Social networking and blogging dominate Americans’ time online, now accounting for almost 25% of total time spent on the Internet. Additionally, four out of five Internet users visit social networks and blogs, a number that has increased drastically over the past two years. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all rank among the top 20 most visited US sites, as do the popular blogging platforms BlogSpot and WordPress.
It’s clear from these numbers that social media participation is growing at a rapid pace. So, why is everyone flocking to these sites? Some of the top drivers of social media usage among social networkers include: keeping in touch with friends and family (the strongest driver by a longshot), finding new friends, researching products and services, reading and contributing to product reviews, seeking entertainment and seeking an outlet for creativity. While there are certainly other reasons to participate in social networking, the majority of users cite reasons that fit into these general bucket areas.
Now that we’ve taken a look at some current social media figures and trends, let’s dive into what to expect in the future of the ever-changing world of social networking.
New platforms: Foursquare, Pinterest, Tumblr
FourSquare: This is an app which allows users to “check-in” at various locations via a smartphone or tablet. This tool, as with other location-based apps, lets users share their current location with their followers. For example, if I were to check-in here at the Eze Castle Boston office, I could share that with my Twitter followers and Facebook friends. If a coworker and I check-in here together we can share this experience with both of our sets of followers. This is where FourSquare and similar apps are gaining popularity – the social aspect of visiting a new or interesting place with friends and being able to share that information instantly with one’s online community.Another aspect of location-based services that is rapidly gaining popularity is the ability to discover nearby locations via your smartphone’s GPS system. What is perhaps even more valuable is the incorporation of personalized recommendations which are made based off of a user’s recent check-ins and preferences, as well as those of his or her followers.
Pinterest: This site is best described as an online pinboard, where users can “pin” content from any Internet site onto boards which they create, title and categorize themselves. Users pin everything from recipes and quotes to personal photos and art. Upon signing into his or her account, a user can view everything that has recently been pinned by everyone he or she follows. Additionally, users can “re-pin” content they find interesting onto their own boards, which are then likewise shared with their followers. Pinterest is currently one of the fastest-growing online social networks. Earlier this year, it crossed the 10 million unique monthly visitors mark and is now the third most visited social networking site behind Facebook and Twitter.
- Tumblr: This is a social networking site on which users can create a page to share just about any form of content that is available on the Internet. Tumblrs share everything from text and photos to videos and links with their followers in a format that is often described as a cross between Twitter and a blog. While posts are not limited in terms of characters like tweets are, Tumblr posts tend to be brief and include a combination of different types of media. When a user signs on, he or she can view posts from all followers in a feed that looks similar to a Twitter stream. Tumblr is more customizable than traditional blog platforms, which is a major factor contributing to its popularity. The site has nearly tripled its unique visitors in the US over the course of the past year. It currently gets about 16.5 million page views per month and is the eighth largest site in the US social networks and blogging arena.
What’s next in the world of social media?
So, we’ve taken you through the current state of social media, as well as a look at some hot topics and trends we see unfolding as we speak. Let’s now discuss what’s coming next in the ever-changing world of social networking.
Social media becomes mass media. A few years ago, experts questioned the relevancy of blogging and social platforms. They were often considered too informal to be taken seriously. Now the importance of these sites has become evident, and their relevance is only gaining momentum. More and more people are turning to blogs, Facebook newsfeeds, and Twitter streams as their primary sources for news and other content. However, as social networking transitions to mainstream media, it’s becoming increasingly important to recognize what is quality content and what is not. For businesses, this means using social media as a means of engaging in conversations, as opposed to pushing products through a megaphone. For individuals, this means seeking out quality sources of information and not believing everything you read online.
Mobile gains traction. Today, more than half of Facebook's 900 million users access the site through mobile devices. Globally, mobile Internet users are set to overtake desktop users by 2015. But despite this growth, social media on mobile devices remains in its early stages. Just migrating desktop features onto phones and tablets isn’t enough. What's coming is improved location-awareness, better video and audio, and integration with third-party apps. Look for these improvements in the near future as mobile social networking begins to take off.
Social media embraces the open platform format. Why has Facebook seen so much continued success, while Google+ has struggled to compete for our time? The answer lies in the way Facebook has been established as an open platform, in which outside vendors can contribute to the user’s online experience. Third-party apps, such as the popular Zynga games, enhance a Facebooker’s experience, causing them to remain on the site longer and feel a greater sense of engagement. Similarly, companies such as TweetDeck and HootSuite have benefitted from Twitter’s open layout. Sites that are closed to outside vendors do not have this added layer of entertainment, and therefore lose the interest of their users much more quickly.
Crowdsourcing takes over. Crowdsourcing refers to outsourcing the creation of content and ideas to groups of people, instead of tackling these tasks in-house. The most well-known example of this is Wikipedia, which is an encyclopedia developed entirely by contributions from the online masses. Since people tend to trust their friends and other people they know more than corporations, everything from how to bake a cake to which store to shop at for a new pair of jeans will be determined through crowdsourcing. Sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Wikipedia and virtual message boards are leading the way in this arena.
- The personalization vs. privacy debate heats up. Online retailers and social media sites are constantly collecting information about us. They log our likes and dislikes, our interests and the interests of the people with whom we interact online. Soon, users will no longer need to search for information, as the majority of information we seek will find us based on the virtual profiles that are being created as we speak. The negative side of this is the potential invasion of privacy which is already becoming an issue. Not only have government regulators begun to increase scrutiny, but users themselves are becoming more sensitive to how their personal information is being shared. With Facebook going public and shareholders demanding results, the pressure to mine user information will only continue grow. Walking this fine line between personalization and individual privacy is going to be an interesting trend to follow going forward.
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