We need to create a new generation of social media networks because the current ones make us sick.
TL;DR — we need to build a new generation of social media networks that would encourage us to build more personal and private relationships, instead of sharing everything with everybody in our social network circles. The way how social media work today makes us lonely, depressed and sick because we create false self-presentations about ourselves.
Disclaimer: This is just my vision. I use social media for personal and professional (marketing) use.
Problem #1: Social Media is about brands and advertising, not about personal connections with your friends.
I’ve used social media for the last 16 years, and I believe that the current concept of social media today has outlived itself and it needs to be re-invented. What’s wrong with social media today in my opinion and what we should change?
Let’s take Facebook as an example and look at how they make their money. Like you probably already know, then Facebook sells data about your demography and preferences to marketers. Every piece of content that you engage with or share on their platform gives information about you to Facebook, that can be used to target you with ads. For example, if you visit a sushi restaurant and check in there on Facebook, then they will know that you like sushi and now I as a marketer can target you with this data.
Several years ago I was still able to see posts from my friends, favorite brands/communities without having to mark them “See First” or enabling notifications to get notified when something got posted. But in recent years, the organic reach for brands on Facebook has been in massive decline. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Back in the February 2012, the average Organic Reach for FB page was 15–16%. In September 2013, that number was 12.5%. In November 2013 it was down to 10%. In June 2016, the Organic Reach had dropped down to 2%. Currently, the organic reach is speculated to be around 1.2% approximately.
Advertising is Facebook’s primary source of revenue and a decline in organic reach has led us to a situation, where brands are spending a ludicrous amount of money on ads to reach their potential customers, which means that Facebook is making more money (which is good from the business perspective), their quarterly earnings are positive and investors optimistic, sending the stock price up, but it also means more ads/spam in our newsfeed. There’s even a correlation between Facebook stock price and a decline in organic reach. Convince and Convert even put together a chart about it. As organic reach dropped from approximately 12% to 6%, Facebook’s stock price moved from nearly $50 to nearly $70.
A few years ago I was still able to see plenty of organic content published by pages that I’ve liked or posts by my friends, but in recent years it has changed. Now I see tons of sponsored content on my newsfeed. I did a small test and scrolled through 500 posts on my Facebooks newsfeed on my desktop, and about 20% of those posts were ads trying to sell me something. When I did the same thing on my smartphone, then the ratio was the same. After four organic posts, I always see one sponsored content on Facebook, both on the desktop and mobile. On Instagram, I was able to spot a similar pattern, even though sometimes a sponsored content appears after 4th post, sometimes after 5–6th post.
So thanks to lower organic reach, brands are now flooding social media over with their ads, and that’s a problem in my opinion. Facebook used to be about friends and connecting with friends, but now it’s all about brands.
From the business perspective I totally understand why brands are doing it — they need to generate revenue and social media ads help brands to reach their audiences since everyone, and everything is online, connected and reachable, but from the human perspective I believe that Facebook should think about how to be less annoying with ads and make Facebook more personal again.
Problem #2: Social media and mental health.
Social Media has made us more densely networked than ever. At the same time, social media contributes to issues like loneliness, depression, anxiety, isolation and other kinds of mental health problems. Besides being constantly reminded by the brands that advertise on social media about how we should have more nice things to live happily by using clever Fear of Missing Out tactics, social media is also full of fake/false self-presentations.
Winnicott’s theory says that one’s ego can split to “true self” and “false self.” False self-presentation on social media is a growing trend, and it may serve as a gateway behavior to more problematic behaviors which may lead to psychological problems and even pathologies. When we use social media, then we display the best version of ourselves, by posting only the happiest moments from our lives, but we never mention negative or sad things that happen (I’ve done it, you’ve probably done it and so have your friends) and in my opinion that creates problems. Why? Because people who are following and consuming content produced by us (always smiling, traveling, eating out, throwing parties, spending time together with friends etc), automatically compare their lives to them and when they see people only posting positive content about their lives then it makes them depressed, anxious and it creates dissonance in the society.
Social media also has an impact on social skills. Interacting with your peers is about so much more than just using words. It’s about reading body language, understanding the tone of voice of another person, etc. All of this is important to have healthy and functioning human relationships. Teenagers are the most vulnerable to this kind of issue, since many of them only rely on social media to stay in touch with their friends and acquaintances, but they don’t have real-life interactions with them, which puts them into isolation and prevents them from learning the critical social skills that they need to be functioning member of society.
So what should we do? We should build Human To Human (H2H) social networks to encourage personal and private relationships.
Other online platforms, such as blogs, forums, portals, and websites offer either anonymity or possibility to use fake names, but most of the modern social media requires us to expose ourselves to everybody in our network.
In my opinion, Snapchat is winning the game on the social media landscape in the long-run.
Why do I believe that? Snapchat encourages people to make more personal connections. While other social media channels focus on showing off, then Snapchat focuses on “showing in”. What do I mean by that is while other social media channels focus on pushing your content out there for the whole world or your entire network to see and it’s contributing to social anxiety, depression etc, then Snapchat focuses on creating more personal connections with your friends. Snapchat doesn’t have a public wall for everybody else to see. Yes, you can post something on your profile and your friends on Snapchat can see that content, but it will be gone within the 24 hours. Most of the Snapchatting is still done (at least on the example of my friends and me) privately between two connections. When a friend sends me a direct message with content on Snapchat, then, in my opinion, it gives more personal feeling and touch to social media, because I know that someone actually thought about me when producing this content personally to me and sending it to me. Compared to other social media channels that are feeding the social anxiety and different negative feelings, Snapchat gives me so much more positive emotions.
That’s how social media looks today.
That’s how social media should look like in the future.
Instead of focusing on the large network and sharing everything directly with everybody on your network, future social media should become a place that encourages you to make personal and private relationships and offers a possibility to share every piece of content directly and privately with individuals that matter to you the most. Social networks should become Human to Human (H2H).
Please let me know what your thoughts are about this subject and how do you see the future of social media.