Social Media

What the History of TV Can Teach Us About the Future of Social [SXSW]

March 20, 2015

“To predict the future, you have to look into the past.” It’s a common, perhaps underappreciated saying, and its how Manish Mehta, Chief Product Officer of Spredfast began his SXSW talk, “Seeing 20/20: A Social Forecast.” While the saying is traditional, his approach is not. He perceives the history of TV as analogous to the development of social media, leveraging past TV learnings for interesting insights about what the future landscape of social media could look like. Using this approach, Mehta believes that in 2020, social media will become increasingly niche, will have no “walled gardens,” and will contain more live content.

The below post from 360i SXSW ambassador Sam Stein, Senior Analyst, Insights & Planning at 360i, recaps Mehta’s talk and provides some thought starters on what the social landscape could look like in 2020.

Increasingly Niche
As the social media landscape matures, very targeted social networks for specific communities will form, giving people more choices to find relevant social content. This is already a reality in the TV space, where there are entire channels dedicated to food, comedy and even cartoons. Mehta believes consumers will begin to demand the same type of options within the social space, which will create increased social media network competition for consumer mind space.

Thought Starter: Niche social media platforms would make understanding consumers – specifically their passions and their social media behaviors – even more important than before. Marketers would have to become even more focused on leveraging the treasure trove of social data that these platforms collect and use them to create relevant content, optimize consumer targeting and increase consumer engagement.

No Walled Gardens
Currently, social media networks are largely set up as “walled gardens,” meaning users have to be on a particular platform to engage within that social network. Mehta believes this framework will evolve as consumers demand an easier way to syndicate social media content, similar to the way they consume TV. Cable and Netflix are known TV platforms that consumers pay for to access a menu of content. Mehta envisions a similar singular social media ecosystem, where consumers can seamlessly share and transition between the different social networks in which they participate. This demand is only likely to increase if there is an increase in niche social media channels, amplifying the need for easy access to multiple social networks almost instantaneously, like changing the channel on your TV.

Thought Starter: If the way we access social networks evolves, marketers will need to adapt their social channel strategies. While Mehta did not suggest a convergence of social networks, he does suggest that consumers want a more convenient, all-encompassing platform to experience their social networks, which could have ramifications for how consumers behave on these various channels and how brands should communicate through them.

More Live Content
Perhaps Mehta’s boldest prediction is that consumers’ decreasing attention spans will lead to more live content on social media. An in-depth review of humanity’s consumption of content habits reveals a defining narrative: we’re moving toward consuming more content, faster.  From books, to 140-character tweets, to disappearing Snapchat messages, the trend is clear: consumers crave fast, easy to digest content. Mehta cites live content on social media – a type of content that instantly disappears – as the next frontier in faster content consumption.

Thought Starter: The change to live content would represent a significant deviation from the current social media model, where communication is generally carefully scripted. A few SXSW attendees expressed their doubts – citing that they don’t have the production dollars to produce content at TV quality. Mehta responded that as social media ad spend increases and consumers continue to express a desire for live content, the resources will be made available to make live content on social as good as that on TV.

While there is no crystal ball that can accurately predict the state of social media in 2020, informed perspectives like those of Manish Mehta serve as excellent thought starters. Diverse perspectives create a culture of curiosity and innovation that we strive for at 360i, where we are always thinking about what’s next.