The Future of Social Media

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By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

The world that we live in today is much more complicated than the world that we used to live in decades ago, or a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago.

We used to share information by running into people when we were walking down the street, going out to the store or visiting a plaza. That’s how information was shared for much of human history. So, we’ve adapted to being influenced by people within those types of settings, and therefore, we really don’t know how the human brain and human culture will respond in the current social media connected world. 

We spend much of our time interacting with each other in a different way–where we interact with people across the world, who we’ve never even met, and who we don’t frequently get social cues from.

Furthermore,  it’s fascinating to think about how our attention systems will respond to this new world. But one change that we’re already aware of is that, within the past decade with the onset of social media, we seem to have a more difficult time focusing.

We’re switching our attention back and forth between different apps on our phone and spending a lot more time on our phone. And this attention switching has some implications for social media platforms within the coming years. 

If we look back, the first social platform that we typically remember is MySpace. MySpace hung on for years, but the platform struggled as overwhelming features emerged, and it was eventually replaced with Facebook. Facebook has been around for a long time, and it is still going strong, but Instagram came along as a challenger, and now, TikTok is a force to be reckoned with. 

(I’d love to rant here about how Facebook is going the way of MySpace as they too have become overwhelmed with features and products, but we’ll save that for another day.)

This pattern of platforms coming and then going away is probably a pattern that will continue for decades to come. Moreover, the transition from one prominent platform to another might even happen at a more rapid pace as we lose our ability to focus and as we get more used to changing our focus to different things and being distractible.

And there will be stereotypical changes in the demographics and advertising effectiveness in these platforms within the coming decades. For example, today, the demographics of people who use Facebook are a lot older than the people who use Instagram. Those who flock to a new platform initially tend to be younger people who like to try new things and stand out. As the platform gets older, the other groups will begin to join, and the demographics will begin to skew older, then the younger people will go away and find the next new thing (where their grandmother won’t see what they’re up to). 

The resulting change in age demographics will have an interesting effect on the effectiveness of advertisements on these platforms. Right now, you can put advertisements on Facebook that people see and actually pay attention to, and many older folks are willing to take the time and pay attention to these ads. Those same ads might not perform as well on Instragram where the savvy user has less patience and is better able at spotting and ignoring ads. 

So, the age demographics that differ between these platforms, as a result of the duration that these platforms have existed, can change the way that advertisements are effective and the way these platforms can be used. This isn’t just the story for Facebook and Instagram, it’s a common story that we’re going to see with the new “oldest” platform of the day and the new “newest” platform of the day. It’s the future of social media.