We’ve always had social media. Sitting around a campfire telling stories is fundamentally social, with the air around our heads being the medium carrying human voices. Denizens of 16th-century Florence and Rome were known to tie notes to sculptures, expressing their approval or criticism — creating what were, perhaps, some of the earliest bulletin boards. Even the paintings in the Lascaux caves appear to have been the product of gatherings, not the efforts of lone individuals.
The Lascaux paintings, in fact, provide insight into the worldview, beliefs and priorities of their creators. Today’s highly evolved social media provides a similar range of information, painting a picture of the interests, behavior and connections of individual users.
With each keystroke, users of social media add to some of the largest databases ever created. The owner of that data will be able to predict consumer behavior in ways that have heretofore been unimaginable. Furthermore, over the past year, both Facebook and Google have unrolled systems capable of capturing data from applications outside of their own platforms. For instance, when a Facebook user plays a song on Spotify or watches a movie on Netflix, that information flows into the Facebook database.
In marketing, smart companies are eschewing traditional norms of advertising, and embracing passion or purpose-centered communication plans. New approaches are based on storytelling, participatory media, and transmedia, and less about self-promotion. In the era of social media, audiences or customers aren’t interested in anything that can be perceived as salesmanship, thus companies are having to scramble to become creators of original and valuable content: brands are becoming publishers.
While the U.S. has been behind in the adoption of mobile and smartphone technology, it’s quickly catching up. Wearable devices, such as Google Glass and smart watches, are only beginning to become commonplace, and are predicted to proliferate as the cost of MEMS sensors continues to decrease. Google’s emphasis on the development of wearable devices and social media is prescient: they’re creating an always-connected device recording every motion feeding a database of human interactions.
While the battle over social data between Google and Facebook may seem like the final battle scene in Lord of the Rings, they are not the only players. LinkedIn, the oldest of the major social platforms, has been dramatically overhauling itself, creating a social eco-system that ties in with the way people conduct business. In younger populations, platforms like Tumblr, recently acquired by Yahoo!, and Instagram are more popular than Facebook.
The adoption rate of social media has recently slowed, with overall U.S. use of social media by internet users at around 70 percent. The so-called Millennials and the generation following them, however, were born into these technologies, and their usage rate is closer to 90 percent. Increased deployment of smartphones and wearable devices will bring those numbers up even higher. We are approaching a time when less than ten percent of the population will not be using social media in some form.