The Social Media Reset – The paradox of an online existence for small businesses

Whether we “go back to our roots” or chart a bold new course may be themes and strategic directions that will be debated among social media company senior managers over the next 12 months.

Fairly, or unfairly, big social, political, economic and some mental and physical health issues faced today have been blamed – to varying degrees – on the widespread presence and influence of social media. Issues such as internet addiction, cyberbullying, spreading hate speech, and many others that we read about every day.

While external forces, whether traditional media, belief systems, charismatic leaders, books, films, cults etc, have shaped our personalities and values since the dawn of time, social media is built to intensify the impact of influences and influencers – especially in winning hearts and minds.

This was expressed really well in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “Are We Entering a New Era of Social Media Regulation,” where the author, Dipayan Ghosh shared this view:

“The social media business model relies on leveraging individual users’ data to push highly-personalized content in order to maximize scroll time, incentivizing more customized, and thus potentially more extremist, content. 

“Politically polarized media isn’t a new issue, but the kind of hyper-individualized polarization made possible (and indeed, made inevitable) by current social media models poses a uniquely dangerous threat. And the violence at the Capitol last week graphically illustrated that danger.”

 Used negatively, this model coupled with the ability for social media users to be anonymous has produced an explosive, often toxic cocktail that has accelerated social discontent and division over many years now. Some friends and business associates even asked me recently, if social media has a viable future? 

As someone who – in a professional and personal capacity – has grown up with social media, and still enjoys using it from time-to-time, I hope the platforms we have today, and new variants in the future, enter a period of reformation, become less powerful, less influential and less rooted in surveillance capitalism.

Kinder, gentler social media landscape? 

But, I believe a reset is needed and without being too nostalgic, or viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses, I hope social, as it was originally envisioned – promoting connection with friends, family, and old contacts – will drive the future strategies, features, and technologies of social media companies.

So, more connection and conversation and less hollering, hostility, and hectoring is my simplistic, optimistic vision for the future of social media. Given the complexity of the industry, and the massive number of stakeholders who need to be consulted and heard however, I think change – if it happens – will be slow, very slow.

Business and branding implications

In this period of social media sector soul-searching, many business owner friends who currently use social media to promote their brand, and engage with customers, have asked me what they should do?

Diversify is my advice – use different platforms for different needs because drawing on my reasonably extensive experience in the tech world, business doesn’t always mix well with pleasure. 

While the ubiquity and reach of social media is great to promote your new products, services, offers and deals to large audiences, these platforms, in my opinion, are not suitable for communicating or engaging with customers anymore. 

Why? Well, for several reasons….

Mindset is one. When they’re on their favorite platforms, most social media users just want to have fun sharing photos and videos, or chatting with friends and family. 

Given this “friends, family, and fun” focus, social media users have trust issues with business and brand social media channels. Why? When they’re in their fun space they don’t want to be bombarded with advertisements etc, so brand messages are seen as spam. Consumers are also concerned about data and chat privacy, and the blurred lines between paid-for ads and organic content.

And the second reason – if you are social media dependent today for marketing, you are also more exposed to the threat of “cancel culture.” How? If you own a business and use Facebook to promote your business and Messenger to talk to customers, these channels could – potentially – be targeted by protestors if you express a public opinion that they find objectionable. In cases like this, you are a very soft and easy target and damage sustained in hours could impact your reputation forever. 

Collectively, privacy and confidentiality is another barrier. If you live alone in a large apartment block, for example, you would probably be very reluctant to share your social media details with a wider apartment chat group.

So, if social media has its communication drawbacks, are old school alternatives, SMS and email better ways to reach customers? Although both are popular, they have low open rates – many emails for example, are directed to junk/spam folders and never read.

While that’s the bad news, there’s also good news – and personal plug time – built for purpose messaging or notification apps like NotifyMe address all of the issues highlighted above, with the added bonus of a powerful translation feature that supports 120+ languages. Given the increasingly diverse, and multilingual communities that we’re seeing in big cities now, this is a really valuable inclusion-boosting function.

And speaking of valuable functions, here are a few more:

    • Opt-in driven relationships. All relationships and notification paths are strictly opt-in.
    • Whether you’re a subscriber or a place/business, you own your data.
    • Our growing CRM feature set will help you learn more about your customers
    • QR-code-based Digital membership cards to cut down on costs/waste and increase efficiency and security
    • Teams for divide and conquer of notification workloads
    • Proximity marketing with our proximity beacons
    • Groups for audience segmentation
    • Text-to-speech to address some disabilities
    • Vouchers to reward and entice your audience
    • Event-based notifications with rosters
    • Notification analytics
    • AI-based COVID Risk Management integration (we can alert you when your staff are at risk of coronavirus infection)

As a tech industry veteran and avid sector spectator, the year ahead promises to be a fascinating one, and while social media platforms have faced major challenges in the past, they have shown a remarkable ability to shrug these off without majorly denting their popularity or bottom line.

This time however (given the level of collective soul searching around the world due to COVID-19 and social and political upheavals, and recent changes at WhatsApp) could be different, and 2021 is shaping up to be a watershed year for social media. 

It’s a space I will watch extra closely in the months ahead because the future direction of social media has big implications for all us – what do you think will play out in the year ahead? Maybe you see things differently in your part of the world or industry? I’d love to hear your predictions and views.

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