It’s that time of year and everyone is making their predictions for tech in 2015. We wanted to weigh-in on what we see happening in the future of social media and major changes on the horizon related to how consumers, particularly Millennials and younger, have a shifting set of mobile, social behaviors that are increasingly running contrary to how Web 2.0, or Social 1.0, as we might call it, was initially designed. The future of social media is mobile and ephemeral. Let us explore some of the reasons why.
First, let’s discuss the concept of getting Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers; the basic badges of honor that built the viral coefficients of the social media kingpins. There are generational, gravitational forces occurring around how we view and value this concept or metric. In particular, we don’t believe that younger Millennials value the cumulative number the same way older users do. We don’t care about the lasting impressions of all of our likes. In fact, we prefer them to disappear. We prefer the ephemeral.
For many longtime Facebook heavyweights, the number of Friends, Likes or Fans one has is what gives one a sense of self-worth on Facebook and Twitter. Up until maybe a year and half, or two years ago, the concept of Likes was pretty much the most important coin of the realm for the Freudian superego inside all of us.
Individuals and companies alike had an innate sense that “Likes” equated to popularity, and popularity equated to social value. In many cases, popularity has had a very real affect for businesses that learned how to use Facebook and Twitter well. Click-through rates, actual product sales and other very real metrics could often be attributed to originating in Facebook – but, the rules have changed and so have the perceptions of Millennials and an even younger cohort, Generation Z.
When it comes to Likes and Followers, we’re not so sure this jives with the massive, heretofore largely misunderstood behaviors around mobile ephemeral messaging apps. Like all good things throughout the course of history, one can say of mobile technology that the times they are a changin’ – to quote the multigenerational master of pop culture and music, Mr. Robert Zimmerman. To be clear, Facebook is still the MAJOR contributor to click-throughs for all kinds of companies, but it is important to note that obtaining click-throughs is a much different game in 2015, as it was in 2014.
You see, when Facebook and Twitter became big, the majority of the time consumers spent interacting with the platforms was still on desktop. Everything, save Twitter’s original SMS service, was designed for desktop-first experiences and the philosophies around engagement were still routed in the Social 1.0 behavior. The world has changed. Behavior has changed. The Millennial and Generation Z consumer is now exclusively mobile-first. Attempting to argue anything else will be irrelevant in another 12 months, if not fully irrelevant already.
The growth rates are all about mobile and engagement is increasingly ephemeral in nature. It is this author’s position that as consumer behavior has shifted to a rocket ship of mobile time spent on social media, the old philosophies are not as relevant anymore, either. All metrics warrant major reconsideration. Organic reach is dead. Paid media is how you’ll henceforth succeed on the traditional platforms. Success is a moving target and will be wholly different from a what it was in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Of course, overall reach still matters a lot. If you’re a consumer and you want to boost your ego by reaching as large a potential audience as possible, then the original platforms still offer the best vehicles for your personal social engagement needs. No social indictment is intended here, just a candid assessment of what drives human desire on certain platforms. Same is true for brands.
If you’re a brand and want to maximize digital reach for the purpose of advertising to consumers, then clearly the numbers behind the kingpins are, mostly, the best in town. However, measuring the rate of engagement is a different story. We believe a large degree of decreased engagement is a result of the shifts in social metric perceptions changing faster among younger, more aggressive mobile-only users – while brands, Gen X and Boomers are still largely trying to figure out what the heck is going on with ephemeral social media, in general. Most don’t even understand the words, yet.
Paid social media is how brands will continue to drive value from heavy marketing efforts on Facebook and Twitter. It will be a golden age of revenue for the biggest social platforms that have the reach – and rightly so as they have invested so much money and time waiting for the opportunities to maximize their value. Earned media value will occur at a much greater trajectory on a combination of a long-tail of mobile apps and, in some cases, brand-owned mobile platforms. Our prediction is that significant power centers will emerge from a range of large brands that have invested heavily in Facebook and Twitter owned social media presences over the years, and make deliberate, focused investments in mobile. Now, or very soon, brand media and digital agency leaders will increasingly look for strategic alternatives to the Social 1.0 players. The rate of change will increase in 2015.
The reason for such great changes is in the consumer herself. If you grew up in a 100% digital world, you know that Likes and Followers have a waning sense of emotional value. The irony is that Like and Follow emotional currency is, in 2015, more ephemeral than ephemeral apps themselves. It offers but a fleeting sense of satisfaction when the algorithms behind the platforms don’t reward our personal or corporate investments as much as they did in years gone by.
Where once it felt good to strive for adding digits to your social counters, now the world feels even faster and nobody cares as much as how good is your next post, your next photo or your next set of expressions. It’s a time of increasing consumer generated content – virtually non-stop via mobile – in a world where we want to be seen on our terms, play for the public eye and then disappear on a more predictable basis. Ephemerality is the concept that helps explain behavioral patterns around how we think about ourselves in a location-aware, always-on, always-reachable state when it comes to seeking a greater perception of control around our content.
This is all from the perspective of the human user. The algorithms behind already challenging organic reach will continue to reward consistent spending. Meaning, just because humans are shifting what we value in terms of social media interaction, does not necessarily mean algorithms will do the same. In fact, the algorithms will want us to hold onto the Like as long as possible.
Big data, a big buzz for more than a few years, is increasingly going to have to figure out how to deal with the forces of ephemerality.
Consumers and nouveau mobile apps want to run in one direction, brands and advertisers want to run with them or over them, and Taylor Swift will keep doing whatever she wants to do; it’s hard to say sometimes. We think some of the most exciting changes will come from the East to the West. Chinese consumers and marketers are a harbinger of many changes we’ll see in 2015 and beyond. Some will be incremental, some will be radical.