information on a public profile leaves you vulnerable to hackers, stalkers, abusers, law enforcement, and even potential hirers.
For some brands, public status is a key advantage, one of the reasons Twitter came to be popular was its total open-forum approach.
For others, privacy has become a greater and greater concern to match user outcry (as with Facebook’s constant doling out of new privacy updates).
Still others have responded by making platforms as private as possible (like SnapChat). Social media has an inherently public aspect, so it can never be 100 percent private, and being 100 percent public is something that almost nobody desires.
Accordingly, tomorrow’s social media platforms will have to find a new way to marry these two ideas together in a way that keeps users happy.
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3. The Longevity Threshold
It’s not enough to have a new, unique “hook” to keep users around forever; Twitter’s low character counts were pretty cool back in the day, but now users are bored with the gimmick (generally).
Instead, the most popular platforms are ones that consistently evolve with new consumer trends. For example, Instagram is introducing new features on a regular basis, and has become a much more approachable platform than its original niche would allow.
The longevity threshold is the fact that a future social media platform will only survive if it allows itself to change function and format over the years.
Otherwise, it’s bound to fail.
4. The Immersion Trend
Consistently, the pattern of successful social media platforms have followed a pattern of increasing “immersion,” which allows users to integrate social media further and more naturally into their daily lives.
The jump to mobile devices, the real-world applications of “checking in” and geographic identifiers, and the upcoming virtual reality tech of Oculus are all examples of this.
I’m not sure anyone can predict what might lie beyond the immersive factor of virtual reality, but if you project the trend forward, it seems inevitable that some new immersive experience will take hold. That means new ways of interacting with consumers, and a blurrier line between social media and the real world.
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Social brands that aren’t able to address these challenges will eventually fade away, to be replaced with the platforms that are. That means, to be prepared for the next generation of social, your brand has to be prepared for these evolutions.
That means preparing for platforms with highly specific niches, mediums, and angles, seeking a balance between public and private consumer engagements you seek (and offer), investing in the platforms with the highest degree of adaptability, and focusing on ways to immerse your customers.
Predicting the future of social media beyond a couple of years is highly speculative, and arguably a little risky, but I feel confident that these four problems will have at least some role in shaping the platforms to come.
Until then, keep your strategy flexible and watch for developments across the board.