Where will social media be in five years?

10 Jan 2011 by Randall Helms, 5 Comments »

In the future, social media tools will be better integrated into all aspects of online life
In the future, social media tools will be better integrated into all aspects of online life

One social media service that’s been getting a lot of attention recently is Quora, a social media questions-and-answers site.

Sure, the concept is not exactly new, given the long-term existence of sites like Yahoo Answers, but what Quora has done successfully is to attract a lot of really interesting and smart people from the technology, media and marketing worlds and create a space for some very good conversations.

Being a less stupid Yahoo Answers is not a bad thing!

One of the nice touches about Quora is that it allows you to automatically follow your Facebook and Twitter contacts that are active on the site, so if any of you want to follow me, you can do so here.

Anyways, I’ve been adding my answers to various questions, on everything from the history of dubstep to the characteristics of the typical UK Twitter user to the question of when will publishers stop printing books. It’s fun!

One question that I’ve answered that is particularly germane to this space is the issue of where will social media be in five years time, and I think it’s worth taking the time to expand on my answer in this space.

Firstly, in terms of the question of whether or not the specific term ‘social media’ will still be used in five years’ time, I’m pretty sure that it will, since it is such a useful way to describe those online services that allow people to connect and share content, thoughts, and information. Terms like social media that tap into the zeitgeist don’t tend to suddenly disappear, especially when they serve a real purpose by providing a common shorthand for describing a genuine social/cultural/economic phenomenon.

If I had to guess what will be different in five years, it will be that the boundaries between ‘social’ and ‘traditional’ media will be less clearly defined, as social elements become fully integrated into the basic online experience, whether or not you are using a specific ‘social media’ service. We’re already seeing that with tools like Facebook’s social graph, but I believe pretty strongly that this process will deepen over the next couple of years, both as businesses gain a better understanding of the utility of social media to their online activities, as well as due to consumers coming to have a better understanding of how and when to use these tools.

As I discussed in my dissertation, businesses can use social media not just for marketing purposes, but also for market research, customer service, and for new product development. I believe that this trend will only strengthen as the amount and quality of information available through the social graph increases over the next few years.

As the value of social technology to businesses grows, so will their understanding and knowledge of it. Despite the hype, social media remains a very fresh field of business, and in my opinion businesses in general and marketers in particular still have a lot to learn about how to best use it, which is why I believe that the next few years will see a big leap forward in the collective knowledge about how to best exploit social media for business purposes.

If I had to make another prediction, it is that much of the action in the next few years will come from the development of new social services that take the titans of the industry like Facebook and Twitter as their starting point in order to build exciting new services targeted at specific users. I’m pretty dubious as to whether people really want to sign up for even more social networking services and go through the hassle of setting up profiles, finding their contacts, and going through all of that rigmarole in order to do what they can already do very easily through, say, Facebook.

On the other hand, if people can take their existing social identities with them, then that opens up a space for some very exciting new opportunities. Quora, in this case, is a perfect example, because it allows you to instantly and painless connect through your Facebook/Twitter account and start using the service instantly.

To sum up, I think that over the next five years the various social media tools will become much better integrated into the core of online life, and that the major social networks Facebook and Twitter will act as hubs around which a dramatic profusion of new socially savvy services will sprout, like spokes on a wheel.


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  1. Quora says:

    Where will “social media” be in 5 to 10 years?…

    I think ‘social media’ will still exist as a term, since it is a useful way to describe those online services that allow people to connect and share content, thoughts, information, etc. If I had to guess what will be different in five years, it will …

  2. Kapil says:

    Interesting thoughts, Randall. I agree with you in that i dont want any more sign ups but then there are plenty of social media sites that can take feeds from facebook and twitter these days.

    With respect to integration of social media into daily life, there is an opportunity not only in the Social Media + Traditional marketing space but also within the social media space. Last few days I have been trying to collect all “good” resources on social media marketing and to my utmost frustration – and despite using the best tools like Flipboard, Paper.li, Twitter, FB and various blogs, aggregates and websites – I keep finding more and more people and resources talking authoritatively on this subject.

    Ultimately, I want one resource that groups all the information about a topic, neatly categorised and subcategorised, so that I can stop wasting time looking at 100’s of different places for information. In addition to this, the experience on a desktop and mobile devices need to be the same – it is currently not! This, i feel is the next step in Social Media evolution!

  3. hi Kapil,

    I think you’ve hit on a key point, that one of the problems with modern life is not a lack of information per se, but instead a lack of reliable ways to categorize and sort that information. As you point out, you can spend forever finding new resources on a particular topic, but if you are new to the question, how do you judge the relative value of the different sources, or even what is relevant and what is not?

    In a sense, I think this is why social media has become such a popular means for distributing news and information, because it comes pre-filtered through a friend, family member or other connection.

    Having said that, I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of using social media to judge and distribute content. I actually think that resources that can help to cut through the maze of information available online will become increasingly popular over the next couple of years, particularly for business purposes.

  4. Kapil says:

    Sounds like an opportunity that could use a brainstorming session. What do you think? :)

  5. Indeed it does – I’ll drop you an email and we can set a time next week to sit down and think through these issues. :D

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