The Next Generation of Social Networking
Social networking has helped us keep up to date with everything everywhere. From the beginning, usage drove new habit creation and altered value systems for users and businesses. Social networks have changed the way we connect and communicate. However, many questions and opportunities become evident as larger players lose more steam every year.
My experiences with social networking over the years may be similar to many of yours. I remember MySpace as incredibly entertaining. It was a challenge to walk away from the computer. Building profiles and connecting everything into one concise stream was euphoric at points. Adding a simple background image was similar to getting artwork showcased at some grand Museum. There was beauty in creating a masterpiece of information that was perfectly representative in every form. There was a sense of accomplishment and value with each update (even if you weren’t the most popular kid). But something happened…
It went to the wolves. Loading times went through the roof when they added more design features and hooked up with advertisers. Everything had to be tracked instead of just displayed. Processing time began to erode the experience. The sense of value diminished quickly. The usage of MySpace became a disease. So many of my peers became so frustrated that chastising others for continuing use became a popular activity. The new void created opportunity.
An opportunity capitalized by Facebook. Minimalism and structure provided the same form of achievement-based value opportunity for users looking for the best way to reinvest the formed habits instilled by MySpace. A new found desire for information and validation emerged among users of the new social networking age. Facebook also began evolving the nature of communication alongside growing usage of mobile systems and less direct means of communication. Small bursts of noise became earth-shaking. It could be compared to the roar of hundreds of thousands of little birds all chirping in perfect succession. A new egg hatched, and Twitter was born.
Twitter; and the echo chamber that was quickly completed, created a whole new digital experience platform for the taking. With YouTube, media content could be created on a dime. Add in data analysis and these organizations became perfect targets for the interests involved with information distribution and monitoring. Public offerings became highly successful. Almost everyone was taking part in the evolution.
Social networks, dating apps, and blogging systems are now everywhere. They drive content creation for major brands, organizations, and groups everywhere. Even older generations are starting to invest in learning the technology and adopting it throughout their ranks. In some cases, this has spawned the need for a more diverse ecosystem as younger individuals flock from the mainstream apps to avoid awkward family issues regarding the material they engage or refine their focus of material. The larger mainstream systems will try to acquire these niche platforms as they reach critical thresholds of activity or have systems that support core functionality.
Social networks are also becoming the next source for news distribution. The global and political environments have really driven this development. Some candidates get tremendous coverage for the nature of statements made and some are almost completely ignored. The former drives traffic to major news outlets and their content; helping them bring in ad revenues. The latter has caused many individuals to use the social platforms as the primary mean of distribution; with content only getting picked up by the mainstream only after it has garnered high levels of viewership. Either way, more focused conversational topics and eye-catching headlines will only help generate more focus on conflicting perspectives. As conflicts arise more frequently, distress begins to set in, taking its toll on social networks.
Shrinking Audiences and Social Media Fatigue
Shrinking audiences are becoming a trend. People are giving up their social networks. There are many opinions and studies on this topic.
“The gratification and thrill associated with social media has substantially faded as too many images and voices vie for attention, causing what feels like thousands of attention-hungry children speaking over one another, simultaneously saying everything and nothing. A lawless clusterfuck. Sure, many of us still scroll through our feeds on auto-pilot, mindlessly double tapping photos of cacti, skimming heartful captions while feeling nothing. But, overall, we’re withdrawing from social media in favor of decluttering and clearing our heads, seeking out meaningful and authentic connections, and forgoing the dime-a-dozen opinions of others in favor of experts.” — Jean Helpern
The sentiment is shared in multiple but similar ways. Cleansing seems to be a similar characteristic cause of the shrinking usage.
“Facebook is the cigarette of 2013, the “bad habit” many are trying to kick. And the doubts seem to be stemming from Facebook’s younger users. — Taylor Casti
It may not be as strongly felt throughout the population, but this trend does raise some important questions, not only about the social networks and their offerings but about the value we attain from participation. There is a level of exhaustion in keeping up with following a story so one does not end up on the wrong side of a digital conversation. Online bullying is also worrisome. Instead of engaging in conversations to explore the depths of a misunderstanding or disagreement, comments quickly become emotional reactions of supercharged rhetoric and rarely speckled with supportive evidence.
Advertising arrives with its own splash. Some ads may be helpful. Some are frustrating. No matter what way you look at it, advertisements change the experience. And they don’t always add value...
Where is the value for users?
Companies see great value in social networks because they can analyze the data and make some powerful predictions. Spending grew 23% from 2013-2014, 31% from 2014–2015, 25% from 2015–16, and is expected to grow 18% during 2016. Social network ad spending increased 207% in North America since 2013.
Massive amounts of analysis find and squeeze value while shrinking production costs from everything. The results help to determine a dollar value for an organization; utilized in valuations. When a user’s social media content is analyzed with purchase records, organizations gain a very powerful predictive tool. These predictions and digital engagements are intangible assets representing an actual dollar value for brands, organizations, and more. All these resources come from user production via their social interactions.
This is where I believe social networks are lacking. The value only goes in one direction. And when I say value, I mean “REAL VALUE”. Social networking users spend great amounts of time on social networking and only see a memory of their action. They can’t see how it collectively becomes part of a narrative that they have helped build. The value organizations obtain from social engagement does not reflect similarly for users.
Alternatives are growing to build on the weaknesses of the larger systems. There are systems that let you sell your data to interested parties. Some try to pay you to post on other social networks. Loyalty programs exist where discounts or points earned can only be used (with restrictions) in the manner designed. These systems remove the long-term value attributed. Users get ‘paid now’ while losing the ability to see how their engagements continuously stimulate growth over time? The intentions behind these alternatives raise some really good questions.
What good is all the data sold? Who sees it and why would they care? Is there a balance on the return from interaction? Can engagements drive a social change that actually enriches communities served? Why can’t continuous growth spurred by engagements be defined? How well do we know the people with whom we are connected? How can I directly use my networks to help my community? Do my engagements actually bring me closer to people? These are big questions.
The answers to these questions define the ‘value’ social networking users seek today. Most users would have a difficult time answering these questions on an interaction-by-interaction basis. Any real value derived from our interactions with the world around us is missing from the user experience. Instead, we get a feed of echo-chamber repeats and super-saturated content. The final conclusion is that the next generation will see their “social capital” as an asset with real value and where/how their engagements could make the greatest impact to grow that asset base.
The Social Networking Revolution
The future of social networking demands value generation for everyone. Users and businesses must be able to take part in the evolution of the many services and products offered. They should be able to collect some of the revenue generated by their support and use. They should be able to connect more passionately and coordinate day-to-day activities more beneficially. They should be able to witness the full scope of their engagements’ digital journies and benefit from any value created.
Thoughts from Bobby Fisher
Co-Founder of Tipr
To learn more about Tipr, visit mytipr.com.