Will Social Today, be the Social of Tomorrow?

In 500BC the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The Only Constant is Change.” How apt for social networking in 2014.

1To my mind the best example of how quickly the social space is evolving is when I get calls from people that profess to be “social media consultants.” I always viewed a consultant to be a person that had been a practitioner for an engineering construction company for 20+ years, who now in quasi-retirement provides consulting to big businesses. The grey hair and the years of experience add credibility to their advice and opinions. In the world of social media, I have met specialists that are barely 20 years old and considered experts in their field – who only really help you to create social media pages and explain analytics!

So, is it possible for a social media expert to exist in today’s day and age? Given the industry is barely a decade old, it might well be. The reality is every person is new (or old) to the industry. Every person’s view can be as valid or invalid as the next person’s. Just because you use something doesn’t make you a specialist. I eat food, that doesn’t make me a food critic. I drink wine, but I am no sommelier! Similarly, using social media everyday does not result in experts, but in users.

You are a user, like the other 2 billion users (or thereabouts).

Social is barely in the 4th grade today

Given social is in the 4th grade (10 years old), my point is that the social we see and use today will likely morph and evolve over the next few years. Whilst there may be some fatigue in the industry, there is still an abundance of enthusiasm as product creators test boundaries and markets. Let’s face it: less than 20% of the world is still using social. Whilst a big chunk of the market may be below the poverty line and not have access to devices, the hardware players and telecom companies are doing their utmost to ensure that all 7 billion people on the planet are using their devices and networks to surf the internet, I would think by 2030 we will be one big connected population.

So why did I open this discussion with talk of specialists and consultants? Simple. I am involved in the social networking space, and have since the late-90s been involved in the technology or internet space. I don’t profess to know much, but I have never seen an industry develop this rapidly, nor seen any new idea or product be embraced with such breakneck speed as we have seen in the social space. Something has got to give, surely?

Grow up social: Become more meaningful – Instant Social can’t last forever

That “give” in my opinion is the behavioral change from “instant” to “constant.” People use social today in ways where it is about the moment. Users tend not to think too carefully when posting comments or photos – which has led to a lot of verbal diarrhea. Why is it so important on social networks to constantly update the world on what you are wearing, what you are eating or what you are thinking? Why is it always about you? I view many people’s online behaviour akin to walking through a shopping mall and saying something to every person you see. Where is the depth of relationship, the meaningful conversations? Why does social make so many people so fleeting? Does everyone care about what you say, eat or wear? Your digital footprint matters.

Ephemeral, transient interaction and voyeurism is a fad. All too gimmicky in my mind, but it has created a ton of users, tons of press and even more financial value. But, are they really sustainable? I have never understood why so many people are attracted to instant gratification? These channels that focus on showing off or posting selfies for the masses just seem pointless. So much of what occurs on social media appears to be a waste of time and bandwidth. Remember “Poke” a few years ago? It was hot. Where is it now? Likely in the bottom drawer of someone’s office in Silicon Valley.

I remember friends who checked-in everywhere they went. It became unbearable. I had to turn off notifications. Just leave me alone, and in fact, don’t you have better things to do?

2Is the current use pattern what we want for the younger generation? Surely tomorrow’s digital citizens should be better than today’s.

The problem with social in today’s world is that it has given every individual the right to say something (which is good and bad), and too often it is a pointless comment or distribution of information. The Internet and social networks in my mind are the world’s largest democracy. Time to change, or at least improve.

Get ready – Social 2.0

I am firmly of the view that social networking styles, behavior and usage will change. Social will become more utility-like in nature. Communication will be at the core, but it will be more meaningful and more engaging. It will be less instant and have more duration. This culminates in Social becoming more of a Tool.

There are several aspects to a “Social Tool.” Firstly, given the power of communication and collaboration, social has an opportunity to replace good old email, and become a more relevant and meaningful communication tool. Rather than today’s creating, cc’ing, subject etc, one should be able to use social more effectively to potentially replace today’s Inbox, but do it in a way that is more visually appealing and functional. The reason social today isn’t used this way is because we are used to its instant functionality, and is strongly encouraged by current sites/platforms/networks. You can thank the current batch of social sites for this. To me, these are potentially a fad and will fade. Whilst some social platforms provide timelines, none of them do a great job of being a defined platform for communication. All too often, information is co-mingled and not ‘sorted’ based on relevance, unlike your email inbox. Why does social not do this as a default? Imagine a social platform that was ordered and categorized? The outcome of this leads me to the second key aspect of social as a tool: you have a genuine and viable library for archive. Thereby, we move away from instant and build in duration.

Final Words

I feel that every user has the ability to specialize in showcasing a topic they have a strong opinion of. Social media is the only form of media that resides in the hands of the public, the masses. Instead of conforming to giving people a tabloid-esque take on your life, give them the real deal – conversations that matter, social experiences backed by meaning, ideas worth building upon.

Do we want to be tied to our devices and communicating frivolous content that means little and adds even less value to our lives? Do you want to see a friend or acquaintance for 18 seconds, and then they disappear off your smartphone? As a parent, I would like to see every person, young and old, become a better digital citizen. That may require each of us to be out and about, re-engaging with our physical world more and engaging less with our online world. By default, if we have less time online, we should make it more engaging and meaningful. And that is my point.