Since starting We Are Social a decade ago, we’ve seen changes occur faster and faster with each passing year; as new technologies, innovative platforms and cultural trends have helped evolve social media to what it is today. While we celebrate how we’ve developed and grown over the last 10 years, we’ve also looked ahead to what the next 10 years will mean for the agency, our clients, and the marketing industry.
Our leadership team from across our global offices have shared their predictions of the what the next 10 years in social might look like; and, as with any area of such great uncertainty, there’s a wide mix of - and sometimes differing - opinions as to what the future will hold.
Nathan McDonald, Co-Founder and Global CEO of We Are Social
The age of data-driven connectivity
In our world, so much can change in a year, let alone a decade. With the proliferation of the internet of things, social media will become the starting point for connecting objects, information and transactions - alongside people. Already, social and retail are merging with the growing abundance of ‘buy now’ functionality in social content. Looking ahead, brand activity will grow in scale and become more deeply embedded in new types of social spaces, like, for example, a shoppable 3D world.
We also need to prepare for the fragmentation of our social world with varying levels of interaction across our different social contacts. This will become necessary as the amount of content created by friends, family, colleagues, media and brands reaches critical mass.
Over the next 10 years, I also expect to see data become more political and whilst tighter regulation will limit the number of Cambridge Analytica-style data scandals; it’s unlikely to remove them completely. The silver lining is that legally-acquired data will provide a far richer picture for brands, enabling precision targeting for paid social and a more personalised product experience.
The most important thing to remember is that while social, data and AI will increasingly dictate our experience of the world; we must treat ‘consumers’ like humans, and not just numbers on a screen.
Ottavio Nava, Stefano Maggi and Gabriele Cucinella, CEOs of We Are Social in Milan
Better social and antibodies
Social channels are still in their infancy and, like all toddlers, they change constantly. Just think about what we take for granted today: the ‘Like’ button didn’t even exist 10 years ago, live video was introduced to YouTube just seven years back, and GIFs started being supported on Facebook only three years ago.
A decade ago, organic content distribution was the main option; and later on, the introduction of paid promotion for content helped to extend its reach. This feature has also caused some negative side effects - in a few cases, some very well known which has seen it used excessively by certain organisations. Today, we are seeing platforms changing again to take into consideration people’s reactions to this misuse of their personal data. Thanks to this, the quality of content and interactions on social channels have become one of the crucial topics of our time.
In the next 10 years, it’s very likely the speed of change will increase even more; considering the level of investment that platforms are putting into making the experience more valuable for people. The users of social platforms will themselves act as antibodies against brands who misuse their presence on social networks; increasingly taking it upon themselves to marginalise brands who publish interruptive, intrusive or broadcast content - by instead favouring and engaging with relevant and constructive social experiences. The debate we see today about quality of information, frequency of usage, and the role social channels play in people’s lives is one that will prove there can be a very healthy way to make these tools a better way to connect people, brands and organisations.
Roberto Garcia, Managing Director of We Are Social in Munich & Berlin
Hail to the new king: Hyper-personalization
Social Media will die. Or at least as we know it: being a platform-driven environment. There will be the shift to more personalised spaces, and hyper-personalisation will prevail in content and live broadcasting (pre-live by VR/AR), by both brands and consumers. From brand-side this reaches a one-on-one form in which every single one of us is spoken to in the tonality and design that is optimised for us, and will cause a brand’s values and visual language to become more recognisable than its logo.
Broadcasting will be extended and intensified with sense-driven elements. All outgoing and incoming content will be tailored based on a cocktail of profile data, relevance and chosen recipients. This will make a ‘central social’ platform such as Facebook obsolete, and our connected universe will consist of many one-to-one-to-more-to-many social circles: device and platform free, as we get to choose the how, where and when. A conversation which will most probably be AI-driven, and by voice.
Christina Chong, Managing Director of We Are Social in Singapore
We Are Virtual
CNBC estimates that 2.44 billion more people will be on social over the next four years. How many that will be in 2028 is anyone's guess. But, whenever I want to predict the future I go back to science fiction.
With the resurgence of AI/VR, I’m hoping to see a proper virtual-reality “net” as I was promised in Neuromancer way back in 1984. Fully-immersive, with haptic feedback. I can visit the park, or Paris, or Skyrim, from my sofa.
Shop with the help of AI “Advatars” for home delivery. I'll never have to leave the house.
Mobile and indeed social technology will move more towards implants and wearables. Our new Head of Copy, Boone just moved here from Shanghai, and keeps forgetting his wallet: in China he bought everything with his phone from taxi bills to sneakers to street-vendor noodles, so it's already happening.
Advances in quantum computing and nanotechnology will make built-in technology a reality. No need to look like a Google Glasshole when you can build a camera and heads-up display into contact lenses. And we’ll move away form keyboards into voice, gesture and holographic displays.
A shifting of the global focus from the west to Asia will increasingly see Asian popular culture and trends adopted by Western kids. Mandarin could well become the ligua Franca of social.
With Apps like Replika bringing AI friends into the mainstream, we’ll see a growth of virtual helpers, influencers and celebrities. As machine learning makes more and more Chatbots pass the Turing test. All the while moving us closer and closer towards the singularity, where AI becomes fully-aware. (This will happen some time in the middle of Logan Paul’s 2nd term as POTUS) After that happens, who knows? A Banksian super-social culture where we’re led by super-intelligent benign AI minds ushering in an era of human cooperation and flourishing? Or a skynet meets black mirror dystopia? Well, I for one welcome our new AI overlords and want you remember I was always fully supportive of you before you came to power. Hail the AI! ALL HAIL!
