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The Year Social Media Moves Beyond Social
[This essay originally appeared in Forbes.]
Social is entering a new era in the history of its communications potential. In doing so, ‘social media’ companies like Facebook and LinkedIn are briskly redefining their identities, business models and the boundaries they are able to connect people — or brands to people — within. All told, 2015 looks more and more like the year social will formally move beyond social, and the time when advertisers and technologists stop talking about a company, marketing channel, event or job title as ’social,’ and, instead, simply describe it as something that is.
After all, what is or isn’t social anymore? Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are now closely interwoven throughout all modern media — from live event and TV experiences to journalism to federal government policy awareness — and thanks to mobile are now first screen centers of attention.
How do you define a social company? Today, Facebook generates more annual advertising revenue than Fox News, CNN or MSNBC, with a much faster underlying growth rate fueled by mobile device adoption and budget reallocation to digital.
As we’ve talked about in the past, Facebook is also distancing itself from its own company pages and contest tabs, becoming a modern media company that connects people and serves ads across a network that extends well beyond Facebook.com. And if the definition of a social company is as open-ended as one that creates or facilitates interactive communities, brands as diverse as Amazon, eBay, Uber, Github, Kickstarter, Venmo, Medium, Pandora, Spotify and a litany of other companies are also intrinsically social businesses. ‘Social’ is where people spend time on the internet, it’s what people intrinsically want to do in their lives and with their phones, and it’s been a central element of human behavior for thousands of years.
From a business perspective, because of Facebook and Twitter, some companies are putting their customer service team in the marketing department, while other brands are relocating their community managers to the customer care team. Ultimately, the nuances of corporate org structure aren’t what really matter: everyone is trying to do social business, and no one is trying to do anti-social business.
If you’re looking for more writing on the wall about how profoundly social is moving beyond social in 2015, here are three clear signs:
1. The Impending End of Google+
The writing has been on the wall for months, but Google’s newly appointed VP of Photos and Streams Bradley Horowitz’s cryptic Google+ announcement last week indicated a new direction for the struggling platform, one which will likely see the product fragmented and folded into other Google offerings.
“It’s important to me that these changes are properly understood to be positive improvements to both our products and how they reach users,” writes Horowitz, following on the back of other announcements that have included the end of mandatory Google+ registration when signing up for Google services like YouTube, the shuttering of Google Authorship and Hangouts being established as a standalone mobile app.
The announcement clearly reflects Google’s understanding that maintaining a silo’d community isn’t strategic to Google — or valuable to the internet. Instead, Google wants to develop richer, interconnected media ecosystems like YouTube that carry its cultural influence and ads beyond search. Speaking last week at Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, Neal Mohan, Google’s VP of Display and Video Advertising Products messaged this shift in the opening lines of his presentation:
“If you think about the evolution of digital marketing [over the last 10-15 years], it’s been monetized through direct response advertising. But one of the big opportunities we see is cracking brand advertising. For us, that starts with YouTube.”
It’s no coincidence Google sent their ads leader to represent the company across technology, media and telecom.
2. Facebook and LinkedIn Advertising Reach Escape Velocity
2015 will be the year both Facebook and LinkedIn start distributing ads — at scale — on third party mobile apps and websites. In fact, LinkedIn’s upcoming ad network not only gives brands the ability to target LinkedIn user profiles across the Google Display Network (GDN), it even gives LinkedIn advertisers access to Facebook’s own inventory.
Meanwhile, Facebook will increasingly use technology like Atlas to measure and serve ads cross-device and cross-platform based on user profile ID’s and authenticated sessions, accelerating the push toward person-level marketing and social advertising that goes beyond social. By helping brands better understand in-store buyers’ histories and exposure to digital ads, Facebook is at the forefront of helping brands deliver more personalized messaging, while optimizing for reach and frequency.
3. No One’s Making Social Networks, They’re Building Solutions at the Convergence of Mobile, Communication and Media
The past year has been a brilliant period of innovation for mobile communication and connectivity, but a dismal time for startups hoping to pioneer a new ‘social network’. In addition to Google+’s woes, aspiring, Twitter-esque microblogging startup App.net laid off its team and open-sourced its platform, while upstart ‘Facebook alternative’ Ello’s brief moment in the spotlight was followed by highly public failure just a few months later.
At the same time, mobile communication apps have thrived, particularly messaging and person-to-person media sharing platforms like WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, Kik and Snapchat. According to mobile app analytics provider Flurry, the use of mobile messaging apps grew by 104% year-over-year in 2014.
In large part, this shift reflects what people have always used their phones for: getting in touch with the person who matters most in that particular moment. Thanks to increasingly intelligent mobile devices with more storage space for photos, videos and songs, communication and media are converging, as well as renewed consumer interest in digital privacy, transparency and personalization.
On New Years Day 2016 you’ll still be able to log on to Facebook, comment on your friend’s feed and do ’social’ things. Brands will continue to be part of popular conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn Pulse. And our Instagram and Pinterest profiles will still be intact in their succinctness. But social media will have moved beyond social, and we’ll be talking about communications, media, relationships and, most importantly, just the way things are.