I wanted to talk about three distinct groups of friends I’ve followed over the last year or so. The first is a group of friends who are frequent business travelers, and we share stories and purchase suggestions in a group on Facebook. The second is a group of friends who are fellow members of Adobe’s Insider Group, and we stay in touch via a Twitter group DM and Slack channel. The third group of friends are people I have met on, of all things a phone game, and we have a group on messaging app Line.
These three groups are almost completely distinct (a few of my friends in the Facebook group are also in the Adobe Insiders group DM), and have formed around three very different social apps/platforms.
In fact, someone recently asked me what my favorite current social media site or app was and I immediately said ‘Line’. But I quickly realized that there’s nothing really spectacular about Line, I just thought of it first because that’s where my newest group of friends are.
These examples cover two trends that will be relevant to social and digital media over the coming years that I wanted to discuss.
1 – We are long past the saturation point in social media content. Notice I said social media CONTENT. Originally, social media sites and tools were used for communication. Over the last few years, social media sites have morphed into content distribution platforms first, with communication happening a distant second. As a result, user behavior has changed. Some people have adapted their social media usage, and have started sharing more content on social media sites. I certainly have. Others have changed their behavior by spending less time on these sites as the experience has shifted.
Yet another way that users have adapted to the content sharing saturation on social media sites is by creating small groups or clusters of people who can more organically interact with each other. The three examples I mentioned above; Facebook groups, Twitter group DMs and Line groups, represent this idea of going back to when we could connect and interact with our friends and peers on these sites. I also wonder if we might see this happening more on blogs, as bloggers try to re-cultivate reading communities on their sites. It’s about self-creating a way to cut through the clutter and get back to having a small group of friends or people that share a common connection or interest.
2 – People use social sites and apps based on whether or not their friends are using them. A few months ago I started playing a phone game and as soon as I did, everyone in the game told me “You have to get on Line!” So after weeks of needling about not being on Line, I finally joined. And the app itself is nothing that spectacular, but I enjoy using it because it gives me a way to stay in touch with the friends I’ve made while playing the game.
I think this is something we all do, we don’t pick a social app or site based on form and functionality as much as we do because we want to stay in touch with the people we know. Ten years ago there were far more social media sites and apps vying for eyeballs, and as a result many of those sites offered their own quirky user interface or functionality elements to try to attract attention. Today, there are far fewer successful social media sites, and most of the mainstream ones share many of the core functionality elements. So functionality isn’t really a deciding factor in social media usage as it might have been a few years ago.
I’ve written about this before, but I think we are seeing a move away from a decentralized social web back to centralized, smaller groups or clusters of people organized around a common theme, belief or idea. I also think marketers need to understand this shift, and prepare for it. This is why you are seeing companies move from working with influencers with huge followers, to working with T-Shaped or micro-influencers that have smaller followings, but a much deeper connection to those people.
What made social media so amazing in its earliest days was that it gave us an easy way to build deep connections with small clusters of people. Over time, that’s morphed into having very shallow connections with as many people as possible.
I don’t think that’s ideal, or sustainable. Smaller and deeper groups of friends are preferable than having everyone on a site, and not really knowing anyone.
PS: I wanted to say thanks to BuzzSumo for including me in its list of the Top 100 Digital Marketing Influencers for 2019, at #20. A wonderful honor, check the list as there are a ton of smart people to follow.