What will be the next big thing in social media? Here are 7 clues.

crystal ball 2

In the past few months there have been some pretty breathtaking financial windfalls for social media properties.

  • Instagram, with 11 employees and no revenue, gets purchased for $1 billion by Facebook.
  • After the IPO, every Twitter employee has the equivalent of $1.6 million in stock.
  • The 23- and 25-year-old founders of Snapchat rejected a $3 billion buy-out offer from Facebook because they expect to get something better.

I guess you could say it’s profitable to make the right bet on the social media scene. Little wonder everybody wants to know what the next big thing will be!

Even the smartest and most-tuned-in people really don’t know what’s next. Who saw Pinterest coming? Nobody. But I think there are some trends we can turn to that might help us predict where the social media world is percolating …

It will be small

I think one significant trend is “small.” Six second videos on Vine. Infographics replacing dense blog posts. Pinterest as nuggets of visual candy.

The reason is simple. People have so many options to consume content that companies are “chunkifying” it into easy to consume pieces to get it through the limited pipeline to our brains.  Look for platforms to emphasize short-form content.

It will be dazzling

Following this theme that it takes something special to get through the information overload, there is also a niche on the other end of the spectrum — make it dazzling. Look at the recent Chipotle restaurant juggernaut where they are spending millions on lush animated videos and Coldplay songs to sell their burritos. Their latest effort garnered 4 million views in a week. A Dazzle Channel would work.

There will be an element of intelligent curation

I love those dazzling videos but I’m too busy to take the time to find them. And I’m tired of the same types of content being suggested to me by my limited number of friends. I want content to come to me, not just tailored to my tastes, but to challenge me and push me beyond the comfort zones set by search algorithms. I don’t want to see content that gets the most votes. I want the curation to know me better than I know myself.

It will efficiently and quietly gather personal data

The economics of social media are simple. It is driven by two things, and two things alone — collect more personal information that can be transformed into targeted advertising opportunities, and create provocations that will tempt people to spend more time on your site so they can see those ads.

To the extent that a new application can accomplish one or both of those goals, it would be a rich take-over target for one of the heavies.

It must dominate a niche

I am often asked what will overtake Facebook. We don’t need another Facebook … or Twitter or LinkedIn. The ones we have work just fine. Every hot new property has created a unique and independent niche instead of trying to topple the big players. The strategy on the social web is to find that niche, scale, dominate … and then figure out how to make money.

It will be video-oriented

While video consumption is huge, the amount of true innovation has been stagnant (for reasons well-articulated recently by WIll Overstreet). This area is so ripe for change and growth that I predict there will be some real breakthroughs in the next 24 months.

It will be wearable

Of course Google Glass and the next wave of wearable technology will change everything. What will content and apps even look like when the Internet surrounds us like the air that we breathe and the entire world is a display screen?

Like I said, nobody has a crystal ball. But watch out for a unique company that allows you to produce, share and curate small, dazzling videos through Google Glass. It could happen!

Help me out on this. What trends are coming together that excite you? What business opportunities are out there?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
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  • Some interesting insights and thoughts. Snippets is definitely the way things are progressing, due to the lack of time people have, and are willing to give anything.

    Maybe it will be Matrix style brain infusions – a 2 second direct shot of the days news and articles that you subscribe too, straight into your mind?!

  • Will Overstreet

    The wearable Tech I wouldn’t have believed or thought of until Google announced its glasses. Now we have the new samsung watch/phone.

    I will be excited to see what use case or moment will make wearable technology go from that’s cool to I need.

    Mark a new innovation that is not revolutionary but would be widely used is anything to replace the most antiquated of customs, exchanging business cards.

    Great post. Talking about what is next is my favorite topic.

  • Mark – I agree with your points. It seems that as a society we are continuing down the path of convenience (too an extreme) and certainly wearable tech will help us “achieve” that. And yes, the shorter the better. Too many options limit bandwidth.

  • Tom O’Brien

    The point about “make it small” is exactly what we at Disqus are doing by allowing commenters to embed rich media to thier conversations. Sometimes a picture, video, sound says it all. http://bit.ly/17JARva

  • useradvocate

    Interesting suggestions Mark. From a general user experience (UX)
    perspective I think it would also have to rapidly show value to the users. If
    the value of the app is not immediately apparent then the user interface has
    missed the mark and the user experience will feel like work, not pleasure. It’s
    interesting that this often boils down to short, micro-content as you have
    suggested.

    The question I would have is how these micro-experiences
    will add up to bigger or longer term value? And does it need to for the app to
    be a ‘success’?

