We can’t predict the future, but we like to be ready. While social media is an always-on, chaotic space, it’s possible to make an educated guess about where it’s going when you look at user behaviours and emerging platforms.
What’s also common practice is large platforms
stealing borrowing features from smaller ones:
- In 2016, IG borrowed stories from Snapchat.
- Reels were a response to TikTok in 2020.
- Recently, Instagram has also been testing ‘IG Candid’ – a feature similar to BeReal.
With this in mind, let’s explore some user behaviours and emerging platforms to predict what the mainstream social media landscape might look like in the near future.
1. The future of social is user-owned
Web 2.0 empowered us to share, the advent of web 3.0 will allow us to own. This is something that we’re already seeing with NFTs and cryptocurrencies, however in the near future this is likely going to become much more mainstream.
Octi is an early-adopter platform that encourages its users to upload their own filters and AR-elements to be used in videos. The more people use your AR creations or engage with your videos, the more in-app currency, Octi-coin, you earn. You can then spend your octi-coins with top retailers such as Nike and Glossier.
Having debuted at #1 on App Store in 2021, the app has since gone quiet and is still extremely niche, but there are other players in the space.
There’s a shift among the big platforms towards enabling NFT trading, which we only expect to grow. Meta are working on a digital marketplace functionality that would allow users to create and own NFTs. There are also reports revealing that twitter will allow users to display NFT marketplace listings from certain platforms, including a button to let them buy and sell collectibles. Add to this the option of easily converting your crypto assets into real-world value by shopping with large retailers, and the technology will become ubiquitous on social media.
2. The future of social is cause-driven
Weare8 is a social platform that is good for the planet. The cause-driven app pays its viewers to watch ads and donates a portion of revenue from each ad stream to charity.
Not only that, it combats endless scrolling by having a curated feed that can be scrolled in its entirety within 8 minutes each day. Other players such as Supernova have also been entering the market, and while the latter is yet to grow, WeAre8 has already been downloaded over 100K times from the Google Play store alone. Early adopters among brands have seen the likes of Nike, Heineken and Mondelēz advertising on the platform.
The apps’ unique feature is that everyone can make money on it, 6p-25p per watching a video. There is of course a catch – users are served a very limited number of ads they can watch. Add to that the buffer time of 30 days to receive the money in the in-app wallet and the real value will only be felt only over a very long period of active platform use – it’d take nearly three months to earn around £230.
More recently, after Elon Musk has acquired twitter and the controversy that ensued resulted in more than a million users leaving the platform (MIT technology review). While Musk claims that the drop in numbers is a result of getting rid of dormant accounts and bots, the emergence of twitter alternatives such as Mastodon suggests that there is a demand for a democratic, user-run platform whose policies are not dictated by a single person.
The industry has taken a lot of heat over the past few years, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the negative effects of Instagram on Mental Health. With that, the public’s attention has turned to how big platforms operate from an ethical standpoint. This will result in the continuous emergence of new, smaller, cause-driven platforms, which will put the pressure on big players to keep adapting their practices in line with these new standards. Meta and other social media titans will focus on improving their business transparency alongside their mental health practices. The change will come even sooner if brands choose to place their ads elsewhere.
3. The future of social is integrated.
What springs to mind when you think of ‘social media’? Is it Instagram? TikTok? Facebook? All of those are correct, however social media is much bigger than just social media platforms. In reality, it’s ‘any interactive technology that facilitates the creation and sharing of information, ideas and interests through virtual communities and networks’ (Kietzmann).
Chatting to your buddies on Roblox is as much of a social media interaction as unfollowing your aunt for posting cringe on facebook. WhatsApp group chat? Social media. Writing an Amazon review? Social media. Everything from Slack, Wikipedia, Twitch, Minecraft can be considered social media.
Social media enabled us to build communities around various niches and interest points. The flipside of that is all these social integrations mean that the fight for user attention has gotten enormously competitive. On top of that, there are growing concerns among GenZ about the amount of time spent on social media – 37% worry they spend too much time on it, and 24% are using it less than they used to (GWI).
As social media becomes increasingly more chaotic and fragmented, it’s possible that there will be a new, user-friendly way to combine and curate all the different feeds (kind of like Hootsuite, but for personal use). It could take the form of an app or will be a built-in software feature that allows users to sift through the chaos of social media on their own terms. This will put even more pressure on brands to carefully consider how, where and why they’d be showing up on feeds in the ever-growing competitive medium.
Key lessons for brands
Social media landscape changes constantly, and no rules are set in stone. You can future-proof your social strategy by keeping an eye on emerging platforms and trends:
- Think about user touch-points with your brand beyond the biggest platforms. Make sure your tone of voice and content are tailored to each platform while still having brand consistency, from TikTok to Twitch and beyond.
- Plan beyond getting noticed on crowded feeds, and think of retention. Make sure your content is adding value today, and consider how it could continue to do so in the user-owned economy, where getting noticed in feed is only half the battle.