Since its inception, social has been a medium centered on human interaction between friends, family, classmates, and other close circles. Over time, these circles grew to encompass business, celebrities, and the media at large. Eventually, they grew too large.
Algorithms have overwhelmed the feeds, Stories have become saturated, personal connection can be scarce, privacy is not a privilege (it’s a right), and the most meaningful interactions go unreported to the general public. These five factors have forced social media leaders to reevaluate their business models.
As Mark Zuckerberg declared during his keynote address at the F8 developers conference last week, “the future is private.” The time has come to find new methods for bringing positive (and profitable) personal connections back to the core.
Algorithms overwhelm the feed.
Consumption has become a passive exercise based on volume, not purpose.
The flood of content has forced brands to pay to be seen and causes publishers to reduce their reliance on social as the main traffic driver1. Meanwhile, influencers and other social-born businesses can crumble in the aftermath of an algorithm update2.
Then, Stories arrived. Since Instagram adopted the Stories format invented by Snapchat, the feed has become significantly more sparse, and is predicted to surpass time in-feed sometime in 20193.
Dwell time has become a leading indicator of relevance for the algorithm4. If you have ever watched 30 seconds of an Ellen video and then scrolled down to see the next three posts are also Ellen videos, you understand what I mean. It’s in your face. It makes you think “why am I seeing this” — now more than ever before.
To combat this, brands should reevaluate their reliance on the typical promoted post and think beyond the feed in order to find ways to connect with the right audiences in a memorable way.
Stories are saturated.
Algorithms are not isolated to the feed. They dictate the order of the Stories environment as well. With a Stories format available on nearly every major app, they are facing the same problem as the feed: there is simply too much content. People ferociously tap, striving to see it all, without stopping to interact, only to skim.
Instagram recognized this. You'll notice that all of the features added to Stories over the last year have been in service of making them more interactive: polls, GIF stickers, emoji voting, countdowns. Each of them meant to make interactions easier.
Stories are where the people are spending their time. Brands need to be present there. If they aren’t prioritizing the interactivity of Stories, they are missing the potential.
Personal connection is limited in the feeds.
New features can try to make consuming video less passive, but the underlying truth is: social media is lacking personal connections to both one’s followers and their content.
In a recent interview, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted that they are “rethinking how Twitter incentivizes user behavior5”, suggesting that having a service that prioritizes the interests of the user, regardless of the author, is more important than who and how many people you follow.
On the flipside, Pinterest, a platform that has never had a chronological, follower-based feed, added the “following tab” to its platform last year6. Why? To make it easier for pinners to see the content and recommendations from the people they have chosen to follow.
Facebook Watch has dedicated groups for each of their shows where any user can form a Watch Party for any video7, and friends can all tune in together. YouTube has introduced group chats to comment on and share videos with friends8. Even Instagram is testing a similar group viewing experience for IGTV9.
All of these examples illustrate different ways the major platforms are giving control back to users and bringing the personal back to their services.
Meaningful interactions don’t make news.
Usage of messaging apps surpassed traditional social media way back in 2014. And, as no surprise to any Redditor, there is a group for everything and they’re thriving. From triathlon enthusiasts, to cancer survivors, to those who like interesting doors, you can find your community. Groups might be the last reason some remain active on Facebook11, but one-on-one interaction being the dominant behavior is not new.
What is new is how messaging apps and private groups are transitioning to become the core business opportunity. Traditional video, feed posts, and Stories will continue being the primary reach drivers, but longevity will come from successfully and constructively finding ways to be the conversation, rather than “join the conversation.”
It is critical for brands to ensure their customer care strategies are adapted for chat-based environments, and that they’re creating content specifically targeted to the appropriate communities.
Staying afloat in changing seas.
The combination of overwhelming algorithms, content saturation, and a longing for meaningful interactions has caused the major social media platforms to change course and keep positive, private and personal connections at their core. All of this is underpinned by the view that data protection and privacy is a right and should be built into every aspect of a platform.
Brands need to adjust to this mindset. Meaning they’ll need to think beyond the feed, prioritize interactivity, adapt for chat-based environments, and find ways to tap into the relevant close-knit communities through a value exchange.
How people interact online is constantly evolving, but one thing remains unchanged. No matter the feature, personal connection is the unique quality social media has over any other channel. Platforms, publishers, and advertisers alike can never lose sight of that, regardless of what's on the horizon.
- "The Great Facebook Crash” - Slate (June 2018)
- “Building and Losing a Career on Facebook” - NPR (Feb 2017)
- "Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?" - TechCrunch (May 2018)
- ”Facebook Dwell Time: What Video Marketers Need to Know” - Tubular Insights (May 2017)
- "Jack Dorsey says it’s time to rethink the fundamental dynamics of Twitter" - TechCrunch (April 2019),
- "Introducing the following tab" - Pinterest Newsroom (March 2018)
- "14 Things to Know About Facebook Watch Party" - Guiding Tech (November 2018)
- "YouTube: Here’s How to Create a Group Chat" - AdWeek (Jan 2019)
- "Instagram's Testing a New Communal Video Viewing Option" - Social Media Today (April 2019)
- "The Messaging App report" - Business Insider (September 2016)
- "These Women Are Only On Facebook For The Groups" - Buzzfeed (April 2019)