The rise of social media sites began in 1997, with Six Degrees accredited as the first social media site. Users could make individual profiles and add others to their personal networks, just like most social media sites today. The site only lasted four years, while Friendster, LinkedIn, and Myspace took over. It wasn’t until 2008 that Facebook became the top-visited site, and now it ranks third behind Google and YouTube as the most visited site in the world according to Alexa traffic rankings.
Social media has reconstructed the way we communicate, get information and news, shop, date, and so much more. Ironically, at first social media was thought to be isolating and more studious people participated in using it. Quickly that perception changed, and the number of users grew. Now, right around 70% of Americans and 2.6 people globally use social media. In terms of time, social media has not been around very long but has changed drastically since it has made its first appearance.
Before social media, communication was slower and our social reach was smaller, yet more personable, and relied solely on talking face-to-face, by email, phone calls, or written letters. Now, we can message almost anyone instantly through texting, chat apps, or by posting or commenting on social feeds. The shift from less face-to-face and more screen-to-screen interaction has its pros and cons. Advantages including a larger social reach, faster communication, and more concise messages. Disadvantages including a lack of social skills, dependency on social networks, distracting to the outside world, lazy language, and less deep and meaningful conversations. At this rate, face-to-face communication could be replaced by screen-to-screen interactions (let’s hope not!).
NEWS & INFORMATION CONSUMPTION
Previously, the news was gathered from the newspaper, watching the news channel, and by word of mouth. The spread of news happened much slower, and you could stay current with the trending stories a week at a time. The case is much different now. With the help of social media, we now have articles and videos at our fingertips. Breaking news, top stories, and trending articles come out every hour, making it nearly impossible to stay current on every article or video. While it is great to have such readily available access to information, the rate at which articles are posted online, consumed by readers, and then re-shared is all too fast. Thus, causing the spread of misinformation to be much higher than the spread of the truth. People are no longer taking the time to fact check articles before sharing the inaccuracies with more people. An average reader will only read 15 seconds or less of an article, sometimes even reading the title is enough for people to share it without knowing what the article even said. As a result of this, the term “fake news” has been coined. Now, it is up to the reader to check the facts of the article and determine how accurate the information is, whereas previously the news we consumed on TV or from the newspaper was generally the same information consumed by everyone watching their favorite nighttime news anchor or reading their favorite newspaper at a week’s time. We’ve gone from hot stories lasting about a week’s time to lasting a day or even hours.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
It’s without a doubt that social media will not be going anywhere in the coming years. As more and more people and businesses join networks it will be harder to stand out from the rest. Getting your content seen is already a challenge, so people will have to find new, creative ways to stand out from everyone else. Video content will continue to dominate feeds, especially as more users from countries with lower literacy rates join social media networks. Currently, online product research is the leader in product discovery, but the social discovery is expected to surpass this. As a result of this, you can expect consumers to gather information on products and services from social profiles over the company’s website. Also, there will be a rise in visual searches, so pictures will take over keywords on the search engine results page. This plays into the prediction from Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite’s CEO, that Instagram will be the platform leader by 2020, especially for users between the ages of 45-54. Luckily, moving forward, social media will finally have some more regulations about fake news, privacy, data storing, and so forth. The rise and popularity of social media happened so fast that it was just kind of a free for all, no real rules or regulations because no one really knew what to do or how to regulate it. The internet may still be this way, but at least social media giants like Facebook will soon require marketers to confirm they have user consent for custom audiences, and we will see stricter regulation with how companies can use and store our data.