There are no constants in the social media industry. To be successful, every social platform and any business that depends on it must continuously iterate, optimize and evolve.
While this tends to be the case for any technology-driven industry, it’s especially true for social media. After all, when we’re talking about social media, we’re not just talking about a technology or an industry, but a force that has transformed the way humans communicate on a daily basis.
Communication is the foundation of the human experience. Stories told around the cook fires of the earliest humans formed the basis for how our species learned, formed relationships and built the verbal capabilities to discuss problem-solving.
The earliest mainstream social media platforms — like MySpace and LiveJournal — were also about connecting people through stories, whether a profile listing likes or an update about someone’s day. The communication capabilities within social media platforms have evolved to reflect cultural trends and available technology, but in many ways it is slowly trying to replicate our original form of communication- face-to-face.
When MySpace and Facebook first launched, they were text-based communication platforms, using photos only to provide a visual representation of users via profile pictures.
When you look at the device market during that time – the earliest days of the digital camera – the lack of visual content on social isn’t terribly surprising. It took the the mass adoption of camera phones, high speed internet, and mobile data packages to create the perfect storm for the growth of photography as a medium of communication, leading to photo albums on Facebook, single photo functionality for Twitter, and eventually the current king of the social media photo space, Instagram.
While these changes were happening in social media, consumer perspectives on video were transforming. Most video content had been consumed in long-form on movie screens or televisions, but the launch of YouTube, which originally used a precursor to the JW Player, in 2005 opened the eagerly-awaited door to watching content in new formats, such as on the web and across devices.
Years later, the release of Vine sparked a social media revolution, bringing video content to the forefront. Instagram quickly followed with the addition of 15 second videos, bringing easy to share, user made videos to two huge social networks – Twitter and Facebook. Facebook’s autoplay video content has made it one of the largest video platforms. We’ve even moved past standard video on social platforms to embrace live content – in this year alone, Meerkat and Periscope hit the market running, with brands, journalists, and events embracing the live-streaming functionality on our social media sites.
Social media has always focused on delivering the most up-to-the-minute updates on and information about people in your network, allowing you to digitally experience the lives of the people you care about. From the growth of social media on mobile to the explosive surge of instant-share platforms like Snapchat, timeliness and convenience are core drivers for consumers.
What we’ve learned in the past decade is that changes in formats on social media — from written word, to still photos, to video — are predicated by new technologies in the device market. If Periscope and Meerkat represent our current peak, what comes next? What new forms of content will we see social media sites embrace, and how will it impact user communication?
Social media is about allowing our network to see what we see, which is why I believe the consumer launch of Oculus in 2016 will be the next tentpole moment in the growth of social media. Instead of sharing your vacation photos on Facebook or Snapchatting your friends a video from a concert, imagine sharing immersive content that your friends can experience with you virtually, allowing them to see the sunset on the beach in Hawaii or hear the music at Coachella just as you do.
While the mechanisms have evolved, today’s social media giants still focus on the power of stories. The stories have simply become richer, more complex, “told” through multiple forms of media. What’s interesting to see is that each evolution of social media technology aims to bring us back to that earliest human social experience – seeing the person in front of you telling, living, creating their unique story in the moment.