What happens when social media isn't social anymore?
Creeping from the Social Graph towards the Interest Graph, the initial Zuckerbergian vision for social media is changing. Robby Egan, Head of Strategy & Audience at content studio Conscious Minds, examines how intention will replace attention in social’s new era.
Social media was built on the Zuckerbergian promise of connecting every person in the world (never mind the little Hot or Not: College Edition interlude back at the beginning).
For brands, this promise was too enticing to ignore: imagine a virtual utopia where 'fans' could gather to engage with your content and have a rich dialogue about your brand. Budding social media marketers were ready to ride this wave all the way to the C-suite, and many have.
Social media was created for humans and human connection, not for brands.
Facebook was built on the Social Graph — a virtual social network primarily composed of who you know and want to follow. Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat followed suit, with visions of communities built around virtual human connection (Zuck’s OG vision). But social media was created for humans and human connection, not for brands.
Above: Mark Zuckerberg's vision of social media, one based around users' connections, is changing.
Brand existence on social has always been clunky at best, but it was also the path to monetisation. So the platforms welcomed brands and made modifications to appease advertisers. As a result, brands have spent the past decade-and-a-half trying to figure out how to behave more like people when participating in social, becoming more approachable and more human in the process. Which is a good thing for connecting with consumers.
In 2023, social is much less about who you know or follow and more about what you like and want to engage with.
Brands that have figured out how to behave in this way have typically found success with social content and have a head start for where things are heading. But the rapid rise of TikTok has ushered in the age of the Interest Graph, a sharp left turn from Facebook’s original social blueprint. TikTok’s algorithm operates around user interests as opposed to social connections. In 2023, social is much less about who you know or follow and more about what you like and want to engage with.
Love it or hate it, this seemingly simple philosophical tweak has changed the game. When you fire up the TikTok app on your iPhone, you’re not greeted with content from people you know; TikTok’s coveted For You Page is populated with content it believes you’ll like based on your interests. TikTok is more of an entertainment platform than a social network.
Above: TikTok’s coveted For You Page is populated with content it believes you’ll like based on your interests.
The players across this landscape have taken note and are following suit: Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, effectively TikTok clones, are currently priority products for their respective platforms, built around audience interests, not social connection. The Zuckerbergian vision for 'social' appears to be behind us, but this doesn’t mean time spent on devices or apps is going down. Instead, it means how we engage with these platforms and communities is fundamentally changing.
The Zuckerbergian vision for 'social' appears to be behind us.
What does this post-social world mean for brands and advertisers? And what about the social brand managers out there? Should they be panicking?
In short, no. For brands, the post-social evolution is good news. We’re moving from the attention era, one of self-serving tactics for likes and follows, to the intention era, which is about discovering and serving your audience’s intention, creating content they want to watch, share and engage with. Welcome to the post-social world.
Above: Brands need to constantly measure and optimise their output to succeed on social.
This shift to the interest graph has democratised the ability for anyone - be they brand or creator - to participate and make an impact. Brands in the post-social world have been invited to come to the microphone to share and participate. They will have to earn their audience - just like everyone on these platforms has to - by creating a dialogue, communicating what’s interesting, and listening to their audience. For brands, this means that the age of post-social storytelling is less about driving the vanity metric of followers and more about serving audiences.
Brands in the post-social world have been invited to come to the microphone to share and participate.
Here are four areas where content marketers should focus their energy to find success in the post-social world as we head into 2023:
1. Know your audience; Not just which platforms they frequent but also what types of content they want to view and engage with.
2. Build a content strategy to serve your audience.
3. Test your content to learn and fine-tune your storytelling approach; think of content like rapid prototype opportunities.
4. Constantly measure and optimise. Repeat and iterate on what’s working, and kill what’s not.
Following these steps will help brands create stories that will find their audience, whether or not they’ve subscribed to, 'like' or follow your brand. The onus now sits squarely on brands to be better storytellers by knowing what their audience wants.
The potential rewards are great. Brands that know their audience, work to discover the types of content it wants to view and share, and continually strive to analyse and optimise their storytelling approach will be the ones that thrive in this new post-social world.