“Social media” was the term du jour in 2008. Consumers, companies, and marketers were all talking about it. We have social media gurus, social media startups, social media books, and social media firms. It is now common practice among corporations to hire social media strategists, assign community managers, and launch social media campaigns, all designed to tap into the power of social media.
But social media today is a pure mess: it has become a collection of countless features, tools, and applications fighting for a piece of the pie.
Facebook, a once groundbreaking online community, has become the ant colony of third-party applications. Twitter users now have a dozen or so additional applications they can use to overcome Twitter’s ever-present shortcomings. People spread themselves across a number of tools and maintain different networks on each, making it nearly impossible to decide what to share and with whom.
Users, marketers, and companies face an incredible amount of noise, too. For every new application that relies on a network, another crops up that helps users manage it. While “eyeballs” used to be the coveted metric, both ad publishers and investors now realize that having smaller well-targeted niches can lead to much better returns than marketing to one large undifferentiated mass of users.
Meaning and connection — two key anchors of all things social media — are corroding by the day as people’s ability to organize their experiences and find the relevance of their networks declines. Social media, in essence, is bumping up against its own ceiling, no longer able to serve the needs of those living within its walls; and for these reasons, social media as we know it is changing course.
Social Media is Evolving
Social media is morphing into a holistic experience that speaks to people’s social needs in new ways. If you are a CEO of a startup who is focusing on the next generation of social media, here are some areas you’ll need to take into consideration in 2009:
1. It’s About People
We’re moving away from “users,” “customers,” and “shoppers”: social media is bringing back the human element to all digital interaction. People now deliberately seek meaningful connection, self-expression, and a relevant and receptive community. the new baseline.
2. Creating Meaning and Value
Social media will no longer be about features and applications. These have become a dime a dozen. People will be looking to get tangible and relevant value out of their social experience; they’ll be looking for meaning and for order. “Social media online is no different from social media offline,” said Brent Csutoras at a recent Social Media Club event. People will be looking for ways to keep their networks going regardless of device or platform. They will connect around meaningful topics and have live and simultaneous conversations within parameters they themselves define, which will bring relevance back to their interaction with others.
3. Enabling Convergence
FriendFeed — now both a destination and an API — is growing rapidly, despite a miserable wiki-like interface and interactive experience. That’s because people are at a loss when it comes to pulling their conversations together from various sources and assigning meaning to them. Companies that deliver beautifully designed, easy-to-use, searchable, flexible, aggregating platforms will become more important than any social media tool by itself.
4. Building a Truly Cross-Platform Experience
The iPhone experience has changed the playing field for users, companies, and developers. In Q1 of 2009 alone, Apple sold 4.4 million iPhones, and Google’s Android and the new Palm continue to build on the cross-platform, application- and service-driven model. In the new landscape of social media, people are seeking solutions that seamlessly cut across mobile, web, and live interaction, hopping on and off them like double-decker buses.