The future of social media

From the early topic-based Internet to the egocentric digital network connecting people rather than homepages. In a few words, that’s the development we’ve witnessed the past 15-20 years. But what’s next? And what if we look ten years ahead?

This can only be a game of qualified guessing. It’s a cliché… but we never know exactly what lies ahead. Or to quote Jim Morrison: “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near”. A statement you cannot argue with.

But returning to the topic of the future of social media you could say, as Austen Mayor does on socialmediatoday.com, that we’re already in the future: “social media as an industry is very well versed and experienced.”

However, there’s no doubt that we’ll see social media and web-network technologies grow immensely the next two years. There’s plenty of room for improvements and growth. Geolocation is one prominent area where we’ve only seen the beginning.

Augie Ray discusses this issue in this interesting interview:

And ten years from now?

If we look ten years ahead the way of interacting and communicating introduced by social media will be the standard. Simply because the decisions makers in societies will be part of a generation where social media is the DNA.

This also entails that technology will become more sophisticated and almost invisible.

We tend to forget it but technology is not a goal in itself, only a means to an end. And the ‘end’ is ‘the community’, i.e. a network that enables us to connect with each other in more optimal, efficient and meaningful ways.

For companies, marketers etc. this will mean a move away from ‘channel thinking’ towards ‘relationship thinking’. We’re already talking about relationship building, and has been for a number of years, but the ‘channel thinking’ is still pre-dominant. Today, it seems no one disagrees with the need for multi-channel approaches.

But the channel thinking is basically sign of us still being at a early stage of the evolution of social media. Let’s hope we can pass that stage one day not too far away.

Three stages/decades visualized

Below you find three visuals describing the three stages mentioned above.

1) The early technology-oriented and topic-centered years with homepages, AltaVista.com etc. (the 90’s)

2) Web 2.0 and the rise of  social media (the 00’s) (companies on the sideline)

3) Technology made invisible, network prevails, companies are an integrated part of the network (targeted messages, less or no mass communication) (the 10’s?)

The social media landscape 2011

A new center has formed

I just came across Fred Cavazza’s updated overview of the social media landscape. By mapping the main players in/on the field and studying user behavior across the various channels, an actual center has now formed, according to Cavazza. And in the center we find… Google and Facebook.

To most, this is probably not very surprising. However, when you think about it, his new landscape model alters our standard perception of Facebook as ‘merely’ being a place where people can connect and share details about their lives via updates, posts, likes, movies, photos etc.

Facebook is becoming more like Google. The place where you start your digital journey. A form of navigator.

A new way to navigate

Why is it so? For two reasons, I suppose. 1) Because of the sheer size of the media/network (more than 750 million users); 2) Because the users are getting more and more accustomed to navigate according to social recommendations and interactions (“my friend is doing this and that, so I will do the same and check out what this link or story is all about”).

(It’s surely not because of the search engine functionalities of Facebook. They are not worth talking about, as far as I can see. But again, that’s due to media’s dependence on its social structure.)

So the user behavior is changing towards using social recommendations as a first step.

The end of the portal?

I can understand why. Google is so objective in it’s suggestions (in spite of Adwords, SEO etc.) that you need to be pre-occupied with something in order to benefit from it. You basically need to know what you’re looking for, in advance.

However, it’s not that we don’t need Google any more. Unlike many others, I don’t see Google and Facebook as competitors.

Those who should be worried about this behavioral change driven by Facebook are portals, news sites and similar, i.e. the sites users would normally go to in order to get updated on what’s going on in the world. And in order to get entertained.

A wake-up call for B2B companies…

Moreover, this tendency should underline the importance for companies to be present on e.g. Facebook. Many companies are of course already there, but most B2B companies still continue to struggle to see why it’s relevant for them. And how they can benefit.

So here’s the answer: Facebook has become the starting point for many, many users. And it’s therefore difficult to apply a multi-channel approach without a decent Facebook Page.