The Social Media Landscape of the Future
What Will Facebook and Twitter Look Like in the Years to Come?
Last week I finally crossed the finish line – I watched ‘The Social Network’ and then came into the office the next day with an inexplicable desire to talk about it to anyone who would listen. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg really betrayed his friend like that? Was he actually so taken in by Sean “JT” Parker? Has he always had the people skills of a common sponge?
Sadly, I’d missed the boat by a fair few months, and understandably my clued up colleagues humoured my vaguely SEO related questions for only so long.
In truth, what had really struck me about the whole film was how quickly (and seemingly effortlessly) Facebook had grown from nothing. I found myself filled with jealousy-tinged excitement as I saw Zucky building what I knew would become a defining part of the 21st Century.
Once the green eyed monster had been subdued, I began to think about where it would all end. What happens from now? Where do Facebook, and its younger counterpart Twitter go from here?
What does the social media landscape of the future look like?
Green, Dollar, Wedge
It’s fair to say that neither Facebook nor Twitter has reached a ceiling yet in terms of usage, growth and profitability. In fact the latter site spent the majority if not all of 2010 operating at a loss, preferring to focus upon adding user value rather than making money.
However, it doesn’t take a seasoned cynic to realise that the longevity of both sites lies in how much money they can make. In my opinion, the future of social media is tinged with dollar green, and instead of birdsong we hear the sound of tills and the tinkling of coins.
It wasn’t until April 2010 that Twitter began to tentatively introduce their Promoted Tweets advertising model, using labels like ‘simple’ and ‘non – traditional’. In basic terms, promoted tweets are tweets by users who have paid for them to appear at the top of search results pages. Twitter is quick to assert that they’re not ads, and that no ad appears on the site. Instead, they’ll be sent organically and ‘normally’ to a follower’s feed – it’s only the search results which are affected.
By only showing promoted tweets it thinks you’ll be interested in, Twitter is treading the fine line between user value and monetary gain. It may be slightly patronising for the social network to presume it knows exactly what you might be interested in after just a few clicks, but at least they’re trying.
In the future, we can expect to see a more comprehensive monetising of the site, similar to Facebook. I don’t think onsite ads are likely anytime soon, not as long as the website’s popularity and vice – like grip on celebrity and popular culture remains. However, with Twitter keen to promote the site a business friendly and capable of returning increased sales (http://business.twitter.com/), it seems wildly unlikely that they haven’t got a trick up their sleeve for cashing in on commercial users (beyond promoted Tweets). Perhaps we’ll see onsite ads on certain pages only? One fact remains, the answer appears to be too far into the murky social media future for us to say with any confidence at this stage.
In many ways, we can already see the future social media landscape simply by looking at Facebook. Everything is already there, it’s just that in the years to come Facebook’s money making capabilities will get bigger, better and more widespread.
Ads are already commonplace on Facebook and companies have the option to pay the site every time a user clicks on, or sees their ad.
However, the new buzzword ‘Fcommerce’ is what’s causing a bit of a stir.
It refers to the site’s version of what’s more widely known as social commerce – purchases which are driven by social connections, and which take place on Facebook itself. In short, recent months have seen the introduction of a host of commerce apps designed to allow companies to sell directly from their profile, without the need to drive traffic to their website.
Not only this; Facebook will allow users to see which of their friends like products and services on profiles, using data gained web-wide. When a Facebook user ‘Likes’ a product or service on a website, this ‘Like’ is passed back to the company’s Facebook profile.
Therefore, when you land on their FB page looking for a product, you are greeted by a list of those who have liked it – but only if they’re friends of yours who you, presumably, trust.
For Facebook, this could present the opportunity to steal search engine dominance in terms of driving sales. The theft of such a USP would be a huge boost for the site, and could lead to them being able to charge companies for the privilege of ‘Like’ data being pushed to their pages. I’m imagining a search engine within Facebook which ranks keyword results (for products and services) based upon how many ‘Likes’ each brand has from your friends.
Of course, the inherent problem with social connections will be keeping them social. In the first instance, just because somebody ‘Likes’ a product or service, doesn’t mean they’d recommend it to a friend. They might be being ironic, it could have accidental, or perhaps it was done some time ago, and their views on the brand in question have since changed dramatically.
It appears as though the future landscape of social media is a loud one; with countless “Friends” shouting at you to buy one product over another (I’ve used inverted commas because if I saw a good 5% of my Facebook friends in the street I’d do everything short of fleeing down manholes to escape them).
I’d also anticipate that, if Twitter and Facebook do expand their ad and ecommerce capabilities, we could see an increase in paid spammers. Facebook will have to be very careful to ensure its commercial users don’t pay third parties to ‘Like’ their products or create dummy profiles and do it themselves.