Most of us have grown so accustomed to social media being a part of our lives that it seems strange to think about it as a “new” phenomenon — but it is. In less than 10 years, a handful of niche sites catering to small populations have turned into dozens of apps and platforms that connect the majority of the world’s population.
It’s natural to think of these establishments as continuing to exist in their current forms — yeah, Facebook might redesign its layout, or we might see the occasional new platform arise from time to time, but for the most part, the average user envisions the current landscape of social media staying more or less the same. I, on the other hand, feel like social media is just now stepping into its teen or adolescent years and is about to find itself for the first time.
I think social media still has a long way to evolve, and marketers like us need to be ready for those changes if we’re going to survive. But let’s not get lost in the minutiae of how we might be able to post, or what the next trendy app might look like. Instead, I want to present six high-level possibilities for social media’s next phase of evolution.
I could see one platform coming to dominate the social media landscape, much in the way that Google came to dominate the world of online search. Right now, the social media front-runner is clearly Facebook, so I’ll use Facebook to illustrate how this could go.
Already, Facebook has purchased a major contender (Instagram), and it’s only a matter of time before it acquires more platforms. Gradually, these individual platforms could morph and blend into a single all-in-one social experience. It would take years to accomplish this with minimal user disruption, but it’s a possibility.
2. Pay-only visibility
Many social media platforms are starting to cut back on the organic visibility of brands and corporations, instead greatly prioritizing the content that comes from individual users. Though brands like Facebook have spun this as a way to make the news feed better for the average user, one of the biggest peripheral effects here is that brands will have to pay more if they want to continue achieving the same level of social reach. Eventually, social brands may see their organic visibility cut so drastically that paid advertising becomes the only way to achieve meaningful reach.
Already, social media platforms are recognizing the demands for customizability and personalization in their user bases. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for example, are giving their users more control over the types of content that appear in their news feeds, or even giving them the power to change how their news feed operates.
In the future, social media platforms may take this to the next level, giving users the power to create their own systems of content provision, or even adapting on the fly to intuitively provide what individual users want.
4. Niche segmentation
In stark contrast to the “monopolization” scenario, there could be a greater degree of niche segmentation when it comes to social platforms. Snapchat is a perfect example of this; it enables users to send photos and videos with a handful of customizations, privately and temporarily, catering to a very specific social need (and not much else).
These niche specialists may increase in desirability, as they’ll be able to provide more novel experiences than their massive, slow-moving counterparts. This would mean an even greater diversity of platforms on the market, with smaller, more focused user bases for each one.
5. Virtual and augmented reality
People have been including VR and AR in their predictions for the future of social media for several years now, and while I don’t see it getting popular in the social media sphere until perhaps 2017 or 2018, I imagine it will someday bear a significant impact on the social media world.
Augmented reality will be able to take social media to a place with even more immediacy and real-world benefits, and virtual reality will give people new ways to experience the world around them. The feedback loops here could completely revolutionize how we communicate with each other.
Finally, I can imagine social media starting to bleed into other areas of digital interaction. For example, Facebook is already starting to integrate features like Instant Articles, digital assistants, and even search into its app to prevent users from leaving and using other apps on their mobile devices.
Eventually, I could see more social media apps diversifying the features and services they offer, becoming one-stop shops for everything you’d want on the internet. Again, this would take years to develop, but it would be insanely valuable for the platforms themselves.
These six options aren’t meant to be definitive, all-or-nothing possibilities; that is to say, I’m not arguing that one, and only one of these six possibilities will develop. Maybe social media will evolve in one of these directions, or maybe several of these directions, or maybe it really will stay the way it is indefinitely.
It’s hard to say for sure with so many variables in play, but I’m willing to bet at least one of these changes will manifest, and when it does, we’re going to have to rethink the way we market to our consumers.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.