Social Media Outlook For 2022 & BeyondNatalia Persin
Has social media’s heyday already passed, or will its popularity expand even further? By some metrics, user rates are decreasing on most social media platforms. But a couple of the largest have seen sustained growth.
What this all means for the future of social networking and the way it can be included in a digital marketing strategy is still uncertain, although we can make some assumptions based on the current state of affairs.
Read on to find out everything creatives and managers need to know about social media heading into 2022 and what that portends for its use in the coming years.
2021 Statistics On Social Media Use In America
According to a survey performed by the Pew Research Center, YouTube and Reddit were the two social media platforms that saw growth between 2019 and 2021. YouTube increased 8 percentage points while Reddit increased 7, reaching 18% of those polled.
Other platforms included in the survey saw insignificant or even negative growth in the same two year period. It’s important to understand this information in context, however.
Firstly, the initial growth of these social media platforms was meteoric so a slowdown is natural. Just 5% of Americans reported using social media back in 2005. Today, Pew says that number is 7 in 10.
Next, we need to consider what happens when market saturation reaches such high levels. As the potential new user pool decreases, the rate of growth is more likely to slow.
Updates and site changes by the social media platforms themselves also have an impact. Features are lost or competing sites adopt similar features, attracting users from institutionally popular sites. Services like YouTube and Reddit that saw growth in recent years are also the ones who have remained the closest to their initial feature offerings.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has indicated that as many as 90% of teens ages 13 to 17 have used social media. Expanded access to technology and the increase in social media platforms that cater to younger users with additional content restrictions and privacy settings have enabled younger audiences to open their own social media accounts.
Finally, it’s vital for creatives working in social media design and the companies that employ them to realize that surveys like the one we mentioned from the Pew Research Center primarily deal with American statistics. Asia and Africa have seen a higher growth rate in social media use in recent years.
That trend looks like it will continue, partly contributing to social media trends like the push to non-text-based mediums like video and voice features, which are generally found to be more entertaining and easier to use among populations with lower literacy rates.
As many have anticipated from its inception, the internet is making the world a smaller place. Creatives with a mind toward social media design and professionals trying to build an effective digital marketing strategy need to remember the new international character of modern social media user audiences.
Innovation In Social Media Technology
The most highly anticipated advances in tech are already being implemented by social media platforms. For example, augmented reality filters can be applied to videos, pictures, and video chats. You can see what a piece of furniture will look like in your apartment with AR, frequently tied in with shopping buttons on sites like Instagram.
But social media design creatives aren’t only using this new tech for user-facing tools like filters and AR product previews. Back-end functions and the ever-important algorithms that direct user attention are also becoming more personalized thanks to artificial intelligence.
All this has allowed creatives to greatly improve the user experience. UX/UI designers can gather far more information on a whole host of different behavior metrics to find out what users need. This process hasn’t been without controversy – many users and even the NSA are concerned with the growing volumes of data being generated and collected across the internet.
Like it or not, the personalization resulting from the use of this kind of data is now a well-known feature of almost any social media platform even if users aren’t immediately aware of it. Leading figures in social media design are touting the ability to provide individualized experiences to every user, a possibility on the near horizon that’s already underway.
Social Media & The Filter Bubble
Former executive director of MoveOn.org and co-founder of the news site Upworthy Eli Pariser brought attention to what he calls the filter bubble in his 2011 book of the same name. In that book, Pariser uses Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm (the one that creates the news feed on the main page) to illustrate the never-ending cycle of data collection and algorithm improvement. Essentially, the problem is that algorithms need more data to be more effective and huge amounts of data need more sophisticated algorithms.
Pariser also highlights what algorithms look for in user data – what users search, click on, spend time on, buy, and who they look for are all good examples. Algorithms are geared toward providing users with content like the content they’ve seen and enjoyed before, creating a self-reinforcing cycle called the filter bubble.
This phenomenon is also called an echo chamber or feedback loop. Anything the user doesn’t like won’t break through the algorithm, which means it won’t show up on their feed. This is all good and well when they’re searching for a new couch, but when it comes to the more social aspects of social media it can be outright dangerous.
And it can be most dangerous for people who already have fewer information points to sift through. Seniors and people who only use the internet for politically charged information are going to see more of the same content according to the logic of the algorithm, which wouldn’t have any other kind of information to base its content suggestions on.
Getting those suggestions right drives people to spend more time on social media and the internet in general. Research on the welfare effects of social media found that participants who deactivated their Facebook profiles for four weeks reduced their online activity and were more likely to continue using it at lower levels after the four weeks were over.
Theoretically, spending time on social media is only as harmful as that social media itself. As innovation continues in parallel industries, an increasing number of users are using social media to access and post streaming videos or buy products. It’s not the social-only landscape it was in the last decade.
Still, a big potential problem for brands trying to fashion a digital marketing strategy to match modern social media is that they will unconsciously be supporting the creation of filter bubbles. One promising area for advancement in this area is the incorporation of social networking tools that are integrated with branded platforms. There has been some progress in this area, but there is still more that can be done.
The Problem With Personalization
When we think about such integration, particularly where it’s been markedly successful, the idea of a totally personalized internet experience is enticing. After all, if search results and content can be filtered so that they’re delivered only to the people most likely to engage with them, that leads to more purchases and better engagement.
