When we think about the future of social media, we can often have a pessimistic, almost dystopian view. This is probably due to the fact that there is a growing concern about privacy issues and the social and humanitarian commitment of the corporations behind our social networks.
Indeed, around the world, there is a lot of talk about the problems caused by social networks: addiction, depression, data protection (or lack thereof), and the environmental impacts of our digital consumption. But if there is one quality that humans have, it is their ability to question themselves. Thanks to technology, it is even possible for us to reflect together with users from the four corners of the globe, and thus to have a more global vision of the challenges of digital technology. This is what I had the chance to experience during the DAVOS Communication Summit with experts from all continents, on June 7th. I was on a panel with two counterparts from Spain and Singapore to discuss the social networks of the future and we wanted to share our thoughts with you.
Users have a growing need for authenticity
Trends are often driven by the users' needs. For example, users on Instagram have grown tired of filters and retouched content in favour of more spontaneous and unfiltered content, such as simple snippets of everyday life. As marketers, we have a reflex to turn a need into an opportunity and a trend into content creation. But the fact remains that the fatigue of Internet users, and especially of generation Z, amplifies this need for authenticity. We believe that this need is here to stay and will outlast the ephemeral nature of certain trends, on two levels:
The authenticity of our content as users. The emergence of new social networks such as BeReal is evidence of user fatigue. What is BeReal? The concept is simple: you receive a notification and take a picture of what you are doing, without a filter. The picture is taken with both cameras simultaneously so you can see the person and the action. The idea behind BeReal is to share your daily life with your friends in a more authentic way, and the app is catching on in North America and Europe. According to the tool SimilarWeb, in Canada, as of June 10, 2022, BeReal topped the list of the fastest growing social networks. There are also several changes in the way we share our content. For example, photodumps that bring together multiple photos in a carousel showing mundane snippets of everyday life without editing. And, since longer, stories that allow us to share content in a more spontaneous and ephemeral way.
The authenticity of social and web platforms. Platforms are also increasingly criticised and challenged on their transparency regarding data protection, their working conditions or their energy consumption. Current and future platforms will certainly have to be more accountable to users. Unless major changes are made, we can even imagine that the already shaken trust of users will push some to turn to independent and more ethically transparent platforms.
Technology will adapt to our mindset not the other way around
The pandemic and recent global crises are known to have an impact on our mental health. A study in The Lancet found that by 2020, cases of major depression and severe anxiety had increased by 28% and 26% respectively. According to a study by Spotify, users are looking for content that is more in line with their state of mind and causes them less stress. For example, the platform notices a trend towards mood-enhancing content or music with slower beats. Social networks and their functionalities will certainly be more adapted to our mindsets and what we collectively experience.
Indeed, one can imagine that advances in artificial intelligence will allow social media algorithms to tailor content to different moods or contexts (which is already the case for some applications). Mental health and well-being are also set to become increasingly ubiquitous on platforms. We've already seen a rise in slow content, meditation apps, mental health awareness vignettes, and other content that aims to cheer people up for years.
It's time to take back control of social platforms so that they have a positive impact on our lives!
Reputation issues on the horizon
With the latest high-profile crises, it will be increasingly difficult to manage the reputation of brands and organisations online. Sorting out the real from the fake will become even more difficult with the rise of fake news, deep fake and citizen journalism on social networks.
Users therefore expect more monitoring by the various platforms to remove misleading or unreliable content. However, this work would require the hiring of several community managers on a large scale and/or the implementation of more reliable artificial intelligence to carry out this monitoring. Platforms have already started to add tags to publications on different topics to remind users to check their sources. There will probably be more monitoring, sanctions and warnings on articles whose sources are not verified. Let's hope so!
In short, technology is evolving so fast that it is difficult to predict what the social networks of the future will bring. Even the crystal ball (or the most powerful AI) must find it hard to imagine what humans will be able to invent in a few years. One thing is certain, the human behind the technology will be able to question itself to find solutions and adapt to the needs of its users. Finally, I dare to believe in a desirable digital future, but above all, I dare to trust our colleagues here and elsewhere to innovate for the better!
This article was initially published by Grenier aux nouvelles.
——— Rosanne Bourque is a former Senior Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations