Social media, as we know, is an ever changing medium. Since its first boom period a little over 10 years ago, pretty much all of the early frontrunners have fell by the wayside. Myspace and Bebo fell to Facebook and Twitter. These companies are flying high at the moment, but undoubtedly in another 10 years, the landscape will be completely changed again, with or without them.
There are several factors that can alter the current of the social media ocean. Some of these changes are gradual, whereas others can be quite sudden. The way established social media companies track and react to these shifts can mean their continued survival, or leave the door open for rivals or new companies to steal a march. Here are a few examples, all of which have caught out social sites in the past, and will likely do the same in the future.
Despite being the hardest change to track and predict, social media sites are slaves to their demographics. If they are going after the many or the few, they have to be optimised to appeal to them directly and consistently. But there is one potential pitfall that most sites can do next to nothing about.
The shorthand way to title it is the “parent effect”. Millennials (people in their early teens to early 30s) are, by default, the largest social media users. They are part of the internet generation, so tend to seamlessly integrate with any new social media site with ease. But though they are the first wave, the rest of the world is catching up fast. Everyone, it seems, is becoming more online savvy, and they too want to be part of the cool new social media scene. So they sign up, which creates a knock on effect.
Now, the youngsters are sharing space with their parents. Obviously, when your elders are watching what you do, you tend to act differently. Your previous safe haven for free expression has now been compromised. So they’ll usually move on with the rest of their peers to a new site that their parents haven’t discovered yet. They’ll still be on the old site, but there will be a general rifling down of their presence on their before they eventually abandon it all together.
Facebook is in the midst of this at the moment, as they push to be an all encompassing site. Twitter initially benefitted, but they will soon find themselves in a similar position as older demographics cotton on to it. Younger social apps like Snapchat are further away from that point, so can put off building a contingency plan for now. If you want to get in early, here is a simple guide to get you started.
Despite their outward appearances, social media is no different to any other business website – their aim is to make money. In fact, most social media platforms without a sponsor / advertisement plan won’t ever see the light of day, as investors will believe there will be no return on their investment.
Conversely, though, people use social media to communicate, so anything too over the top is likely to drive them away. For example, for a while Twitter was essentially ad free. Corporations had official accounts, but people would have to choose to follow them if they wanted to see the latest products that company had to offer. Twitter likely did this to attract a large fanbase, planning to make the shift to an advertising model later on down the line. When they did, there was a harsh kneejerk reaction. They survived, but that may be because they had no real rivals at the time, so there was no where for the disgruntled users to go to.
Facebook, too, suffered a backlash when they made the switch, but now it is a very successful business machine. As these statistics show, a lot of business to business advertising takes place on the site, and a lot of small businesses are finding success with paid Facebook ads.
What does this mean going forward? Well future social media sites may choose to integrate advertising and sponsorship early, as so to avoid any hasty outcry when they make the switch. Whoever can find the best balance between user experience and turnover is likely to be the next big contender for Facebook’s crown.
You may have noticed recently that the Facebook Messenger service has been spun-off into it’s own mobile app. This is an example of what the future may hold for social media platforms – a fragmentation of its services, especially on mobile platforms.
The reasons for doing this will vary from company to company. In fact, two of the reasons for doing this can be found in the two paragraphs above. A splintering of services to match certain demographics helps combat the “parent effect”. The millennials will have app, the older generation will have another, and the amount of crossover will be up to each individual user. Also, platforms could choose to offer a paid subscription service that will remove all adverts (though the viability of this one is shaky at best).
It will also be a potential life saver for failing social media outlets. Google+ has long been the “elephant in the room” for the search engine giant, becoming something of a joke during its first 3 years as it tried to compete with Facebook. Recently, however, it became widely speculated that the platform was being split up. Some of the popular features, like the chat feature Google Hangouts, will be spun into new apps, while the core service itself will transition into more of an online ID for all of Google other products, like YouTube.
These are just some of the factors that will affect companies in the future. There are more mundane ones, such as a general interest cycle (“I’m bored of MySpace, what’s this Facebook?”) and fiscal mismanagement, but there are also ones we have no way of being able to predict. Snapchat and Vine hit on an unexpected niche with their cool and innovative sharing options, so who knows what innovation may eventually lead to Facebook’s stronghold slipping!
Written by Izabela Wisniewska