The future of social media

What’s next for platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?

Ask anyone about the future of social media and they will, without fail, have some sort of prediction to make, whether it be positive or negative. The current issue of Odgers Berndtson’s Observe magazine takes a look at the predictions of five key players in digital media to find out what they think social media will look like in 2020.

Privacy

The first prediction comes from Todd Berger, co-founder of Ello, which launched in March 2014. The social network’s main attraction is that it will never carry paid-for ads or sell user data to third parties and its rapidly growing popularity highlights increasing awareness of internet privacy amongst web users.

“Our privacy is being degraded every day. We’ve given a lot of our rights away to private companies and in so doing we’ve given the government the green light to further erode our privacy. I don’t think people fully understand how this is impacting our lives today and how it will in the future. This degradation of rights could lead to further separation of the haves and have-nots.

Advertising on social media is just the tip of the iceberg. Hidden behind advertising are data sales. We have been entrusting private corporations with our individual information and then letting them do what they want with it. That’s scary to me, and I think people in general are becoming fearful and looking for alternatives.

That’s why we’re seeing new communities arising on the internet with different visions of privacy and different philosophies around user content and data. These freer spaces are where you’ll see innovation happening, and I believe a lot of thought leadership is going to come from them rather than the traditional places such as Facebook.

From a business point of view, there are all sorts of sustainable business models in which advertising plays no part.

At Ello, we’re trying out a ‘freemium’ – type model, akin to the App Store or a gaming environment, where we’ll sell additional features so users can customise and improve their experience. It’s a very successful model in other industries, so it’s interesting that it hasn’t been embraced in this one yet.

Over the next five years, I believe the social media landscape, like television, is going to become exceptionally fragmented with lots of very niche players taking very specific viewpoints and approaches to communication and philosophy, and to community-building in general. I see a scary side to it and a bright side to it, but if we don’t move the privacy conversation forward fast, it could be scary.”

Wearable tech

Blanca Juti, CMO of Roivo Entertainment, the Finnish mobile games studio that produced Angry Birds foresees wearable technology becoming intertwined with social media.

“First of all, I think wearables will become very important and people will move further away from using keyboards. We’re already communicating a lot through pictures, but the possibilities will be even greater when we’re all wearing glasses and smart watches. For example, we will be able to communicate through our emotional states. If I measure my heartbeat and feed it into a social network, then you could say, “let’s not call Blanca now, she must be busy or angry because her heart is racing”. That will bring a whole new dimension to the way we interact.

We will also see the growth of communities in and around games. I’m seeing a lot of evidence that games are becoming even more immersive and more social. They bring like-minded people together and create a sense of belonging that stretches beyond the borders of the physical world. This will continue to increase over the next five years.

In general, we will see more people getting into social media, particularly as smartphones penetrate emerging markets and reach lower price points. In addition to the big social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, there will be more long-tail sites dedicated to specific usages. For example, privacy is very important for many people at the moment, so they will form new groups where privacy is a priority. I think social media is already proving to be a democratising force. As the traditional media loses more of its power and new types of media arise, we will see more opportunities arising as well.”

Augmented reality

The third social media prediction comes from Glen Gilmore, an instructor of Digital Marketing at Rutgers University School of Business and author of Social Media Law for Business.

“Within five years, we will all be fully immersed in the Internet of Things, meaning nearly every object we use in our home and office, and even our clothing, will be connected to the internet and sharing data about lifestyle preferences. This abundance of information should ultimately allow us to communicate to each other and to our customers in far more meaningful, personalised ways.

Augmented reality technologies will allow us to enter not only new conversations but also new worlds and experiences, in ways we really can’t fathom today. ‘Social’ will become far more physical and immersive.

‘Wearables’ will become ‘invisibles’ that will tap into biometrics and make our social conversations even more seamless, rich and personal than they are today. The ‘superpowers’ we’ll have from new technologies should allow us to bridge language barriers more easily, creating new collaborative opportunities.

Artificial intelligence will also make a social conversation that weaves in our ‘things’ as well as communities. The challenge in the future, as it is today, will be to keep the social conversation ‘human.’”

Communications not marketing

Anna Marsden is co-director of Social-i-Media, a boutique media communications agency based in Cambridge and London. She predicts that existing channels will become focused on communications rather than marketing.

“My predictions about the future of social media focus on function over form. Firstly it’s often been said that the power of social media is its one-to-millions communications capability; however, we are seeing a rise in the desire for one-to-one or ‘one-to-a-chosen-few’ communications (i.e. WhatsApp and iMessage). We no longer want to share our content with the world; we want to have choice. Google+ has the right idea with Circles and Instagram has kept pace with the introduction of Instagram Direct. Successful social media sites will allow more consumer control over audience segmentation.

Secondly, we will see it develop as a communications platform rather than a marketing one. Social media really is about people. The successful social media networks will provide their community with a place to communicate with others rather than a place for commercial endorsements. We have already seen this start to happen with the clampdown on vloggers (video bloggers) publishing videos without any kind of disclaimer. The platforms that limit marketing messages will thrive.

Thirdly, we will see more interconnectivity with the mobile consumer. In the fast-paced mobile world we want to have more options to weave social into our constantly connected lives. If a social media network can successfully add other related services to their existing range of apps then their profits could go through the roof. We have seen WeChat (China’s version of WhatsApp) doing this with mobile micro payments and enjoying relative success by aligning itself with other services such as TenPay.”

The boom has only just begun

The final word is from Jamal Edwards, founder and CEO of SBTV, a youth orientated multimedia company based in London. He sees social media growing and having greater impact on the lives of its users.

“Social media works best when no one tries to control it. People say they know where it’s heading – particularly the older generations who are trying to manage it in traditional, old-media ways – but in truth no one really knows. There are no rules. It’s changing all the time, quicker than we have the power to understand.

If anything, I think it will get much bigger and more powerful – we’re only seeing a fraction of what social media can do. I think people are taking it for granted at the moment, but in the next few years it will determine to a much greater extent how people live their lives. You can only imagine what will happen when it starts to intertwine more with wearable tech. for example, I might be able to tweet someone’s T-shirt and put a message on it. That would be interesting.

Young people are the guinea pigs for social media. The attitude is: give it to the kids to try out, see whether they like it or not. But it can be dangerous. I see people talking about smoking marijuana on Facebook, and then two years down the line their employer sees it and they get fired. People need to have lessons in social media etiquette from an early age – what to say, what not to say. People believe they know the rules, but I don’t think they do.

We should be careful, too, about giving all the power to the few big corporations. I think there will be lots of smaller social networks coming through. We need to make sure that the next hotshot 13-year old with an amazing idea for a new kind of social network has the infrastructure and mentors to make their idea happen.”

To read the full article, download the latest issue of Observe magazine for Apple, Android and Kindle devices.