Will we be hanging out in the Metaverse?
The concept of the metaverse, or a virtual shared space where people can interact with each other and with digital objects, has been gaining a lot of attention since the renaming of the Facebook groups of companies to Meta. Mark Zuckerberg any others believe that the metaverse has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with each other and with the world around us. However, I’m more sceptical about the viability of the metaverse, and believe that it if it happens at all, it will take a lot longer than most expect and may ultimately fail to live up to its hype.
One potential issue with the metaverse is that it requires a significant amount of infrastructure and technology to support it. This means that it may be difficult or expensive for many people to access, which will limit its adoption. Additionally, there are concerns about privacy and security within the metaverse, as it will likely involve the collection and use of large amounts of personal data. Finally, especially given these points I’m not convinced that people will actually want to spend significant amounts of time in a virtual world, rather than in the real world. I can see its potential for science and engineering but as a replacement for social media, I find it hard to imagine.
Entertainment v conversation
One trend that I’ve noticed over the past year is the shift towards social media platforms being used more for entertainment than for conversation. TikTok, for example, has exploded in popularity due in large part to its focus on short, catchy videos that are designed to be entertaining. This shift towards entertainment has led to the emergence of new forms of content, such as memes, lip-sync videos and the use of filters, which have become popular on platforms Instagram and Snapchat as well as TikTok.
While this shift towards entertainment has been successful in terms of attracting users and generating engagement, it has also raised concerns about the impact on more traditional forms of communication and connection. I fear that this focus on entertainment could lead to a decline in meaningful conversations and relationships, as people spend more time consuming entertaining content aka aimlessly scrolling rather than interacting with each other.
Businesses should take note of this trend and while I’m not suggesting that accountants should get out the boom box and film themselves dancing, to get attention content is going to have originality and flair as well as providing value.
Which network is best for communities?
Social media and particular Facebook Groups are increasingly being used for the purpose of building and fostering communities. Facebook Groups have a number of easy to use features and tools designed to facilitate bringing people together around specific interests and topics. In contrast LinkedIn Groups are hard to find, use and in many all you can see is tumbleweed blowing around. So even for business use I suggest looking at Facebook. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Instagram who next year will be launching their version of communities which will probably be named Social Channels.
The ability to connect with others who share similar interests or experiences can be incredibly powerful and rewarding, and social media has made it easier than ever to find and join communities of like-minded individuals. We can expect to see more of this over the next year.
Niche social networks
As social media has grown and evolved, we have seen the emergence of a number of niche social networks that cater to specific groups or interests. These networks tend to be smaller and more focused than the larger, more general platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and often have a stronger sense of community.
With the exception of TikTok algorithm, social network algorithms do a pretty poor job. Rather than provide content that the reader is interested in, a personalised news feed can be anything but with lots of content that’s irrelevant to the user. Added to the the increasing number of unwanted ads, it’s no surprise that people are seeking out new channels that cater specifically for their hobbies, sports and interests. I expect to see this interest continue.
The impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence (AI) is having a significant impact on social media, with most tools and platforms incorporating some form of AI functionality typically to decide what is displayed in a user’s news feed, what we know as the algorithm, or on social network advertising platforms. The best known example of AI is ChatGPT, a chatbot that uses natural language processing to generate responses to user input. This allows ChatGPT to have conversations with users in a way that is similar to how a human would, making it a useful tool for customer service. It can also be used to help create copy, images and videos for social media. When it comes to photos and images Lensa (Google Play) or (App Store) can create avatars from a selection of selfies and optimise existing photos.
Whilst AI is going to be incredibly useful, particularly with saving time in the creating of social media posts and tweets and in customer services, there are also concerns about AI’s potential impact on social media. AI could lead to the loss of jobs, as chatbots and other AI systems become capable of handling tasks that were previously done by people but I’m more optimistic and see AI as removing those jobs that people don’t like to do anyway. Of more concern is potential for AI to be used to manipulate or deceive users, as it becomes increasingly sophisticated and difficult to distinguish from human interaction. AI powers deep fake technology which can be used to create stunningly realistic but fake photos, videos and audio such as Jim Carrey starring in The Shining. Students can also produce essays and dissertations that should be original using ChatGPT and other tools. To help identify AI produced content are tools like Originality.AI that are able to tell if content was created using ChatGPT. In the case of Originality.AI a 94% accuracy rate is claimed.
