Are social media going to last forever?
We didn’t even notice when social media became an inherent part of our lives. Now, by the end of 2019, it is hard to imagine someone who has never used Facebook, Instagram, or any other social platform. Wide availability of these services attracts marketers, and if you have an online business, internet presence is absolutely necessary. But how long are they going to last for? Is there a reason to be afraid?
The beginning of social media
One of the first social networking sites, based on the model which is now so popular, was SixDegrees.com, and it launched in the late 90s. It didn’t achieve an overwhelming success, however, at the beginning of 2000, people created a number of similar projects, like MySpace, Friendster etc. It was long before the success of Facebook. What made people register and keep coming back to these sites?
The main function of social networking platforms is, as the name indicates, socializing without leaving your house. You can also meet new people or share many different types of materials with your friends. Easy access and possibilities of those sites caused their rapid development, which still continues. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube have been gaining popularity among users and advertisers for many years now. It created a huge earning opportunity for a number of people: marketers, celebrities, business owners, and even regular users, who created a job for themselves on their profiles, that is influencers.
Present-day social media
Today, everybody knows platforms like Facebook or Instagram, and besides private users, companies can also create their own profiles, and even sell products through them. The way we use social media has changed dramatically since the beginning. Feeds and home pages have become advertising billboards. Huge social networking platforms started to use algorithms that filter content so it would be suitable for advertisers and engaging for users. Influencer, as a profession, developed in the last few years, opening new ways of promoting products and brands. Buying an ad and targeting a relevant target group have never been simpler. It all sounds wonderful, however, such solutions have their consequences.
The rise and fall of influencers
As media are oversaturated with ads, people don’t pay attention to them. It is called “banner blindness.” Commercials are not as effective as they used to be anymore. Advertisers started to look for alternative solutions and until recently, influencer marketing was considered one of the most efficient methods of promotion. Did anything change?
Social media influencers make money by promoting brands to their audience. In theory, such marketing should be beneficial to all sides: the company receives a targeted and effective promotion, an influencer receives a commission, and the consumer gets a product recommended and tested by a person they trust. Unfortunately, it looks slightly different in reality. Unethical practices of some influencers and companies made people distrust them. Those practices include undisclosed ads, promoting low quality products, and misleading people.
Another problematic thing is growing discrepancy between the lives of influencers and lives of their audience. Some content creators build their career on relatability and an illusion that they deal with the same problems as their audience. In fact, some of the top influencers lost touch with the reality long time ago. The great example of this are thirty year old youtubers who make “back to school” videos. Can you really trust these people that they know what their audience need?
And finally, recurring influencer scandals are one of the main reasons companies give up on collaborating with them. There are YouTube channels, pages, and blogs that comment on inappropriate behavior of famous people online. That empowers the so called “cancel culture,” which means boycotting irresponsible creators and brands.
Let’s go back to the topic of interaction between users on social platforms. Currently we use them not only to interact with our acquaintances, but also to follow our favorite brands, content creators, take part in contests, rate favorite places and look for inspiration. Building communities is still the core of social media, though. With the constantly changing algorithm, interactions among some communities are very difficult, and that frustrates the users. What do I mean?
Let’s look at the example of Instagram policy changes over the last year. One of the most controversial changes was cutting the reach of posts that don’t violate community guidelines, however, Instagram don’t want to promote such content. The example could be memes containing dark humor, partial nudity, or “sexually suggestive” behavior. The rules are not clear and it harmed the communities like artists, performers, athletes, and profiles that focus around memes, by cutting the organic reach, removing accounts, or shadowban without any valid reason. Some people accuse Instagram of censorship and they look for alternatives.
Social media vs mental health
Another problem with social media is promoting unrealistic standards, which affects mental health of children and young adults on the platform. Everybody want to present themselves in the best light possible on their profiles. They only share positive aspects of their lives with others. Not everybody realizes that they only see the small part of their friends’ and idols’ lives. Algorithms, that measure engagement rate, make creators publish content that is advertiser and user friendly, which is connected with a lot of pressure and unhealthy competition. Wide availability of filters and photo editing apps causes anxiety, as some people become addicted to them and compare their real face to the fantasy they create. It’s not a surprise that mental health professionals advise to limit the time spent on social media.
Additionally, every Instagram user can measure their performance by looking at the number of likes and comparing their statistics with other people’s work. So Instagram is now testing hidden likes, so you can only see your own number. Instagram explains that they do this because they are concerned about mental health of their users. Is it really the case? We can speculate, but it is a huge limitation for marketers.
Taking all this into consideration, we can confidently say that the future of social media is unclear. So would I advise against using those platforms for business? Absolutely not, but it’s worth to take precautions and offer your clients alternative ways of contacting you.
What to do in order to survive the fall of social media?
If your online business is solely based on social media, it’s time to change that. Right now, the most promising alternative is creating your own mailing list. You probably think that emails belong to the past and nobody uses them as much anymore. You’re wrong! With all the social media problems, emails are the best way of contacting your clients or audience. Of course, Facebook or Instagram can still be your main tool, however, email list is a great addition to your business, and can become your plan B and the step towards independence.