The Future of Social is Service

As We Are Social’s Digital in 2017 reveals, over half the world is now online and close to 4 in 10 are social media users. The vast and ever-growing reach of social, coupled with its centrality to the online lives of many internet users, has caused many networks to look beyond the simple aims that typified social media’s first decade. Whereas social media’s first decade of growth was defined by connecting users to other users, the next phase for these platforms lies well outside the simple confines of social. Indeed, it may not be long until those social apps on our phones become the first port of call for users looking to engage with a wide variety of online activities and, most importantly and profitably, services.

Again, Digital in 2017 explains the true scale of the opportunity here, revealing that more than one in five of the world’s population shopped online in the past 30 days. GlobalWebIndex’s research shows that almost all online shoppers are regular social networkers, and it’s clear to see that the social giants would like to keep these shoppers within the social space for as much of their purchase journey as possible. In Asia, networks like WeChat and Line have made shown the way forward in attempts to facilitate commerce on social platforms, and have reaped huge revenues in the process. And although there remains an education gap in many Western markets regarding the potential of social commerce, the commitment of social networks to make these functionalities mainstream is sure to have an impact. Last year’s launch (or re-launch, depending on your point of view) of Facebook Marketplace was yet another indication of how serious Zuckerberg & Co. are taking this mission, and other platforms are not far behind. GWI’s research shows that online 16-24s are now almost as likely to turn to social networks as search engines when researching products online, indicating the clear potential that initiatives like this have.

But online shopping is only one part of this trend. The continuing rise of chat bots promises to bring a significant number of brand interactions within the social space, while also educating social networkers on the breadth of services that can be accessed via their messaging and social apps. Again, Asian networks have led the way here, offering their users access to taxi services, doctor’s appointments, restaurants, money transfers and more. But Facebook and others will not be far behind – Messenger has provided access to Uber and Lyft for some time now.

The one aspect of this evolution that has yet to fully reveal itself is social’s potential as a true entertainment service. There has been clear progress here – already, GWI has found that over half of Facebookers watching video on the platform, while about a quarter watch Facebook Live. Social networks have yet to fully announce their intention to compete with the major music and TV and film streaming services. Yet the clues are there, with Facebook hosting Amazon TV pilots on the network, and recently poaching a key YouTube executive to lead its music strategy.

The social aspects of social media will continue to form the core user experience of most platforms but it’s certain that when we see the Digital in 2018 report next year, we’ll be looking at a social media industry that is taking service seriously.