Georgina Bojarski, Social Media Manager at Curated Digital, asks what makes a social platform ‘boring’ and explains how marketers can predict lifespan and tweak their strategies accordingly
In the social media world, change is essential in order to stay relevant. Living in a fast-paced digital age we find ourselves getting bored with social media platforms increasingly quickly. Every year another platform comes to the fore, adding another dimension to the way we use social media and the way we express ourselves online. Social media has become a force in itself. It’s responsible for a huge chunk of how we spend our time, and can be harnessed as a powerful business tool. But there are always new players in the space, some of which try but ultimately fail in demanding our attention: being too niche or simply copy-catting our existing favourites. So what’s next for this ever-growing industry? By looking at social media’s past and present, we can try and predict what’s going to happen next.
Why did Bebo and MySpace die?
Rewind to 2008 when Bebo and MySpace still ruled the social world. Mention the word ‘Facebook’ and you’d get a silent response from most. So what went wrong for them? The demise of both sites can be put down to one key factor: losing track of their USP. In both cases, this was to create a platform of pure exchange between friends — where their interactions and the content they shared were the main events. Instead, both turned into platforms where ‘selling’ oneself became the focus, through options to over-personalise and a lack of streamlined communication channels.
Bebo was the hub where teens went to socialise, allowing customisation and the ability to host videos and images. But as their users grew up, Bebo failed to keep up with technology. As one of the first social platforms out there, Bebo became too self-assured to take note of changing demands and expectations for how people could communicate online.
MySpace became too fractured and, instead of sticking to its original goal of having users interact with each other, tried to be everything at once. With too many personalisation options, its aim to make sharing easier was never achieved. The final nail in both MySpace’s and Bebo’s coffins came from Facebook: a neat, functional space that made it easy to connect with friends.
What bores us about social media now?
Social media isn’t as fun as it used to be. Not because we’re simply used to it, but because brands have realised the power these platforms can have. Plus, we’re so used to being bombarded with messaging that we’ve come to be picky in what we engage with and what we don’t. That means that it doesn’t take much to bring on the boredom.
As social media is part of our everyday lives, brands can use it to weave their way into very targeted groups, discover trends and speak to huge groups of people at the same time. Take a look at one of the most highly used online platforms, YouTube. It used to be a place for just sharing funny videos, discovering new music, and engrossing ourselves in vlogs. Now, we also see ads interrupting our experiences and pop-up banners advertising products relating to the channels we subscribe to. Twitter, the 140 character micro-blogging site, is now essentially a customer service helpline where we seek answers from companies. But this isn’t all bad news: we now expect brands to be everywhere, and be receptive to our direct needs and concerns. As our expectations grow, so does our capacity to get bored.
Predicting social media lifespan
When Bebo died, Facebook was popular, Twitter was growing, and Instagram was still new. Experts gave social media platforms an average life expectancy of around seven years: from their peak of popularity to death in under a decade. But the extended lifespan of social media platforms such as Facebook has blown this theory out of the water. Ultimately you can’t predict a social media platform’s lifespan – although many have tried.
We constantly demand developers to make improvements, create new features and give us exciting opportunities. It is their job to respond with change, to keep current members on board and prolong their digital lives. Think about it: we all complain when Facebook updates its interface, but we get used to it within hours. Crucially, each platform must carefully consider the changes they are making, and how they can remain loyal to their brand ethos. Look at Twitter – from its birth in 2006, it became popular at the end of 2009, surviving the seven-year stretch following its popularity peak.
To stay relevant, Twitter stuck to its original USP: to be an open communication platform where everyone should be able to talk to anyone. Twitter made changes to its interface and search functions to improve how easy it is for users get involved in conversations.
The future of social media – insights and tips from SMWLDN
At this year’s SMWLDN writer, speaker and co-founder of digital agency Harkable Will Francis posed the question: is social media dead? Despite some seeing a bleak future for social media, it is most certainly not dead – just different. The social media landscape has changed and brands are adapting how they engage with us. The future will see companies take social media to the next level by using it as a key tool to delve into our emotional needs and tap into niche markets.
Personally, I’d love to see some old platforms making a comeback: who wouldn’t want their MySpace profile back with their favourite tunes playing in the background? However, social media platforms have evolved so much that these old formats would most definitely need an update! One to watch for the coming year is Hyper. It collates posts from existing social media platforms, primarily photo-sharing platforms like Instagram. It has a unique way of proving the visibility of popular posts, with an up-down voting system. Adding a new rating element and combining our social media outlets can give us a totally new perspective on what we post online, and the effect it is having.
Being able to predict the future of social media would be fantastic, but it’s pretty much impossible. The trajectory of social media could go one of two ways. We could see audiences giving up on platforms simply to avoid targeting from brands and ads. But there is also potential for social media to come full circle, reverting to platforms without advertising. They could once again become personalised platforms just for us, family, friends, colleagues, and peers to be social. One thing is for sure: the future of social media is most certainly going to be a cracker.