Make social media social again!

24 July 2023

“No algorithms, no tracking, no personalized Ads ‒ just a safe space for you and your friends to hang out online!”

7 min read
7 min read
make social media social again

This slogan has been used, more or less ironically, as the title of numerous articles on marketing, technology and social themes. It’s also likely to headline many more analyses since it perfectly illustrates the current shift in user attitudes taking place in parallel to the ongoing discussion on technological changes, which had focused, until recently, on virtual reality before shifting to artificial intelligence.

For some time now, increasing attention has been given to the impact social media platforms (mostly heavyweights such as Facebook) are having on our lives. Not to mention the number of data analysis tools and user influence tools they use. 

Simultaneously, social media users have tired of the constant emphasis on showcasing their personal lives, the pressure to “perform” on social media and the constant comparisons social media causes them to make. Instead, they’ve become more focused on seeking relationships, discussion, and a sense of belonging to smaller communities they can identify with.

I’ve researched various aspects of social media. This includes:

  • Gamers' monography based on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook discussions

  • Analysing hours of gaming streams on Twitch

  • Analysing construction trends based on community discussions organised in thematic groups

  • Evaluating discussions identified with the support of social media listening applications

  • Observing many diverse threads, including the habits of alcoholic  beverage consumers and the prospects for developing VR technology

In doing so, I noticed how the social media needs of different countries and age groups were changing. This includes the following observations: 

Participation instead of performance

Almost 20 years after Facebook’s launch, social media is going back to its habits from before the era of the dominant platforms. Everything is about community. Users want to freely discuss topics they’re interested in. No longer do they want to be limited to threads suggested by algorithms. 

Recommendation models whose content selection methods are supposed to draw maximum attention, achieve maximum involvement and maximise the time spent on platforms have become a drag for many users. Some even find them frightening as they remind themselves how easily tempted they are to procrastinate online. Meanwhile, others get hooked. This makes the problem of social media addiction a growing concern that particularly affects young people using mobile applications such as TikTok.

Additionally, algorithms tend to seal people off inside information bubbles, recommending similar content to what they have liked before. This leads to a deepening polarisation, a phenomenon that’s very noticeable in Poland. 

Effectively, polarised, aggressive discussion encourages users to seek out smaller, diverse communities offering a less socially toxic environment. All these developments are seen in both the dominant platforms and new ones:

  • Facebook is intensely developing groups, which are taking an increasingly greater share of user time

  • Reddit is one of the few platforms to have emerged from the social media revolution unscathed because of its topic-based communities, subreddits

  • New platforms are focused on creating online spaces that are fully manageable by the user, with multiple online communication features like Discord

  • Known for gaming live streams, Twitch strongly integrates and engages communities built around particular channels. Users are offered a wide range of gaming and non-gaming streams to choose from

Fluid identity

The idea of a “board” that collects content based on what the user wants to follow, with the selection process taking place independently of the user, is losing its appeal.

The user account that works as a performer showing life, trying to impress others, has become more of a burden than a boon. The initial fascination of finding one’s friends online is increasingly giving way to fatigue with users being constantly subjected to judgment, the need to separate what one does in different contexts or even the need to remain anonymous and stay away from the scrutiny of one’s friends.

Users limit their presence on social media with their real name profiles, where all their activities are clearly visible to others. And it’s not just children hiding from their parents or employees hiding from their employers. Users seek options to construct their own identities in various fields, to build a sense of belonging.

New social media allow you to build more than one digital identity ‒ Discord or Telegram allow you to use multiple nicknames and change them. This post-Facebook identity is becoming more and more widespread. Similar possibilities are offered by platforms that have grown out of online workspaces, such as Slack, which is increasingly used as a basis for easily building active thematic forums.

Safe haven

Participation and fluid identity are increasingly important both to young users and older adults who see them as a throwback to the days of forums, blogs and early instant messengers.

One example is SpaceHey, a platform created by an 18-year-old Berliner that promises unique personalisation and privacy:

“No algorithms, no tracking, no personalised Ads ‒ just a safe space for you and your friends to hang out online!” 

SpaceHey is centred on interests and discussion. Not who you are but what you want to discuss on blogs or one of many groups. The platform plays with the convention of MySpace, which failed to withstand the Facebook juggernaut – but many still consider it a cult classic. In Poland, it was largely known as a platform for musicians and their fans. There was hardly a garage band that didn’t have a MySpace account. SpaceHey boasts more than 600,000 users. This means that its user base has grown 50% over the past year. Of course, it’s not big enough to shake the current social media landscape, but more similar initiatives are on the rise. There are even entire companies committed to creating the next generation of social media, like Collective Media, which builds communities for those who are tired of large communities and seek a “new Internet” they can shape themselves.

What are the implications for marketers?

  • The role of building communities open to discussion around a brand is growing

  • The role of celebrity influencers addressing a wide variety of topics is diminishing while there’s a greater interest in the opinion of “a user like me”

  • It is becoming more difficult to reach consumers, who are more and more dispersed, but the range of opportunities for constructing differentiated communication is growing

  • If an organic discussion around a brand develops, don’t try to join it, whatever the consequences, to take it over, moderate it or copy it. Observe from the sidelines, try to inspire or stir interest without undue emphasis on commercialisation

  • Join the trend of practising good social media hygiene (developing social media practices that are conducive to our health, especially mental health) and the more old-fashioned netiquette (the word netiquette is an acronym for “network etiquette”, a set of social conventions that facilitate interaction through networks, and that includes from chats and emails to blogs and forums, and it is not only set of old-fashioned rules like do not use capital letters in posts or messages because it looks like YOU ARE SHOUTING but also general timeless practices like express your opinion with respect to others), which should be required of users, brands and the platforms

Marek Tobota
Owner at Data Tribe