What Social Media’s Evolution Means For You
While many of us active on social media networks today would like to think it’s a recent phenomenon, the reality is that social media’s been around in various forms since the beginning of the Internet (and before.) Options such as blogs, bulletin boards, reviews and chat rooms are all more than five years old as were Facebook’s predecessors SixDegrees.com, Friendster and MySpace.
Given this evolution, where is social media going and what does it mean for you?
Social media’s key developments over the last five years
To predict the future, it’s useful to examine the recent past. Here are social media’s three key developments in the last five years.
- Exponential growth of social media networks across demographics. Since opening to everyone of age 13 and older with a valid email address in 2006, Facebook has expanded beyond its original student base to over 850 million people worldwide. At roughly the same time, Twitter introduced shorter form microblogging, gaining popularity at the 2007 South by Southwest (SXSW) conference.
- Apple’s introduction of the iPhone smartphone and the iPad tablet. These wifi-enabled personal devices changed how owners thought about connecting to the web. Smartphone adoption reached a tipping point in July 2011. Meanwhile, two years after the introduction of the iPad, tablets are owned by over 40 million people. While email remains the killer app, smartphones and tablets enable owners to do quick check-ins and other social media related tasks quickly and efficiently. Additionally, these devices provide a lower price alternative to the personal computer.
- Social media use has expanded beyond personal networks and communications. Businesses have followed consumers to these platforms as appealing advertising media and engagement forums. While this migration was initially led by the marketing department, it continues to expand across the organization.
How have these social media developments changed the world around us?
During the last five years, social media has had a profound impact on how we engage.
- Made the world smaller. Social media has changed how people interact across time zones and borders. Social media enables us to seamlessly connect globally while concurrently boosting local bonds. In the process, it’s altered how we gather and distribute information, especially the news. Among the major events broadcast on Twitter in 2011 were the Japanese Tsunami and the death of Osama Ben Ladin.
- Empowered ordinary people. Social media has provided media platforms to create content and distribute ideas. It empowers individuals to create content and contribute to broader conversations that would have required a well-funded media company. Now all that’s needed is a computer, tablet or smartphone connected to the Internet. The Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 reached out beyond the local situation to involve a global audience.
- Redistributed media and communications power. Since consumers are no longer tethered to telephone landlines for Internet connectivity, they’ve disrupted the power of telecom monopolies and media companies. For individuals, the cost of communication is near zero with increased convenience. This changes economics and politics.
How will social media change over the next 10 years in social media?
The major challenge for social media networks will be their ability to adapt and remain relevant over time. In part this will not just be about Facebook, Twitter and whatever other platforms gain traction. It’s a matter of how the paradigm will change. Similarly, what does search-focused Google do to remain relevant in a social media centric Internet?
- Social media will be more integrated into personal, social and business lives. Without realizing it, these platforms will be a natural part of our lives, streamlining our everyday activities and work.
- Social media will have longer-term implications for individuals as a result of a life lived in public. Think of it as George Orwell’s 1984 come to life. Instead of a government documenting our lives, individuals and businesses, of their own freewill, will create these digital footprints from birth.
- Social media will translate personal information and data into a form of currency. As a result, privacy and control of personal information will grow in importance.
What are the implications of these social media developments for businesses?
Social media will cause businesses to evolve in order to survive. Here are three salient ways in which they’ll change.
- Senior management will have to buy-in to social media and support it. Businesses need senior management buy-in for major changes like social media, especially since it causes fear among management and employees.
- Corporations will have to adapt operational processes to accommodate social media. Social media’s technological and social evolution will require change to business processes or there’ll be limited gains.
- Business will transform how they source customers and engage with them. While this change has already started, it will result in a decline in advertising and growth in content marketing.
While social media has already caused changes in how we engage individually, socially and politically, it will continue to alter how we communicate.
What do you think of these social media predictions for the future? What do you see happening differently?
NOTE: This post was inspired by a research study I participated in earlier this week.
Here are some related articles you may find of interest.
- Social Media’s Ten Commandments
- Crisis management: Is your firm ready?
- How to create social media guidelines
- 17 Guidelines every firm needs
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/khalidalbaih/5653817859/