  • I would bet money the the next big thing ties in new tech with old like the Ford Evo vehicle. It is social media ready car of the future.

  • i used to think the same thing about business cards but then I wrote this: http://www.businessesgrow.com/2013/03/26/the-best-digital-business-idea-that-just-never-worked/ (be sure to read the comments!

  • I could use that, actually. Thanks Barry!

  • Thanks for commenting Jonathan!

  • Thanks Tom.

  • Interesting. As usual, you are thinking a few years ahead of me Michael!

  • I think a convergence like that is likely too,. Thanks,

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  • Claire Moore

    I think it was in the movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise went into a department store and ads popped up aimed directly at him (or who they thought he was — you have to see the movie). Anyway, it probably won’t be long before we see similar location-based apps targeting us as we go through our day.

  • jennifer lehner

    I love to think about what’s coming next. Since the Bitcoin post on your blog recently, I’ve been semi-obsessed. I was at a big banking conference in California last week, and when the keynote mentioned Bitcoin, briefly, and I asked a followup question about it, no one really knew anything. These were big bankers. Not to say that they should know everything about everything with regard to currency, (and the more I read about Bitcoin I realize it’s likely not going to be sustainable) But still, it just goes to show you that things are moving FAST. We are all racing to keep up. But it’s fun. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    Here’s an idea: you do so much speculating about what’s next, or at least I think I”ve seen that current in your work and in your podcasts, how about making a “virtual time capsule” blog post, and then open it up one year from now, and re-blog on it? Will be fun to see how much of your speculations came true.

  • Awesome article! I love these predictive articles and this one is pretty on point.

    Many of these points stem from our ever-decreasing attention span, which is just a result of more content being created, recreated, and shared. That is why the social network that continues on the trend of delivering better content to you – especially short-form, dazzling, and personalized – will be the one capitalizing on the trends.

    One more thing about niche-social networks. I really see that becoming THE big thing. More standalone social networks will mean that users will have more choice not on just the type of content they receive, but also on the layout, form, and functionality of the content (essentially they will be in control of the medium). Once we have more control of the medium, the message becomes more relevant to our consumption.

    Another reason why I see niche-social networks driving the future trends is because of their societal implications. I see niche networks becoming part of our identities moving forward.

    Initially it’ll be something like television channels. Just like with television, we used to have a few main channels that featured everything. Eventually there became more niche channels, e.g. sports channels, fishing, history channel, etc. From the variation of channels, we could start to see distinction of personality and lifestyle based on their favorite channels. So the news junkie and sports nut will most likely have different regularly watch. I see the same thing happening with social networks; communities forming around lifestyle and beliefs.

    Eventually, these social networks will serve as the basis of social groups; much like different groups of people have associations and organizations they join based on their beliefs and lifestyles, e.g. card-carrying NRA members.

    Ultimately I see social networks becoming so niche to the point that it’ll serve as indicators of group – whether based around personality, beliefs, or status. That’s one of my takes at least. I’ve been already seeing this happen in 2 instances in my life:
    1) When I say that I love Pinterest, many people respond with “you’re the first guy I heard say that.” Pinterest is more than just a social network to those people; they have a preconceived notion of who does and doesn’t belong there for example.
    2) I’ve been noticing in my own experience that EVERY girl that I have dated or had something intimate with used Tumblr. It’s a very small sample group, but I’m convinced that girls who use Tumblr have something about their personalities that make her and I compatible. (I am an avid Tumblr user). Again, that could be anecdotal evidence, and simply a coincidence, but I find people who are active on Tumblr (and on Instagram for that matter) are somehow different than people who don’t. And I don’t mean that in a bad way or anything; just saying that this shared familiarity with the same medium somehow develops a stronger connection.

    I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable either. For centuries, we have been establishing relationships (intimate and otherwise) based on shared languages, religion, and nationalities. In many ways, a nation is akin to a social network; the language is the medium of sharing experience; religion just a large social community.

    This article really inspired me, so my apologies for my long post.

  • I keep a “Memories” folder on my Evernote to capture a lot of articles predicting the near-future, or articles that talk about recently developments. It’ll be fun to look back in a few years.

  • jennifer lehner

    @Pavel that is a GREAT idea and I’m going to completely steal it. I don’t use Evernote enough. I feel like I have to click too many times to get to what I want. I know everyone loves it. I just have to start using it. (I just looked at your blog and your Twitter. You are very funny!..”One day this blog will be better”. HA!

  • Steal away – I’m an unofficial, part-time Evernote ambassador. Get the browser extension; it makes life so much easier.

    Thank you for the kind words too!