But that’s not guaranteed to be the case in the long term. Filter bubbles that are the result of total personalization could prevent brands from breaking out of an initial dedicated group of customers. Even if they enjoy a small pool of people with high brand loyalty, it might not reach a sustainable level.
Present-day digital marketing still has some focus on passive candidates and outreach to prospective customer bases and brands need to do the same regardless of how social media algorithms are directing user attention. Creatives tasked with creating digital campaign materials should try to find ways to engage the other aspects of the platform.
For instance, you might be able to engage users across bubbles if people are sharing branded video content. Are they going to share a straightforward commercial in the typical sense? Unlikely. But they very well could share an informative or funny video where the brand plays a backseat role.
Some companies have spent money on sponsored ads that appear in a news feed the way organic suggestions from a social media algorithm do. Although this approach can undoubtedly be successful, it can also annoy or appear dishonest to users.
This brings us to one of the most frequently overlooked factors in personalization: users are not oblivious to it. As with many other branded marketing efforts, people are wary of personalization and particularly of the massive amounts of data needed to support it.
Even if most users will blindly accept cookie agreements or notifications, that’s primarily because they want the pop-ups out of the way so they can continue what they were doing. It’s not a good indication that personal data privacy isn’t a big concern for the majority of internet users.
Turning again to the Pew Research Center, surveys show that 79% of Americans are concerned with how their data is used by companies while a whopping 81% say the risks of data collection outweigh the possible benefits. Despite promises from companies that this data will streamline and personalize their social media experience, the vast majority of users see it as a necessary evil rather than an exciting new realm of possibility.
Creatives behind digital marketing and social media design efforts likely already know how important transparency is for UX/UI design. Data collection and, more importantly, the purposes this data is put to are bringing transparency and privacy concerns to the forefront of more users’ minds.
More Trends In Social Media For 2022
Personalization and data are without a doubt one of the areas of the greatest importance for social media design in 2022. Here are a few other trends to keep an eye on for the rest of the 2020s.
- Digital Marketplaces For Mobile-First Shoppers
Social media platforms are driven by a desire to monetize. A mutually beneficial arrangement for brands and platforms is the digital marketplace, a customizable page where the brand can show off products and services and users can make purchases without leaving the social media platform.
The majority of people using these marketplaces are likely to be from the highest growing markets for social media – those in Africa and Asia. Users in these areas are more likely to be accessing social media mostly or solely via mobile devices, particularly smartphones.
So marketplaces need to make it easier for these users to view content and navigate toward a COA without needing a larger screen. Functions like product tags are doing this job for now, but more intuitive design including and beyond these features will help even further.
- Less Information Sharing
Part of the data hesitancy we mentioned earlier in this guide is a new reluctance to share as much information online. Perhaps the novelty of posting such information has worn off. Undoubtedly younger millennials and Gen Z users grew up with relentless caution about their data, which is reflected in their more closed-off use of these platforms today.
Users are more likely to gravitate towards videos, games, and other entertaining platforms to kill time. They still like connecting with their friends and user-created content is also still popular, as proven by the surge in popularity of platforms like TikTok for the younger cohort.
- Individualized Communication
Personalization has encouraged the preference for individualized promotional material and communication. Chatbots and messaging services like WhatsApp are being used to satisfy this desire. Users can send a message to inquire about products or reach customer service, usually cheaper and more quickly than searching countless FAQ pages or contacting a customer service department by phone or email.
The flip side of this is that users might not want to have their information widely accessible throughout the organization. So knowing that someone has accessed their profile might put them off, especially if that profile isn’t visible to the user themselves.
- More Professional Applications
The rise in remote work positions forced many companies to online their internal operations, including communication and file sharing. These internal social media platforms are frequently overlooked, but they can be highly lucrative.
Integration between these platforms and traditional social media might be an interesting prospect for some, but that’s not guaranteed. Many people want to keep their social lives and work lives separate. But there are still plenty of ways for creatives to make internal professional communication networks and platforms more useful.
- Virtual & Augmented Reality
The novelty of augmented reality may be fading, but not in a way that makes people disinterested. Rather, it appears that many users have come to expect some type of VR or AR on their social media platforms. Young users like to put filters over their videos and selfies while older users enjoy the ability to try on clothes or see how new items will look in their home.
Facebook’s Metaverse has yet to see a full rollout, but it looks very likely that digital meetings could become more three-dimensional thanks to virtual reality. It remains to be seen if it will be useful enough to take off, but the goal seems to be a totally immersive experience. It’s a promising direction for everything from meetings to education.
- Algorithms Are Doing More
This trend is almost guaranteed into the rest of the 2020s and beyond. Social media design and the platforms themselves are working hard to build more sophisticated algorithms that can even more perfectly tailor the user experience.
Possibilities are endless from a design perspective but beware of the issues discussed by leading thinkers like Eli Pariser. It can turn into an endless cycle of improving the algorithm and then collecting more and more data. All that requires data storage solutions, so plan to try and mitigate the worst effects of such a cycle.
Social media use isn’t the same as it was ten or even five years ago. More and more people who have never known a social life without these platforms are using them. Increasingly sophisticated algorithms are making it easier to provide a personalized user experience, but that approach is not without its issues.
Use the information in this guide to make sure your social media design is up to modern standards. It will be more effective overall and more enjoyable for the user that way.