There are few things that are certain today, and from my perspective as an MBA student, I believe social media will be an ever increasing part of our lives (personally and professionally) going forward. According to Li and Bernoff’s groundswell, the groundswell is the transformation of how people get information. I wrote about this in my blog on 7 Social Media Tools in early February. Bernoff writes in his blog that social media was founded by Friendster in 2002 and in the 10 years since, we have learned a lot about the transformation. But there are still many uncertainties for the future. What is certain is that social media is here to stay.
Social media allows people to get information directly from each other in a virtual community atmosphere. Prior to social media, people received information directly from corporations. With social media, people still receive information directly from corporations (for example, a company can have a Facebook page, Twitter handle, or blog), but the information is more transparent and perhaps more believable because other people have the opportunity to comment on it and question it. What is certain is that effective use of social media is all about developing relationships and engaging your audience.
What do the social media communities, networks and tools of tomorrow look like? To answer that question, or at least hypothesize, it is best to begin with the transformation we have seen in the last 10 years. To start, let’s consider the definition of a virtual community. According to Wikipedia’s entry on the subject, “a virtual community is a social network of individuals who interact through specific media, potentially crossing geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals.” What I get from this definition is that virtual communities are groups of people interested in common activities and goals that never need to be side-by-side. To be successful, virtual communities need to be sustaining. What is certain is that these communities will use social networking services and tools that are most popular at the time.
From my personal experiences with social networking sites, I saw the transformation from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, and how only one of these three was popular at any one time. Jolie O’Dell has an interesting Infographic on the History of Social Media that highlights these three networking sites. Below is a section of that Infographic.
I recall receiving my first request through Friendster after a semester studying abroad in college. I signed up but didn’t really use the site – I still communicated with my study abroad friends via email. Then MySpace came along, and I thought: its just the new Friendster and why should I sign up if another is going to come along soon? Then Facebook. Facebook does not seem to be diminishing its dominance, and instead seems to be growing without bound. I do not know of any competing sites that can threaten Facebook. Do you think Facebook is too large and too popular to be overtaken by the next networking site? Have individuals and businesses invested too much in Facebook to be open to changing? I think, at least for the foreseeable future, that Facebook will be the most popular social networking friend-to-friend site. What is certain, I believe, is that at any point in time there can be only one dominant site serving a particular purpose.
If Facebook is the dominant friend-to-friend site, Twitter is currently the dominant micro-blogging site, LinkedIn is the dominant professional networking site, YouTube is the site for video sharing, EBay is the site for auctions, and PayPal is the social payment site, what holes are left? My hypothesis is that once a site becomes a dominant site, there will not be any others within that same space unless and until a new site can rise above the current one, and then that new site will take over while the old one goes away. Therefore, new sites have two projected paths: find a hole without a current dominant player and fill it better than anything else or try to take down a dominant player. There are fewer and fewer holes to fill, and taking down the giants will be harder and harder as the dominant players establish themselves as leaders. So, what is certain, I believe, is that new superstars will be fewer in the future.
The rise of Pinterest complements this model. Pinterest fills the gap of a visual-based social networking site. Pinterest is mostly used by women (April Fehling reports 58 – 97% of Pinterest users are female), so the gap it could be filling could be both a visual image-based social networking site as well as one targeted toward females. Will there be a male equivalent of Pinterest, or will men start using Pinterest in a way that serves their purposes and change the site in doing so?
What is certain for tomorrow’s social media is that growth in new social networking sites will undoubtedly slow due to both the current dominant players as well as the diminishing gaps to be filled. What is also certain is that many businesses and consumers are coming to rely heavily on the current giants, that if one were to be replaced or go away suddenly, the social media landscape would change quickly. For example, many websites and other social networking tools use Facebook to allow visitors to sign-in and receive communications; if Facebook isn’t around tomorrow, these tools would have no way to interact with their users. What is certain is that we are relying more and more on the giants, but are they really too big to fail? And what happens if they do fail or are replaced – how quickly will social media change?
My thoughts are simply thoughts, and I do not think that I (nor anyone else) can accurately predict the future of social media. But, I do think that the more discussion there is around this topic, the more we can shape the future with innovative ideas and strategic thinking. I welcome your comments!Sources:
Bernoff, J. (2012, January 27). How social networks make money. Retrieved from http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2012/01/how-social-networks-make-money.html.
Fehling, A. (2012, February 22). So Pinterest is a woman’s world. Does that matter? Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/02/22/147222619/so-pinterest-is-a-womans-world-does-that-matter.
Fitch, C. (2012, February 28). How Pinterest’s female audience is changing social marketing. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/02/28/pinterest-women-marketing/.
Li and Bernoff. (2008). Groundswell. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
O’Dell, J. (2011, January 24). The history of social media (Infographic). Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/01/24/the-history-of-social-media-infographic/.
Virtual Community. (2012, February 26). Retrieved March 3, 2012 from Wikipedia wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_community.