It’s hard to fathom that prior to 2004, social media didn’t exist as we know it today. Facebook had yet to make its launch, and Twitter wasn’t even a term. But that changed pretty rapidly as the world soon felt the effects of social media in a major way. Today’s it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t connect to social media in some way or another. And along with that, social media pros and cons have emerged. But just as quickly as social media appeared, it also seems to again be morphing into something different. And whether that something is good or bad has yet to be determined.
It’s no secret that Facebook and Twitter remain the dominant players when it comes to social media today. With both having over 100 million users, it’s easy to appreciate that the barriers to entry are formidable. But some of the newest players have found ways around these barriers and are disrupting the social media landscape. The effects of social media changes in this regard have significant repercussions for all of us. In other words, these changes could usher in social media pros and cons alike. Understanding this, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into these recent developments to explore social media’s immediate future.
“Now we’re moving toward social media not led by connecting with friends and family, but by algorithmic code. We only post once a year, with massive life updates, because our feed is no longer meant to remember a fun night out; it’s meant to entertain us.” – Christianna Silva, Digital and Tech Culture Journalist, Mashable
What’s Changed with Social Media
In a world dominated by tech companies like Google/Alphabet, Microsoft, and Apple, persistence seems inevitable. These companies have monopolized their industries in various ways, making it difficult to overcome their stature. As such, many presumed Facebook and Twitter enjoyed the same types of privileges. In many ways, they absolutely have as the effects of social media are incredibly broad. Both enjoy massive audiences, and both have tremendous valuations. Recently, Facebook was determined to have a market cap of $562 billion. Twitter, thanks to Elon Musk’s valuation, is somewhere around $44 billion. Regardless of social media pros and cons, it seemed safe to assume these giants would be market leaders indefinitely.
Interestingly, however, the social media landscape has changed a lot recently. In a recent survey looking at teen social media use between 2014 and today, major shifts have occurred. The percentage of teens using Facebook have fallen from 71% to 32%. Similarly, only 23% use Twitter today compared to 33% eight years prior. At the same time, TikTok use has boomed to 67%, and Instagram and Snapchat have also made gains. The effects of social media audience preferences have been critical in driving these changes. And while social media pros and cons persist, where users are tapping into social media is evolving.
“That’s the business model of social: to have an algorithm in the beginning that is rewarding to all, and then once you have all the users and you’ve gotten people addicted to using the app on an ongoing basis, the model changes.” – Sabrina R. Merritt, Founder and CEO of October Social Media
Algorithms Persist, But Social May Not
The underlying event that seems to be triggering changes in social media use involve user preferences. As its name implies, social media enjoyed its rise as a result of the social networks it created. Friends and family members could connect, share, communicate, and relate in ways that were easier and more creative. Understanding this, developing this social graph took time for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. This is exactly why competing with these giants was so difficult once they acquired millions of users. The effects of social media audience size were enormous when social networks were essential. But this requirement may no longer be necessary, at least based on user preferences and behaviors.
Social media pros and cons do exist, and one of the pros has always been the social opportunities provided. But that changed when TikTok appeared on the scene. Suddenly, entertaining creative content attracted social media users instead of social networks. Algorithms no longer focused on potential friends with whom you might connect. Instead, they determined the type of short-segment videos you might enjoy. And they did so with amazing accuracy. Without the requirement to build massive social graphs, TikTok and others suddenly gained a foot in the door. In fact, TikTok now enjoys over a billion users a month. The effects on social media that these algorithm shifts caused cannot be understated. Instead of being an algorithm focused on social, the most powerful ones today are those that focus on entertainment.
“If you are not paying for it, you are the product. And eventually we all become aware of being turned into donkeys, and it makes us self-conscious, and we clam up until the next one.” – Aimée Morrison, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo
Future Social Media Pros and Cons
So what does all of this mean for the social media of tomorrow? What social media pros and cons can we expect? On the pro side, one of the major benefits may be an end of social media dominance by Facebook and Twitter. Without requirements of building social infrastructures to thrive, new social media sites can enter the field. We are already seeing this happen as one of the effects of social media shifts. Not only are new social media companies like BeReal appearing, but existing social media giants are shifting their focus. Facebook added Reels to compete with TikTok and changed its algorithms to be more entertainment-focused. This could be a very good thing as we look toward a much more competitive and creative social media future.
Of course, there will undoubtedly be some downsides as well. The negative effects of social media in creating ADD-like attention spans will only get worse with brief snippets of entertainment. The number and volume of distractions will continue to expand as well as the competition in the attention economy increase. In this regard, it will be up to us to determine which social media pros and cons we are willing to tolerate. Thus, the same pitfalls and pressures will remain even if the names of the dominant social media players evolve. Will a shift of social media from social to entertainment be in our best interest? That depends. At our core, we are social beings and need to feel connected. Social media rapidly grew by tapping into these core needs. It’s unlikely short-segment videos and entertaining snippets will satisfy these cravings. But where there’s a need, there’s likely to be a creative and innovative solution around the corner. This time, that solution may not be Facebook or Twitter but hopefully something even better. For now, they jury is out and only time will tell.