The popularity of personal messaging
The use of personal messaging for both personal and business purposes has exploded in recent times. WhatsApp, for example, has become the de facto platform for messaging friends and family, but it has also been adopted by businesses for customer service and other applications. There is a specific version of WhatsApp for business which unsurprisingly is called WhatsApp Business. Although not a stand alone app, LinkedIn Messaging is another well designed app that allows business users to communicate with each other and with potential clients or employers.
The increase in personal messaging has been driven in part by the convenience and privacy – many services provide encryption – that it offers, as well as the growing use of mobile devices. The functionality of such services so so much better than email, so more people will no doubt shift towards messaging platforms.
Building trust online
As social media has become an increasingly important part of our lives, trust and relationships have become increasingly important factors in how we use and interact with these platforms. This is particularly true for individuals who are looking to build a personal brand, as trust and authenticity are critical for establishing credibility and building a following.
One way that people are building trust and relationships on social media is through the use of personal branding strategies, which involve carefully crafting and curating a public image and message. This can involve sharing content that reflects one’s values and interests, as well as interacting with others in a genuine and authentic way. However, there are also concerns about the potential for people to present a false or misleading image of themselves on social media, which could undermine trust and relationships.
Interactivity including gamification, polls and quizzes
Social media platforms have introduced a number of interactive features in recent years, including polls, quizzes, games, and geo-features. These features are designed to engage and involve users in a more active way, rather than simply consuming static content by aimlessly scrolling through a news feed. For example, on Instagram Stories, polls and quizzes allow users to express their opinions or test their knowledge, while games and other interactive content provide a more immersive and engaging experience.
Geo-features, such as location tagging and maps, allow users to share their location, discover content related to specific places and to take part in treasure hunts and other physical world games. These interactive features can be a powerful way to increase engagement and build a sense of community on social media, as they allow people to participate and interact with each other in a more meaningful way. So they work well in communities and niche social networks mentioned above.
Over the past year there has been a trend towards increased collaboration on social media, both among creators who are working together on projects and between brands and creators plus customers . On Instagram you can collaborate with another creator to publish a joint post and work with brands using a number of partnership features. On TikTok there are features like Duet where you can comment on another creators video with your own and Stitch where clips can be integrated and combined.
Known as user-generated content (UGC), brands such as Hydro Flask increasingly encourage users to share branded content and this is sure to remain a key part of many brands’ marketing and social media strategy.
One reason for this trend is the increasing importance of authenticity and trust as discussed above. By collaborating with users and leveraging UGC, brands can tap into the power of social proof and build credibility with their audience. Additionally, UGC can be a more cost-effective and efficient way for brands to generate content, as it relies on the participation and creativity of their audience rather than on expensive production costs. Customers love it too as they receive kudos and exposure for their efforts or work if say they are a professional photographer.
Brands do need to be careful about how they use UGC as there are potential copyright infringement and false endorsement issues. Additionally, brands need to be mindful of their audience and ensure that their UGC efforts are authentic and aligned with their values and goals. But by carefully managing these challenges, brands can effectively leverage the power of UGC to drive engagement and build trust with their audience.
Let’s hear it for audio
In 2020, the main talk in social media circles was all about Clubhouse, a social media platform built around the concept of audio rooms, or virtual spaces where users can listen to or participate in conversations and discussions. Launched during the pandemic it soon took over but just as quickly faded into obscurity. However, other platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have introduced social audio onto their platforms.
The use of audio is a natural fit for social media. It allows users to consume content in a convenient and hands-free way, as they can listen while doing other tasks. This factor goes some way to explaining the huge recent growth of podcasts. Additionally, audio can be a more intimate and personal medium, as it allows people to hear each other’s voices and expressions. This can create a sense of connection and community that is often missing in text based communications.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an audio-only social network at some point in the future. It’s hard to say exactly what such a network would look like, it is possible that it could offer a unique and immersive experience for users, particularly if it is able to effectively capture the nuances of human communication.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on what’s happening and might happen in the world of social media. Whatever happens, there’s an exciting future ahead and there’s still plenty of scope for growth of users, features and new social network channels.