It’s out there, in the air, a murmur if not clear as writing on the wall. Hushed whispers about feed fatigue. Seasonal slowdown. A proliferation of bots. And among the real users: a sense that it’s always more of the same.
Twitter, Facebook, Google, competing for attention where there’s never been enough of it. What’s next? What’s new? And even, what can be new?
Signs that today’s social media have become tedious and redundant are real. And none too surprising. Our industry has designed and built according to practices established by the competition. All social tools are similar — different in ways but to the mainstream, more similar than different.
Copycat design assures some success. Keeps the risk at bay. But is no guarantee that new users will adopt and populate a new platform, tool, or service. So design collapses to the certainties; features continue what’s commonplace. Innovation is sacrificed to familiarity.
It’s not that social media is nearing an end. It’s that its first round and a bit of innovation is nearing an end. Those of us still using it regularly and frequently have very strong habits of use. For most, our levels of engagement just don’t add up. They’re neither rewarding in and of themselves, nor beneficial for other reasons. Given the opportunity cost of being heavily engaged in social media, the time spent for the return just isn’t enough to stick.
What comes next has to be more compelling. In design terms, and in terms of social interaction. Our use of social data and must make “socially informed” online experiences more interesting. Our use of social features must make “socially engaged” online experiences more rewarding.
It is more easy to improve “socially informed” experiences. For there, the challenge is in connecting and surfacing relevance through smart use of social data: data on what users have done, selected, shared, and so on.
The challenge in “socially engaged” experiences is more difficult for the reason that it relies on deeper and sustained user engagement. This is the conversational and interactive end of the media spectrum. Social tools and services that connect up our habits of online talk and action.
This is still a very me-centric medium. Ongoing debates about influence and ROI metrics attest to this. We’re not yet at the point of being able to leverage social units — be they circles, groups, or communities, loosely or formally defined.
Until this becomes possible, large amounts of activity will continue to float down the stream under-utilized. We produce a lot of noise, yes. But this is in part because so many signals go unrecognized.
I hold out hope that our industry can tackle this. In large part, because it’s how we socialize. We are social, and we do pay attention to each other. And when things get interesting, we get engaged.
It’s a matter of creating value. Of our learning how better to recognize it when it’s contributed or shared, and of how to distribute it so that it reaches the right audiences.
Perhaps this fatigue is just seasonal. Perhaps it’s in some measure a reflection of greater economic and cultural fatigue. To the extent that we acknowledge it, however, we’re readying ourselves for new growth and innovation. With some good thinking, luck, and funding, we’ll get there. It’s in our DNA.