You don’t need need to be an expert to conclude that social media are evolving at a rapid clip. Unfortunately, a lot of coverage seems more akin to conversations about another person’s favorite show (i.e., detailed accounts of characters I have little to no interest in hearing about) than big picture views on how these media are impacting our lives. And so, with humility, here are a few trends that I think are important to note, as social media innovators continue to push the envelope and change how we communicate:
- Segmentation. All contacts are not created equal–whether they’re friends, connections or followers. Relationships naturally form along these lines, as we make social distinctions among family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Though Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have provided users options for organizing contacts, Google+ is the first social network to make audience segmentation a primary design feature. “Circles” are the best manifestation, to date, of what I think will become a defining characteristic of social media: tracking our online connections with the natural ways we form and segment relationships. My recent work with Bullhorn Reach has illuminated this issue for me, as users often share that Facebook friends consist of a motley mix of personal and professional relationships, making decisions about what content is appropriate to share increasingly difficult to manage (1).
- Specialization. Like liberal arts students emerging into the working world from broadly-focused educations, social media are reaching a point of maturation where they are increasingly purposed for specific business goals. Whether for finding talent or identifying sales prospects, social media are being leveraged by professionals to a greater extent than ever before. LinkedIn paved the way for professional-centric social media, but limited user engagement is leaving the door open for others to displace it as the preferred professional social network. Google+, with Google’s dominance in cloud-based business applications, could ultimately become LinkedIn’s greatest rival. As of now, however, LinkedIn’s current pay offerings (that I know of) only serve two professional groups: salespeople/business developers and recruiters/hiring managers. Beyond LinkedIn, niche networks are emerging that serve specific professional groups, such as doctors and teachers.
- Socialization. By ‘socialization‘, I mean “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position” (in this case, appropriate to being a user of social media). More specifically, norms on how to behave on social networks are gradually being learned and adopted, as social media are used by an ever-broadening cross-section of the population. The shift is marked by the growing number of interactions and conversations via social media, as opposed to one-way broadcasts of content. With authenticity and relevance as table stakes for adherence to ‘social’ etiquette, social media are getting closer to fulfilling the promise of being channels for engagement, not just publishing.
Where do we go from here? Who really knows?
It’s one thing to identify trends; it’s another thing to predict them. The problem is that predicting actual use patterns is a crap shoot. Contrary to what Shoeless Joe Jackson might lead you to believe, if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. That is, even if innovators design tools with specific use cases in mind, the reality is that users’ expectations, thought processes and subsequent behaviors will vary as widely as there are personalities in the world. Take, for example, how people leverage Twitter’s search of tweets, versus LinkedIn’s search of updates. At Bullhorn Reach, we’ve found that the shelf-life of jobs posted via Twitter is considerably longer than those posted on either Facebook or LinkedIn because people are leveraging Twitter’s search function. In contrast, even though LinkedIn allows users to search updates, users continue to consume content as they do on Facebook (clicking on what they see in their newsfeeds), just to a lesser degree of engagement.
All that said, just because it’s hard to predict the future doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! After all, we’re living the in the future (2).
- I believe that “localization” (think location-based social media services like Foursquare and SCVNGR, in addition to check-in features on Twitter and Facebook), which some may identify as it’s own trend, is just another form of segmentation–viz., “Some connections are geographically closer to me, requiring a different kind of treatment than those who are further away.”
- You may notice that it’s been awhile since my last post on this blog. Apologies, dear readers. There have been a lot of major life changes in the last year, including a new job, a new love, and health issues in my family. Rest assured, however, that there will be more to come.