WTF Social Media?

Terrah    July 10, 2013

Future of social media

Relax; it’s not the WTF you’re thinking of.  The question is: what’s the future (WTF) of social media?

Opinions on this topic vary… a lot.  Many make predictions about the next great platform, while others speculate about the future demise of today’s top platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.  Over time, we’ll see platforms come and go and they’ll continue to evolve based on how we decide to use them (or not), so I’m not convinced that the answer to this question should have that much focus on the platform itself.

Instead, I believe the future of social media is more about how we use it and how it’s impacting our personal and business lives.  If we consider the key element of any social platform to be the ability to engage and easily share content, then how is all of this ‘sharing’ changing our behaviour and what will that look like down the road? 

Ricky Van Veen, one of the founders of College Humour, openly discusses his view of how social media is changing the way we experience life.  Watch this video from his talk at TEDxWakeForestU, where he explains how we create online identities, where ‘who we are’ is based on ‘what we post’, and how maintaining these identities will ultimately influence our decisions offline.

Ricky’s key points:

  • We share content because of what’s called “identity creation” – we’re trying to influence how we’re perceived to the outside world by what we post.  In other words, what you share online is who you are online… you are your last dozen tweets.
  • Content will live or die based on how people can use it to say something about themselves.
  • We’re seeing a change in behaviour offline because of the online identity we create.  In the past you’d go on vacation and any pictures or videos would be a by-product of that experience.  Now we’re beginning to see, especially with the younger generation, decisions to go places are being influenced by how that can benefit our online profile – i.e. maybe I should go to XYZ… the pictures would like great on my Facebook page. 

He predicts that,

“Identity creation will become such a strong force that in the future, documentation will lead experience… instead of the other way around.” 

Lessons for others:
We know that social sharing drives the popularity of content, but identity creation drives sharing.  If we can understand identity creation, we can better predict what will make content popular.

Jonah Berger, author of The New York Times bestseller, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, offers advice for marketers who want people to talk (share content) about their brand.  When the goal is to build content to facilitate identity creation, consider these three principles from his STEPPS framework:

  • Social currency – people care about how they look to others.  One of the best ways to do this is by giving them content that makes them feel like insiders – as if they have some sort of status nobody else has.
  • Emotion – when we care, we share.  Emotional content often goes viral, so focus on feelings rather than function.
  • Practical value – news you can use.  Useful content gets shared.

Whatever the approach, and whether or not you agree with Ricky’s discussion on identity creation, one thing is clear: we need to make it easy for the content we produce to be shared by others.  Michelle Smyth, Director of Social Media at Sun Life Financial, offers her thoughts on the future of social sharing,

“[It’s about] building coordinated social sharing into all communications.  Every email, web page, newsletter, TV ad, etc. should have predefined sharing built-in, so that if the consumer, employee or advisor deems it share-worthy, they do it in a way that builds critical mass, is trackable and most of all, is EASY.  But it requires a philosophical mind-shift that puts social at the centre of our efforts, rather than the peripheral.”

Are you prepared to shift?  What are your thoughts on the future of social media?

Web references:

Submitted by: Terrah Warner – SMBP Student University of Waterloo
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