  • I totally agree about the rise of micro-video! According to Simply Measured, Instagram videos are creating two times more engagement than photos, and I’ve seen more and more brands using Instagram videos. My favourite video was Lululemon’s “Where the Hell is Matt?” that has already resulted in 23,343 Likes. This video is a great example of brand storytelling without directly shilling a product.

  • In five years, Minority Report will be nostalgia! : )

  • That is pretty shocking about Bitcoin. Good for you for reading {grow} so you were on top of it!!

    You’re correct that I do write a lot about what is next. If you look back, I have a very, very good track record of being accurate. A few that i called in blog posts — I was one of the first to name Instagram as the next big thing. I said QR codes would bomb in the US when everybody else was all hepped up. I predicted Google+ would not eclipse Facebook as the company once hoped (boy did I piss off people with that post). I’ve thought about a post like you suggest but it kind of seems like bragging too much. It would be fun but not really my style. Thanks for the support though.

  • I love Evernote too. Use it more and more.

  • I’m glad i inspired you and it is so good to have one of your intelligent and epic comments on the blog!!

    here is where I fall off the wagon on niche networks — why hasn’t it happened already? There have been TONS of attempts at it.

    Here is the reason:

    I was talking to some people who put a ton of resources into a social networking site devoted to the LGBT community. It totally bombed because they realized too late that Facebook IS the community for LGBT. It’s also the community for airline pilots, dog enthusiasts and people who love knitting. It can be a niche community for anything. All you have to do is start your own group and away you go.

    So I have to disagree with you on this one. I think people only have the bandwidth for one social network like Facebook and the space is occupied by an 800-pound gorilla. There are a few exceptions of course, especially if it is a private network, but it’s a mature market by now and the reason we don’t see them thriving is because people don;t need them.

  • Great observations Adella. Very grateful for your comment!

  • Hmm, you make an interesting point. However, I disagree on two accounts. Before I continue, I do want to point out that I’m using the term social media loosely, to include any online community where people have avatars or profiles and exchange content and information.

    1) In your example using the LGBT community, saying “Facebook IS the community for LGBT” is an ambiguous statement within a larger context and from different perspectives. Now, would Facebook have the most registered users who are part of the LGBT community or their allies? Yes; due to Facebook’s sheer size, Facebook would have the largest number of users related to the LGBT community. Does it mean that “Facebook IS the community for LGBT”? I wouldn’t agree.

    Tumblr has a very active community, with many influential LGBT bloggers using Tumblr as the platform to discuss ideas. Twitter users from the LGBT community join together to promote solidarity and certain relevant newsworthy events. When the Chick-Fil-A story came out, this piece of news (like many pieces of news today) was mainly spread through Twitter. When the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional, the tweets spiked to over 13,000 per minute. Facebook is not the preferred medium for a LGBT blogger to publish their work and spread their message. Facebook also lacks the realtime ability to be the primary platform to drive particular issues integral to the LGBT community. In these particular, Facebook is more of less pointless for the LGBT community.

    What about if you’re a LGBT community looking to support youths in Brazil, or in Russia, or in China? Would you still be Facebook is the community for LGBT? Or would other, more cliche social network be more relevant?

    How about Gawker, the traditionally liberal blog with “gay-friendly” users? Gawer ha recently revamped their commenting system to allow for more back and forth after their article. In a way this is a social network that is very active among the LGBT community. What about the app Grindr? Where would that fit for the LGBT community?

    My point is that Facebook is not the social network for the LGBT community, but one of many important ones. The fragmentation of social networks into more niche ones isn’t going to be around topics, like airline pilots, dog enthusiasts and people who love knitting, but more along lifestyle and personality. In a way, this distinction doesn’t have a common sense, learned appearance, and can be only appreciated when you consider the social networks as different mediums. the niche networks will be based around behavior, language, psychographic variations, outlook, of users etc, and not necessarily an easily identifiable trait.

    2) And point two is agreement with you when you say, “I think people only have the bandwidth for one social network like Facebook.” Yes, “like Facebook” is a correct use of the phrase here; they can’t have another Facebook. Just like they can’t have another dairy. But you can alternate between cheese, and yogurt and milk.

    If one man was able to create a new religion in England, and break away from the Roman Catholic Church, then it’s possible that someone talented and driven (like Snapchat’s cofounders) can take down the gorilla in the room.

    These niche networ,s aren’t thriving yet because they’re nothing that we can truly offer them that’s of value yet.

