The future of social media at the turn of the decade

The Drum 21 Apr 2020 02:56
By Erika Mendes-21 April 2020 15:56pm

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At the close of 2019, the number of social media users worldwide had hit 3.5 billion. Social media’s rapid growth has had a significant impact on our daily lives – transforming how we connect with not only each other, but also with the media and brands. So, at the turn of the decade what future changes can we predict to see on the horizon?

Enforced regulation

Although social media has clearly brought benefits to society and companies, it also brings downsides and dangers such as cyberbullying, online harassment, depression, body image insecurities and fear of missing out (FOMO). Previously left to self-regulate, the UK government has recently announced that more power will be given to watchdog Ofcom to force social media companies to take increased responsibility for their content.

Enforced regulations could encourage users to increase trust in social media networks. This will potentially reflect in higher engagement. On the other hand, advertisers will have restricted targeting capabilities which might translate to media spend wastage, lower ad engagement and reduced opportunities for advertising customisation.

Data and privacy

Users are already changing their privacy settings in order to include the minimum information on social media and accounts are being deleted. Users will continue to push for this with heightened privacy concerns as the world becomes ever more digital. Demographically, younger audiences are increasingly conscious of data privacy and security, which will further add to the soft and hard restrictions placed upon social media.

WeChat-like social networks

WeChat is the perfect example of how social media, commerce and entertainment can merge. More than a social media network, it allows users to do day-to-day tasks such as storing their IDs, paying their utilities and getting access to public services, including booking doctor appointments, applying for visas and checking driving records.

Western social platforms will inevitably try to follow WeChat but it is unlikely that they will be allowed to play the role as fully as WeChat does in China. This is because in most countries, data privacy concerns and increases in regulation will be pushing social networks in the opposite direction.

The number of social media accounts per person has been growing among all demographics. The multi-networking effect is a response to the increase number of platforms options, but it's also being caused by a degree of specialization (e.g. Twitch, Pinterest, and TikTok).

How we consume content will change

Video has become by far the most popular format. Views of branded video content increased by 258% since 2016, and on Twitter a video is 6x more likely to be retweeted than a photo. It’s not hard to guess that new social media platforms will be focused on video and powered by AI.

While phones will remain the main device for accessing social media, the usage of AR and VR devices will also increase in the next decade as they get lighter and more versatile, expanding their usage beyond gaming.

At the close of the decade social media was making headlines for its negative impacts. Due to COVID-19, screen time will increase as individuals re/download apps to stay connected with friends and family, and to keep entertained. Some platforms will emerge from this dark time with a larger, more diverse and more engaged user base than ever before and perhaps social media will regain respect through reigniting its original charm as a way for us to all stay connected.

Erika Mendes is head of biddable at Roast

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