2023, The Beginning Of The End Of Social Networks?

Social Networks

At the beginning of the year, the world of social networks continues to experience many turbulences. Hardly a week goes by without waves of layoffs or significant changes in the strategic direction being announced, driven by stock market prices that have plummeted for several months.

It should be remembered that since their appearance in the 2000s, these online platforms have experienced exponential growth, even if this growth has somewhat blunted due to competition from messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp or Messenger, which have attracted a large part of their audience.

Suppose the COVID crisis was able to give them an unexpected boost. In that case, something is going wrong now: the transformation of the pure advertising model of historical social networks is slow to materialize, and new generations are adopting different uses and platforms from their elders.

Advertising monopoly, protection of personal data, psycho-social risks incurred by the youngest, geopolitical risks, not to mention artificial intelligence are all issues that weigh on the evolution of social platforms. I recently had the opportunity to host a webinar on Social Media Opportunities 2023 for Limber. Here are the key takeaways.

Facebook And The Metaverse: Opportunity Or Burden Against Ageing?

Facebook, one of the pioneering social networks and remained the reference social platform for the general public, is now facing significant challenges: growing competition from other networks and the aging of its users. Indeed, Facebook has seen its audience age over the years: today, only 15% of its users are under 25, while Tiktok can count more than 40%. 

Users who joined the platform when it started nearly 20 years ago have different interests and behaviors than young Internet users. This led to a decline in user engagement and platform growth. Instagram and TikTok have attracted part of Facebook’s audience by offering more engaging experiences and content suited to their interests. 

To compensate for this loss of audience, the Meta group has embarked on what it calls the metaverse: a virtual universe that allows users to engage in immersive online experiences. Opinions as to the potential success or failure of this metaverse differ. Some users believe the technology must still be sufficiently developed for quality experiences. 

Others believe that the general public still needs to be ready – and may never be – for a virtual universe of this wingspan. On the other hand, technology is likely to evolve rapidly, and some remain optimistic that it will soon enable successful immersive experiences. Companies, for their part, are also aware of the growth opportunities offered by the metaverse and could invest heavily in creating content for this universe. 

Despite Meta’s disappointing financial results in 2022, he has no intention of stopping his efforts in this area and implementing the Meta Verified subscription – a carbon copy of Twitter Blue – seems to mean that everything is good, including easy money, to finance this ambition.

Twitter: Musk Hit But Not Sunk?

The high-priced takeover of Twitter has lately seemed to transform the social network of global opinion leaders into a sort of “one-man app”. Thus a few weeks ago, the tweets of its new owner appeared at the top of the “timelines” of most users, as if by magic or by manipulation of the algorithm more precisely, suggesting that the latter intends to impose a particular line of libertarian editorial, including via a sort of rather uncredible probing governance.

Some may see it as self-mockery, questioning or simply an opening of the speech. But many of us see a sinking ship and a captain who has lost control. However, the flight to alternative platforms like Mastodon has yet to occur. Twitter remains essential today, essential.

It should also be noted that the brutal dismissal of 2/3 of the employees leaves Blue Bird without sufficient human resources to initiate the fundamental strategic shift towards Musk’s avowed ambition for Twitter: to make it a “one-stop app” by developing the application a set of services ranging from digital identity, content, messaging and up to payment, the Holy Grail for the one who, let’s not forget, co-founded Paypal in the last century.

 The long-term ambition is to make Twitter the Western elite’s WeChat, creating a complete and captive integrated ecosystem over which it will have control. To achieve it, he must hope that his haste to shake things up quickly and his “trial and error” approach will not lead him to irreparably alienate the platform’s 326 million users – robots included or not, we don’t.

LinkedIn, The Monopoly – Too-Quiet

If there is a social network that continues to progress smoothly, LinkedIn is one. With more than 800 million members, LinkedIn is today “the” undisputed professional social network. Since its acquisition by Microsoft in 2016, everything has been done to make it a data platform capable of providing an inexhaustible source of talent and prospects for companies, particularly BtoB.

However, LinkedIn remains a limited medium of expression. Users are present more to display their CVs online to potential recruiters than to engage in a frank, even controversial, conversation. It is also a showcase for companies that promote their employer brand.

Even though the network has gradually implemented content sharing and discussion features similar to mainstream platforms, users complain that LinkedIn is too “formal” and ultimately used more as a tool for self-promotion through content.

Thus, if LinkedIn was able to present an exciting option for those disappointed with Twitter, it is clear that the great migration has not taken place, and it seems reasonable to bet that nothing will change soon, as this network allows the historical leader of Enterprise Software to maintain a hegemonic position.

Instagram Or How To Maintain An Authentic Community Despite The Rise Of Influence

With nearly 1.4 billion active users, Instagram is one of the most popular social networks in the world. However, some experts believe the platform could experience a downturn in the coming years due to uncontrolled influence growth. The facts are in: personality accounts (known as “influencers” or “content creators”) with millions of followers allow their owners to earn huge sums through brand partnerships. 

If stars and sports greats can monetize their pre-existing notoriety by asking for several million dollars per post, unknown influencers, “made in Instagram”, can expect a few hundred thousand dollars for this same type of post. This phenomenon has made Instagram less and less authentic, as many users now feel pressured to share perfect content to attract more followers and become influencers themselves.

 This race for perfection has severe consequences for the youngest and is a source of damage to their mental health. This trend can also negatively impact regular users who do not wish to play the game of this economy of appearances, do not feel up to the standards of perfection imposed by these influencers and are gradually abandoning the platform.

In sum, what contributed to the rise of the platform could be the cause of its downfall. Instagram needs to continue to restore authenticity to the social network and make it once again a community place where everyone posts their vacation photos rather than a disguised marketplace.

TikTok Victim Of International Geopolitics?

TikTok needs no introduction. The leader in short videos has succeeded in attracting users of all ages and, in just a few years, has become the benchmark social network for young people under 25. However, it is not just a simple social network, and it raises questions about international politics due to its content recommendation algorithm. 

The famous “for you page”. Indeed, Tiktok’s algorithm is based on the analysis of user data, making it possible to offer videos according to their centers of interest. This has led to accusations that it promotes a particular worldview and ideology through a logic of confinement within similar content or even categorization of its users, which has raised concerns about manipulating public opinion.

There are also concerns about the security of user data, given that Tiktok is owned by the Indian company ByteDance. Users and lawmakers wonder if the data they share on the network is used for commercial or political purposes by the company and, of course, the Chinese government.

Because of these concerns, some countries, like the United States, have restricted the use of Tiktok, and others have even banned its use. This has contributed to slowing the application’s growth, which remains one of the most popular networks.

Towards A New Paradigm

As we can see, between market saturation, peak popularity, aging users, and psycho-social or geopolitical risks, each social network ultimately corresponds to one of the essential issues of our time. However, these networks occupy a large part of our lives, which should remain the same.

 When artificial intelligence for content production foreshadows an avalanche of new content, many questions arise about the future of these platforms: will they be able to implement the safeguards to distinguish human content from that produced by AI? Will they create models to return to authentic and respectful user exchanges without distinction or hierarchy?

 Will they be able to continue to open us up to the world and allow us to understand its complexity rather than confining ourselves in communities built on alternative discourses? To meet these challenges, social platforms will undoubtedly have to reinvent themselves in the coming months while adapting to changes in uses, technologies and regulations, opening up an exciting new paradigm.

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