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The great divide: The future of social media 📱

With the fortunes of Meta and Musk headline news, here's how social media is changing (and how we can change with it).

Social media is dead.


At least, that was the recent proclamation from VICE’s Edward Ongweso Jr.

While provocative, the headline isn’t entirely unjustified. Meta has seen hundreds of billions in value lost this year and has since announced massive layoffs.


Twitter has fared even worse. The company laid off about half its full-time employees, advertisers have pulled funding amid a growing fear that misinformation and hate speech would be allowed to proliferate on the platform, and the $8 ‘Blue Tick’ has fuelled further chaos with reports suggesting it could have potentially impacted the stock prices of companies like Eli Lilly and Lockheed Martin.

This is a problem. And it highlights a chink in the armour of the social media business model which is often overlooked by us as users; that we (unless we’re paying $8 a month to Elon) are not the customer, the advertisers are. When we publish our thoughts on Twitter, we are doing labour for the company. We can earn followers, but we can’t take them with us if we ever leave the platform (see Substack).


The aforementioned article from Ongweso Jr explains it as follows,


“Over the last few years, social media refers to platforms where user growth is leveraged into advertiser revenue, along with new goods and services to sustain user growth that is leveraged into advertiser revenue, and so on. These platforms allow for users to connect to others, and in the process of all that connection generate data which other businesses pay for and use to offer more relevant goods and services and experiences.”

He continues, “These are not things that engender the creation of networks where we can socialize with one another, but instead where we watch others to an extent and are more actively watched by larger, private sector institutions interested in figuring out how to turn a profit. And, until there's a fundamental shift, we will never see true social media on a massive scale.”


Perhaps it is okay if we never see ‘true social media on a massive scale’. At least, that is the argument of Ian Bogost, a journalist at The Atlantic, who has previously claimed that people just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much.


“[People] shouldn’t have that much to say, they shouldn’t expect to receive such a large audience for that expression, and they shouldn’t suppose a right to comment or rejoinder for every thought or notion either.”


This is where platforms like TikTok have an advantage over platforms like Twitter as the content is far more unidirectional. TikTok – like YouTube, Twitch, and (to an increasing extent) Instagram – is closer to a broadcast platform competing with Netflix and Disney+ than what could be considered a genuine social media platform, a polydirectional network of communication. It’s less about mutual friends and more about mutual interests.


On the flip side, we are also seeing a shift in the other direction, which encompasses the other half of what I would call this great social media divide.

“There’s been a notable retreat into group chats and alternative platforms explicitly organized around messaging, suggesting that there’s some aversion to, frustration with, and limitation of this grand, totalizing vision of social media we’ve been sold where one platform provides one garden where all communities and all communication can occur.”

To conclude, the social media era is not ending (or dying), however it is dividing. Instead of having everyone on the same platform, we will continue to see increasing division around affiliations and interests, delivered in two distinct ways:

Broadcasting – creators replace your friends and serve you high quality output surrounding your interests and require limited interaction from you as the end user. TikTok, YouTube (Shorts), Instagram (Reels), and Twitch are prominent examples.

Messaging – conversation becomes more intimate as users form smaller groups to discuss niche topics and interests that have high engagement and are polydirectional. WhatsApp, Telegram, and Discord already facilitate this form of communication.


What does this mean for Business?

Interestingly, this mirrors a change in the nature of sales that was highlighted by The Wall Street Journal. According to the report, there are two trends permeating into the day-to-day workflow of a modern sales rep:

  1. Sales reps are making fewer cold calls and instead embracing more intimate communication channels like messaging apps (as buyers are increasingly finding products on their own).

  2. Sales reps are mapping out organisations and building value with various stakeholders (as sales cycles are taking longer than before and less often rely on a single decision maker than in the past).

The way that I have interpreted this is that there is a huge opportunity to create communities, facilitate quality conversation among users and even carefully curate the participants with whom you share value. This could be manifested via educational resources, webinars, group chats, event meet ups, etc. There is no direct sales here, simply a positive association and brand building exercise.


On the other hand, we’ll also see a boost in the trend of content + commerce. For brands (and for creators with huge reach starting their own consumer brands), the focus turns to producing or affiliating with popular content and using the social broadcasting platforms (a la YouTube and TikTok) to distribute - and ideally converting that attention over to owned and operated channels.

 

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