  • I like this, mainly because it probably contains truth, while at the same time the reality will most likely be different. Like you said: we don’t need another x. Take the ‘small trend’ for instance: in contrast, I think we may well see the digital equivalent of slow food coming up. In Holland I recently ran into a new site called Documentairenet, where the best documentaries from all over the world are gathered. Like a breath of fresh air to me. It’s probably never going to get ‘Facebook big’ – but I think it’s very likely that we’re going to see a rise of more serious niches like that, in the wake of the fall of the ‘old media’ that fail to deliver and the onslaught of bright and dazzling fast food content solutions that try to capture our attention. I think, sooner or later, we’re going to see digital learning centers growing more succesful: knowledge centers, things like Kaggle, aimed at co-creation and sharing knowledge instead of trying to be the next Jersey Shore Online. Don’t get me wrong – there’ll always be a market for that. But a few trends mentioned above have a very high bandwagon grade, whereas the revolution usually does not come from repeating history, but from giving it a new spin. Yes, the next big thing will probably contain elements of all of the above – but it will also be something unexpected. I just hope it’s going to be a pleasant surprise 🙂

  • jennifer lehner

    You could take your readers’ predictions, the predictions of the blogosphere, etc., make a list, and check back in year. Doesn’t have to just be your ideas. Just a cool way to make a sort of check list to look back at in a year. I would do it myself, but I wouldn’t get too far with “micro” audience. 😉

  • Love, love, love this dissent my friend. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

    In a back-handed way, you are kind of supporting my argument. I was trying to say that an LBGT stand-alone community is difficult to pull off because you can already use FB, Twitter, Gawker — everything you mention.

    I’m not saying it’s impossible, in fact I think in some cases it WILL work. But I wonder why anybody would want to spend the money to re-create a social network LIKE Facebook when there already is a Facebook?

    I think it is rather stunning that there are very few niche networks out there that have been sustained and monetized. This is the biggest indicator that I am right because there is no lack or people trying to make money on the Internet these days! : )

    I think it would be very difficult to convince large numbers of people to connect on a niche group on FB or LinkedIn let’s say AND something specialized. I can’t think of what value could be added by being independent but maybe I am being dense.

    New stuff like Snapchat are successful because they fill a TECHNOLOGICAL NICHE (see item above in the main article) not a sociological one. They may siphon some users away from Twitter, Instagram and FB but they are not replacing them.

    GREAT discussion my friend. I appreciate you!

  • JeanneBrown

    I tweeted that I agreed with some but not all of these and @markwilliamschaefer:disqus challenged me to expound…well, I can’t. I kind of agree with them all, although I don’t have the prescience to know which ones will take off as written and which will morph into something barely resembling the initial idea. The thought that things will be “small” without deeper context scares me a bit because there are things in this world that require a deeper look. We can’t just rely on soundbites, particularly in my area, which is B2B marketing (even as people predict that B2B will become more like B2C or B2I).

    The comments are enlightening — thanks for reaching out and inviting me to join the conversation.

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  • You forgot to mention it will have a clever spelling of an ordinary word.

  • Very true. My crystal ball says the most likely names for a successful SM start-up are Salamandr, Breakfst, or Doghawse

  • Thanks for stepping up to the plate Jeanne. Glad to have you in the comment section!

    I agree that the “small” thing is disconcerting but also a reflection of our times. We just don;t have the time or attention to process deep content any more.

  • Extraordinary comment my friend. Thank you. Deep content sites? Why not? There is a niche for everything. : )

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  • It won’t be predictable !

    Breakthroughs rarely are.

    Hindsight will make it obvious in the rear mirror.

  • Thanks Mark! What we hear from our customers is that they want personal data, and we work on giving it to them. The biggest challenge is translating data to information.
    Zsuzsi from Antavo

  • I believe you have gazed into the future. And I believe video orientation is going to be key very soon. Up until now, if you don’t write well, you are not going to do well. That will change.

  • I have also been tracking the tech and licensing Google is buying like the Konnect patent. Looks like we might see an interactive television soon. How about being able to pause your TV then slide a product from a commercial into a cart for immediate purchase and delivery.

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  • Efficiently and quietly gather personal information, that’s it, exactly. What we need is a simple way to turn that data into useable information without losing the impact of trends.

    Well, that’s what I would like anyway, it’ shard to say what others might want. But I would really like that.

  • Jean MacLeod

    Everyone provides personal analytics via drinking a sensor-enriched smoothie and answering near constant survey/feedback, and products organically data-conform to our needs. Okay, so I’m reading “The Circle” by Dave Eggers; his step beyond Google is a creepy, fascinating concept! And disturbingly, the story doesn’t feel all that sci-fi…

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  • Nick Jago

    Dear Mark & Jennifer,

    Having just read your comments 2 yrs later, where are we now for those in the know?

    All the very best… Nick.

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