If you are connected to the internet by any means in 2016 you are also likely to be using some form of social networking for personal or business use – even if you don’t realize it.
You may have purposely avoided Facebook, LinkedIn and the like, but you can bet someone else has made some reference to you somewhere. Do a Google search on your name and you might be surprised what turns up.
Social networking has rapidly transformed from humble beginnings as a means of making and keeping contact with friends and acquaintances to a multi-billion dollar industry. Most sites begin life as a ‘free’ service but as their user numbers grows so does the cost of maintaining the service.
Large user numbers also attract the attention of would be investors and potential acquirers. Digital and online success (and potential value) is still being determined by the number of people a service attracts – often regardless of the revenues being generated (if any).
And because numbers are so important most social networking sites will go to any lengths to attract more people, despite the fact that those they try to win over may have no purchasing power whatsoever. Every body, it seems, adds value no matter what socio-economic, national, sectarian or regional grouping they come from.
That explains why Facebook, Google and others are going to such lengths to connect people in emerging economies by offering free access to their sites and even by rolling out their own network connections. It seems the ‘land grab’ of this decade is more of a ‘people grab’ with absolutely no thought to the potential ramifications of what the rapid change of lifestyle might bring.
We have seen snippets of the power of social networking with the Arab Spring uprisings, crowdsourcing of mobs and even the overthrowing of governments. We have seen it used for good and evil and we have seen it attract the attention of national security organisations, but do we have any idea where it is heading and what the future might hold for those using the networks, for whatever purpose?
They have enjoyed relatively free rein so far and as their power becomes more evident they will inevitably attract the attention of government regulators. But is too late for any power to stop them?
Well, big brother may not have to worry because like most things that grow rapidly they tend to fall rapidly, too. Remember Myspace? Maybe not the best example but it was going fine until it was acquired by a multinational conglomerate that wanted to monetize it. Even if the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn are not acquired they, too, have embarked on the path of monetization and it is starting to irk some of their most loyal members.
If you ask young professionals how they use social networks, the worst fears of many sites may be about to be realized. Facebook, at least to the twenty-something young investment bankers that Alex Leslie spoke to recently, is irrelevant (and more suited to their parents). They simply do not use it, at least not the bit where you post pictures of your food, dog or holiday destination. The only bit that they use is the events feature, where you can invite friends to a party with the greatest of ease.
They also do not see the point of Instagram and view Twitter as nothing more than a newsfeed (one of many). They also believe that the determination to increase their following is futile and advertising is on the way out, unless something else very clever happens.
While this syncs nicely, and rather smugly, with our own views here and here on the fate of social media, it begs the question – where on earth does Facebook, Twitter and a number of others go now? With the younger audience dwindling and advertising about to hit a wall, the investment in David Marcus as the guy who will make us all do everything on Messenger is looking increasingly like a long shot. And, according to Wired, some months ago, Facebook is betting the farm on Messenger.
No wonder Facebook and others are trying to attract new audiences in far flung places, Twitter is trying to build up a business following and LinkedIn is thinking of going ‘personal.’ They may be killing themselves by trying to be all things to all people. The regulators may not have to do anything but sit back and watch them self-destruct!