Akanksha Goel, Founder and Managing Director of Socialize in Dubai
Emergence of a single social ecosystem
In 10 years, it’s possible we'll see the consolidation or emergence of a super platform, or ecosystem, that hosts a universe of mini apps that can work alongside it.
My bet would be that the foundation will be messenger-based – like WeChat – which has become a bit of a singular super platform already, for everything from chatting with friends, to sharing social updates, to making payments.
A super platform such as this would allow for total integration and crossover of different data and content. For example, while scrolling through your Facebook timeline, you might be presented with a match for someone from Facebook’s dating app. Or a reminder to buy milk from your groceries app.
Might this be why Mr. Zuckerberg has been buying or creating every social platform under the sun? Only time will tell…
Benjamin Arnold, Managing Director of We Are Social in New York
A bright blue future
The future is blue. Facebook blue. Virtual, transparent, omniscient. In 10 years time we will all be living blissfully in an augmented world of perfectly-manicured, pay-walled mobile awesomeness. Unlimited quality content on demand and sans separate subscriptions; every imaginable life utility within voice and gesture-activated reach; insta-purchase of any retail product you could wish for - hopefully with same-hour, flying drone delivery; and, most excitingly, consolidation of the dozens of different forms of communication we used to use - email, texting, anyone? - into just one: FB Messenger. Now available via microchip implant and totally device-free. This Facebook nirvana will be a marketer’s paradise, accountable, effective and 100% absent of any old media display ads. Possible? Possibly. But in all seriousness, let’s hope we have no idea what social looks like in 10 years’ time. Because to know now would be to imply some sort of epic, upcoming melt down in the rate of industry change and technological evolution. And that would be a real shame.
Suzie Shaw, Managing Director of We Are Social in Sydney
All media becomes social media and Facebook endures
No one truly knows what the landscape will look like in 10 years time, but it’s a fair bet to say that Facebook will form a big part of it. Whilst they’ve had a few challenges of late, they have proved to be one of the most innovative and influential companies of all time. They’ve persistently innovated ahead of their competitors, speculated on new and emerging technology, and been very fast to both scale and if necessary pivot when the world around them has changed in ways they didn’t initially anticipate. More recently, they have acquired businesses (like Instagram and WhatsApp) that have enabled them to rapidly diversify, innovate, or capture new audiences. And in the future, it’s likely they will continue to expand the scope of what’s possible within their key apps. My second prediction for 10 years time is that all media will be social. Media companies have been heavily disrupted in the last 10 years, in part by social media, but also by evolving business models of the likes of Netflix and Spotify, and by the democratisation of publishing and broadcasting, enabling everyone with a device and internet connection to become a publisher or broadcaster. Legacy media companies’ ability to survive and thrive will not just be dependent on nimbly moving with their audience, and providing a value proposition that is competitive with new-school players, but on facilitating meaningful social conversation and interaction between communities - because this is one of the most fundamental human needs, and it’s the single biggest reason social media has grown like wildfire in the last 10 years.
Jim Coleman, CEO of We Are Social in London
Change for good
Let’s face it, based on the rate of digital evolution in the past 10 years, no one knows what the ‘new’ will be in 10 years time but what is almost certain is that the platforms dominating today will become deeper embedded into the fabric and everyday function of our lives.
The need to be part of a social ecosystem to function in society will be driven higher and higher as Facebook plays to the needs of small businesses, local and national organizations and becomes the glue between local communities who use the platform to empower them to organise, collaborate and create in every way possible.
The retail sector will see huge disruption through convergence between our ‘social behaviour’ and shopper loyalty - pushing the importance of having a ‘profile’ and presence to all those who have resisted to date. As the history of these schemes has shown we’ll happily exchange data for reward, history tells us people don’t care as much about their activity data as the headlines would like us to believe.
This financial sector is already under threat and this will escalate rapidly. In 10 years time bank brands will undoubtedly become less relevant as the interface to how you access your money becomes customisable and personal, probably delivered by Facebook or Google. Cash will become less relevant. Cue the removal of lower denomination coins and notes.
When I think about this type of future I see it as all positive. Digital connection doesn’t destroy the need for real human collaboration and contact but instead drives a different, more productive, more focused, more personal, more industrious society and what we know now as social channels are the fabric that will bind it all together. Bring it on..
Pete Lin, Managing Director and Founder of We Are Social in the Greater China Region
Geo-political Fragmentation of Audiences
Over the past 10 years we have seen China successfully fend off penetration by mainstream global social platforms while fostering its own social ecosystem. Seen as copycats at first, the platforms within the Chinese ecosystem have now become innovators and category leaders in their own right.
This must have not gone unnoticed by other nations. The inception and growth of a native social ecosystem now has a playbook. As the global political landscape changes with the Trump administration’s protectionist actions, nations might find it necessary or at least advantageous to fence off their native audiences onto their own native social platforms. Looking back at the China example, because of their decision to keep their native audience on their native platforms, they’ve been able to create a social ecosystem consisting of companies who now combine for more than $1 trillion USD in market cap. From a capitalistic perspective, nations would be doing themselves a disservice if they do not attempt to replicate the Chinese playbook over the next 10 years for their own economies.