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What Does the Future Hold for Social Media?

In the past year, there were quite a few “bigs” for social media. Facebook bought Instagram and surpassed its 1 billion user mark. LinkedIn surpassed its 200 million mark. Twitter was valued at $10 billion, and Google+ became the second largest social network, in terms of engaged users.

So when the study came out that said 34 percent of Facebook users planned to spend less time on the site because they were “bored,” social media marketers were somewhat surprised.

That’s not the only struggle social media had in the past year. Twitter, after the Boston Marathon madness, considered a content editor to ensure that the information on Twitter stayed accurate. Instagram went through a tough transition into Facebook’s hands, with public backlash about both the change in terms of service and the addition of a web-based platform.

The question is:  What does the future hold for social media? Will it stick around, and if so, what will it look like? That’s quite a tricky question to answer because of how quickly the online landscape changes (Could anyone honestly have predicted Snapchat? Or Pinterest? Or any other new, highly successful network?), but this is my best guess.

Facebook will continue to dominate:

Despite some Facebook fatigue, this social network will still remain king. Facebook’s active user base numbers 701 million, nearly twice as much as second-place Google+. Jason Stein correctly summed up Facebook’s situation on CNBC:

“Teens choose those other ‘cooler’ platforms specifically because they’re small, closed and welcome anonymity,” Stein writes.  “Facebook wants nothing to do with that — it succeeds because of its size, transparency and real identities. Facebook is the only social graph. It connects the free world, and maps to real life.”

No other social network garners as much data on users as does Facebook, which allows it to continually adapt to users’ needs. Marketers will still be able to turn to this social network to target customers, and this process will only get more effective as we continue to spend time on the site.

Online marketing will get easier…and harder:

Remember Amanda Palmer’s wildly successful Kickstarter campaign? Palmer raised $1.2 million for her album, all by building a loyal following on social media. So loyal, in fact, that the average donation was $50 — well above the price of typical albums.

It’s now easier than ever to market yourself online. Self-published books can become best sellers, YouTube channels can produce record deals, and startups can succeed anywhere. Analytics software is booming, and successful social networks are continuing to appear, opening even more channels of communication with consumers. Twitter announced it will allow advertisers to specifically target users, something Facebook and Amazon already do. Data is being produced about us each time we hop online.

However, as efficiency grows, so will utilization. Marketers will have to compete harder to get consumer attention. As social media-based advertisements continue to rise in frequency, users will more easily tune them out, similar to traditional advertisements.

Everyone is now trying to market themselves online, meaning good marketing will still take creativity and hard work.

Social media will stay largely unregulated:

Though the false reports about Newtown and Boston events were heavily criticized, many people don’t want an official “Twitter editor.” The Atlantic argued that adding an “edit” button to Twitter would actually reduce journalistic integrity — why bother reporting accurately at first if you can always go back and change it?

I do believe, however, that Twitter will stop acting as a huge source of misinformation after tragic events. More and more journalists are criticized each time a gross inaccuracy makes its way across the online world — eventually, the Internet will adapt, and credibility will be much more easily destroyed with false tweeting.

Social media will migrate into a more official role in business:

Social media is still incredibly new to the business world. It’s so new that articles like this one — which argues whether social media should be controlled by PR or advertising — are still written every day.

In the end, though, social media is not a task; it’s a tool. The medium can be used for both PR and advertising functions. Or even, as we found out recently, company stock reports. There are a large amount of businesses still skeptical of even Facebook, but like the Internet, television, email and every other industry game-changer, social media will only integrate further with business practices. HR uses social media for screening applicants, PR uses it to help handle crises, customer service reps use it to help customers and executives use it to scan the industry environment. The list goes on, and will continue to lengthen.

Social media will continue to change at lightning speed:

It took less than two years for Instagram to grow large enough to attract Facebook’s attention. Pinterest leapt from beta testing to top-10 website in approximately the same amount of time. It’s hard to define a future for social media because it’s changing endlessly, and I don’t expect things to be any different far into the future.

All I can say is that social media will continue to be around, and that marketers will be forced to adapt to it for maximum business success.

Want to learn more about how to optimize your use of social media?  Take a look at our 3-day Social Media Boot Camp!

About the author: Joseph Havey is the Director of Social Media for the Triangle-based Shelten Media, LLC, a start-up company specializing in social media marketing. He is a member of N.C. State’s PRSSA chapter, and writes for the school newspaper, Technician. In his free time, he trains for triathlons. 

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