The future of social media today
Social media is rapidly changing today, the use of these platforms by both brands and users has almost no resemblance to the early days of social media. What will the future of social media look like? What are users expecting from their brands’ online presence? How are the user/brand/social media platform relationships going to change? There are approximately 3 billion users in social media networks worldwide, all of them with ideas, interests, and values they want to see reflected and expanded in the platforms they use. How can brands and platforms serve 3 billion individuals?
On the 1st of July, Coca — Cola, Starbucks, Microsoft and hundreds of other companies started a Facebook boycott denominated #StopHateforProfit. And with it came a ton of questions about the future of social media, and the relationships between brands and social media platforms. #StopHateforProfit means that these companies will pause all advertisements on Facebook (some took this initiative to other platforms like Instagram and Youtube as well) for the month of July. Following the Black Lives Matter protests this May, these companies argue that Facebook has done nothing to stop the incitement of violence against #BlackLivesMatter protesters. They have been categorized as “trusted news source” publications like Breitbart News, and they have not taken action against voter suppression on their platform. And they believe brands can actually pressure Facebook to take action now.
Mark Zuckerberg issued a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, where he also communicated that Facebook will be donating $10 million to racial justice organizations. Nonetheless, their product, the way Facebook works doesn’t address the problem, and no changes have been done. This is what drove these brands to pause their advertising on the platform. A lot can be said about a brand based on how and where it advertises, and right now these brands are searching for a platform that is coherent with the values they profess and how their products reflect those values.
Consumers choose brands based on an alignment in values. The acceptance of the Black Lives Matter movement had increased. Brands need to pay attention to how their customers are changing their views, and what they, as well as the brand, find important and act accordingly. Daniel Lubetzky, founder of KIND, regarding their participation in Stop Hate for Profit wrote on LinkedIn, “If Facebook doesn’t take visible, measurable and assertive efforts to effectively prevent the promotion of hate, division, defamation and misinformation by this year’s end — we will feel compelled to evaluate indefinitely suspending our investments on Facebook until they do so.” This message echoed thousands of users’ feelings regarding Facebook’s and other social media platforms’ inaction with regard to racism, violence, and misinformation.
How the future looks for users
So, how does this change the future of advertisement in social media? Brands need to find new ways to stay aligned with their own values, create valuable content that brings them closer to their customers and advertise in a manner that is compatible with the new ways in which users are managing their social media accounts. A study made by Sprout Social reveals that 78% of consumers want brands to use social media to help people connect with each other, but they want brands to interact with them differently. This study also shows that users have high expectations for their brands, and they are paying attention to their advertisements and want to engage with them. Nonetheless, the 10-second ad in the middle of a content video seems to only be interrupting content.
According to a Statista study, more people are seeing ads, especially due to the increase in video content, but CTR (clickthrough rate) is down 30% year over year, showing these ads create no engagement. Brands gain more when they build communities around them than when they get viral content (if they ever get to win the viral-content lottery). Community is what keeps consumers coming back to content and, ultimately, to brands.
Sara Wilson, a writer for the Harvard Business Review coined the concept of digital campfiresto explain how the use of social media is changing. Digital campfires are closed, private, and interactive online spaces where users get to gather in smaller-sized groups where they share common interests and common values. Mark Zuckerberg called this same shift in social media “the digital equivalent of the living room”. The search for privacy and alignment in values that users are showing poses a big challenge for brands. It is not only necessary for them to make big gestures like Stop Hate for Profit in order to show their customers their values, but they also have to change the way they interact with them, advertise their products, and the way they behave in social media platforms.
How the future looks for brands
Private messaging, micro-communities and shared experiences are what are driving social media use. New platforms are being born out of this need. The Infatuation, a restaurant discovery platform developed Text Rex, a private messaging system in which users can text (with actual humans) and ask for recommendations regarding restaurants for any occasion. Text Rex is a premium SMS-like service for members; they are building a small size community they can serve well by dedicating time and resources to each conversation, cutting all middle steps, and talking directly with their members.
Micro-communities are getting more and more common in social media, probably the most common are Reddit’s subreddits, which although being public, they can get as specific as they want, filtering people out creating small-sized communities with high engagement. At the beginning of 2019, Facebook allowed brands to participate in Groups, bringing brands closer to their customers and potential customers. Brands can now start their own groups, join key groups where they can share valuable content, or get employees and influencers to participate on behalf of the brand. National Geographic’s Women of Impact Facebook Group has 67.3K members, and according to the About this Group section, members will “learn about the lives and work of women we believe deserve a spotlight — and we want to hear your stories too. This is a collaborative space.” National Geographic’s group puts them in touch with an audience that aligns directly with interests and initiatives that shape their brand, creating trust and engagement past the products.
Brands also need to become familiar with the platforms that their consumers are already using in order to share experiences or communicate with like-minded people. Gamers, for example, tend to form the biggest and strongest communities online. So, if your brand is aimed at gamers, then you’ll need to find a way into Discord, Caffeine, and Twitch, create or join a server and become part of the passionate community that is already there. These platforms allow for live content creation, and real-time reactions, comments and interactions. In order to belong to these communities, your brand will need to support the creation of valuable content in the hands of the users of the community. Sharing the same interests means also sharing the same cyber-spaces.
The boycott shows that brands are aware their users are paying attention not only to their products, but to their values and how they implement them in their chain of productions, their partnerships, and their advertisement. The shift in perspective in social media from a huge place that everyone was in, to a collection of smaller spaces where the user gets to hang out with the people they want, and consume the brands they feel comfortable consuming, requires a closer relationship between brand and customer, an advertisement that is purposeful and engaging.
Social media belongs to the users. Brands need to evolve and be malleable in order to keep up with their users. Customers want to feel close to the brands they are loyal to, but that closeness means that brands need to be transparent, coherent between message and product, and be willing to be held accountable by their consumers/communities.