There has been much consternation recently about Twitter and its future. This while messaging apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp rush toward a billion users and every change in the Facebook algorithm is studied with the same intensity as the smoke from a Vatican smokestack.
SnapChat and WhatsApp and Slack are many things but they are not “social” in the mass sense of social media. Slack, especially, is for small groups (and some not so small) to exchange information and chat. Some people say it feels like “old Twitter.” That is, the noise to information ratio is non-existent. Facebook is getting older (admit it: how many of you now use it to stay in touch with your parents?) and older and the kids are leaving. This is a “worry” even though the site is the largest social media platform on the planet. By a lot (and let us also admit here that “worries” about any large social media channel, even Twitter, are generally driven by Wall Street and not by anyone else – if anything stuff like this is far more of a threat to Twitter than a lagging growth curve – and I have long argued that Twitter isn’t difficult, they just make it unnecessarily so, and an ecosystem of developers are tying to help Twitter help themselves).
What no one is really noticing is that the social part of social media is hurting. And it might be time to consider whether or not it’s in for a backlash.
Instagram is the future one day and the next day it’s not. It’s “easy” in the sense that few words are exchanged (though that is changing and some interesting uses of the platform are starting to emerge). When’s the last time anyone said anything about LinkedIn? And Google seems intent on allowing G+ to die a slow and unremarked death.
What no one is really noticing is that the social part of social media is hurting. And it might be time to consider whether or not it’s in for a backlash. The same forces that doomed, say, newspapers, might hit social media as well. It’s hard to imagine now, but the future usually is. Kids, those crazy kids, are more into narrowcasting than broadcasting; they’ve grown up understanding that images and messages on digital are potentially forever and so a mindset of caution is baked in. Will media look more Chinese, that is, message based? Quartz thinks so and their instant messaging based newsapp seems to hint at a way media can appear to narrowcast without being…narrow.
No one is at fault here. Brands have to use social media because that’s where consumers are (for now). An ad on Facebook may not attract a smidgen of the eyeballs a TV buy might but it’s not going to cost all that much either. And it is highly highly targeted. Of course, ads or even brand presence is not really “social” in the truest sense of the word (which may be why Instagram is the space to watch for marketing efforts and not more verbal-based social spaces). But I suspect in the future there will be a kind of ad-blocking on social networks as well. And the social networks will see this for the enormous existential threat that it obviously will be and there will be a new fight. Meanwhile, newspapers will continue their downward spiral (alas) and lots of websites will lament this (unironically). And magazines will continue to get more and more niche and thrive (and attract ads). And TV will morph into an app-based subscription model and maybe even stop worrying about “screens” they can’t control.
I can foresee a day when everything is based on a subscription model. That is, we’ll pay for our media (again). Except for the channels and networks that feature fantastic content but in exchange promise only great creative ads. People will flock to those. Probably.