Social media is constantly changing. It’s been less than a decade since the social media explosion began, and already we’re working in an era far different than our predecessors’. New platforms come out almost daily, and new trends catch us off-guard almost every time there’s an announcement from a major brand. It might seem crazy to try and visualize how the world of social media will look by the year 2020, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Take note of these six predictions, and consider how they might affect your social strategy today:
Today, it seems like everyone from young children to great-grandparents are using social media in some way. But today’s older generation grew up in a time when social media—and the Internet in general—didn’t exist. By 2020, we’ll be seeing more prominent social media users who don’t remember a time before social media. And the oldest generation of users will have been used to the technology for several years.
Already, platforms like Facebook are doing what they can to take advantage of the amount of user data available to them. Big data companies are also on the rise, trying to consolidate mass volumes of data to get meaningful results. Combine those two trends, and by 2020, you’ll have a world where social media can analyze billions of users to form some pretty complicated—and impressive—conclusions about user behavior.
What this means for marketers is still up in the air. Certainly, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all trying to use this data to their advantage, creating customized ad campaigns and selling user data for profit. In the future, this data will become easier to acquire and we’ll have more sophisticated equipment to analyze it—but whether that data will be publicly available or for sale remains to be seen. In any case, the world of social advertising will become infinitely more complicated, and even advertising outside of the social media world could be impacted by massive data projections generated from millions of users’ profiles.
Content has already begun saturating the market, to the point where users are starting to “tune out” linkbait articles. It’s starting to register as yet another form of advertising, and diminishing attention spans complicate the problem even further.
Fortunately, there will be an easy way around this; customizing content for each individual. That may sound like an extensive amount of work, but already, some companies are experimenting with news feed algorithms that gravitate users toward known preferences. For example, Facebook tends to populate users’ news feeds with more types of content that it “thinks” they will like, based on what they’ve clicked on and interacted with in the past. Wise companies will follow this trend, and do more to personalize the individual’s content experience with the brand. Eventually, users will come to expect individually tailored content, and mass-written content, such as generic linkbait, will begin to die off like gimmicky advertisements and spam emails.
Today, it’s possible to start paying more attention to individual needs, though the technology to create responsive or customizable content is somewhat limited. The best you can do for now is segregate your content based on the demographics it’s intended for, and distribute it accordingly.
MySpace is the butt of a lot of jokes, being an old and forgotten remnant of a different, obsolete online world. But think about that; just seven years ago, MySpace was still in its prime. Seven years from now, the social media platforms of our time—Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—could suffer the same fate, or at least be transformed beyond recognition. The social media world moves fast, and though the changes will be gradual, it’s reasonable to expect an entirely different landscape in 2020, in ways we cannot yet imagine.
This means that modern social media marketers are going to face a harsh ultimatum: change with the platforms, or let your career die. Social platforms, social customs, and communication standards are all in a constant process of evolution, and in a very real sense, a social marketer should never consider himself a “master.” There will always be something new, something different, and something surprising on the horizon.
Integrated mobile devices like Google Glass and the Apple Watch are already taking major steps to eliminate the gap between “technology” and “life.” While today’s users are still used to interfacing with a digital screen, then stepping back in order to return to the “real world,” tomorrow’s users will exchange life and digital interactions in one, seamless experience. Social media will obviously transform to fit that new reality.
For the social marketer, that will probably mean driving more attention through real-life digital integrations. Think of the QR code; it’s an ugly, now-archaic creation, but it’s a real-life object that can have digital-world impact. Imagine those types of life/digital hybrid opportunities—embedding a movie poster with a viewable, shareable trailer, or putting a promotional discount code into a coaster at a restaurant. In this way, social media marketing will start to borrow more and more tactics from traditional promotional tactics.
Today, most people update their social media profiles with text-based messages and occasional visual media. Every once in a while, someone will “check in” at a location, but for the most part, stagnant messages are the norm. In 2020, it’s more likely that actions will be integrated into social media streams, with Facebook users seeing automated updates through each other’s eyes, maybe even in real-time.
This means that social messages—and content, in general—will need to have more of an “experiential” factor. Written content isn’t quite as good as visual content, and pretty soon visual content won’t be quite as good as experiential content. Your brand’s content and social interactions will need to meet the demands of a social user who’s used to getting and making updates in response to real actions.
This is a future of social media that we should all prepare for. It’s impossible to accurately predict any specific changes, since the tech world is prone to such rapid and surprising changes, but charting a general course for development can prime your strategies for a successful future. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and update your strategy as more complex technology starts to shape the social world we live in.