Here’s how three tech trends will influence the future of social media
You can’t really begin to think about the future of social media without acknowledging the problems and issues it currently faces. We live in a world where large numbers of start-up companies identify a problem and then use to technology to fix it. I think the same process might happen to social media in the coming years.
So, what’s wrong with social media? Well, where do we start? There have been endless stories about fake news, user manipulation, addiction, ghost accounts and much more. And this is before you even begin to concern yourself about how brands should be engaging with audiences via social. In many ways the platforms we have at the moment were designed to be places where individuals shared their personal content. Ultimately, they have become channels where both brands and individuals broadcast their news.
This worked because it has generated huge revenues for the platforms, and in many ways enabled brands to engage with audiences in new and highly effective ways.
Yet social media is constantly changing, and not always in good ways. As we have observed with the recent evolution of Facebook there’s little opportunity now for brands to organically grow their social media accounts. It is pay to play.
For some companies, the perceived toxicity of the issues that some social media channels are contending with has meant they have adopted different, and in some respects more traditional marketing strategies.
So where do we go from here? Are brands reaching the point where they are considering giving up on social completely? Or will technology once again change the landscape and solve some of the issues that are currently dogging Facebook, Twitter Instagram and the other platforms. And will the current platforms continue to prosper, or will Facebook become a MySpace style wilderness filled with pages that haven’t been updated in a decade?
At the next Future Content Sessions on February 6th, our esteemed panel of experts will attempt to answer some of these questions. If you are interested in attending there are more details here.
For now, though here is a discussion starter – three key tech trends that will impact the future of social.
In a few years’ time, it is quite likely that we won’t be using the term blockchain too often. That’s not because the much-vaunted technology is going to disappear, rather it will be ubiquitous underpinning so many of actions we undertake online from banking through to potentially voting.
It is likely to have a highly significant impact on social media as it has the potential to solve one of its most prescient problems – that of authentication. Social media is flooded with fake accounts and dubious posts. Blockchain addresses all this as it can be used to verify online identity. In theory at least, there will be no place left to hide.
At the present time companies waste millions of pounds each year advertising not to engaged individuals, but to dubious accounts or bots. Blockchain powered verified identities could mean that on social media brands will, for the first time, truly know exactly who they are attempting to engage with.
Some idealistic entrepreneurs dream of a blockchain powered new social network, where all identities are verified and tracked. It might be one in which brands only have limited access with the emphasis switched back to users sharing their personal stories. There is a list of new ventures, some of whom aspire to this goal here.
But it is still very much early days. “These decentralised systems are just not made to grow and scale for the masses yet,” Anthony Di Iorio, co-founder of ethereum, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “There are always problems with early technology. This will be more important than the Internet. It’s going to be massively disruptive for every sector.”
Also, we may see existing platforms adopt blockchain technology. If any one company knows how to harness technology to evolve is it is Facebook. The ball is very much in their court at the moment.
Cryptocurrency and social
Inevitably linked to the developments in blockchain, it is likely to that at some point we will start to see cryptocurrency used a carrot to help grow social networks. The theory runs that as we end up seeing more decentralised platforms (as well as authentically verified accounts) users will have more choice as to where to socialise online. Savvy networks will then start to offer small amounts of cryptocurrency to users every time they post or interact as a reward for their loyalty.
Already we are seeing a number of new companies emerge, typically generating funding using the ICO system, that aim to reward committed users. Steemit is a very interesting model. “I feel like I’m in the Stone Age when I’m on Facebook or Twitter,” David Kadavy, a user of Steemit, told Bloomberg. “They have no value without what you’re contributing to them. If Facebook doesn’t respond to this, things can change very quickly. They should be very concerned.”
Sola, a hybrid of media (think Google News) and a social network is already gaining significant traction among technology obsessed users and is also worth keeping an eye on. It has its own cryptocurrency and rewards users with tokens which can be used to exchange for items on the platform.
AI and social
Rather like blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, in its various guises, is also going to be ubiquitous in the years to come, and it will be harnessed by both existing platforms and incumbents.
Brands thinking about using AI in social at the moment inevitably revert to notions of chatbots, and there’s no doubt that their use is going to be extended and amplified in the coming years.
AI will also be used by brands in content creation and distribution. From using machine learning to optimise updates through to using bots to actually create shorter posts. It will be fascinating to see how far brands are prepared to go in automating their content.
Social media platforms are also using AI in a number of innovative ways too. Recommendation systems pioneered by Amazon, Netflix among others, are now a staple on platforms like YouTube as viewers are pushed towards content the tech thinks they will enjoy. What is likely to happen is that AI systems will become more advanced and sophisticated and they will create even stronger, more accurate recommendations based on our content consumption patterns.
Social platforms will also harness AI to spot trends among user-generated content. This is already happening. For example, Facebook is employing AI on its suicide prevention programme, as well as helping it to spot aggressive or unacceptable accounts. It is also using it to optimise the ads that it serves users.
This is just the beginning for AI on social platforms. Who knows where the journey might lead us?
Come and join us at the Future Content Sessions on ‘The Future of Social Media’ details here.