Next Gen Futures — There will be no next Instagram.
2 part series exploring the Next Generation of Social Media, part 1 - Lean in and be immersed.
This is a revision of a previous article I wrote in 2020 on the future of social. I have revised to reflect some changes in a post pandemic world.
What if followers didn’t mean anything?
What if social likes became a social token to pay for coffee?
What if Linkedin operated like BitClout?
Until about March 2021 I didn’t have any personal ‘social media’, I really had no online social presence at all.
I’ve never tweeted, never had tinder, and never posted a photo of my #dog #coffee #beautifulsunsetwalk on the gram.
For me, it’s because social media never really had what I wanted. The reward/dopamine trade for my privacy and data was at an imbalance, until now.
Social is in the age of forking, splitting into two main ideologies. Lean in and be immersed, and lean out to breathe. This is going to be the era of immersive social, virtual profiles, closed social, crypto-powered decisions, decentralised social, combinations of it all and much more.
It’s going to be a dizzying playground of nuances, secret languages, micro-communities and walled concepts which only the most adaptive will be able to navigate, and even harder from brands to access, but more on that later.
In part one we’re going to look at the lean in approach, exploring possible Next Gen social trends like ‘deep socials’, ‘in the moment’ socials, and ‘complete fan influence’ socials, in part two we’ll explore lean out, exploring topics like ‘decentralised socials’, ‘closed socials’ and ‘human only’ socials amongst others.
For me, lean out and breathe social is the first time social media has felt right for me, but the platform I want to use just hasn’t been built yet.
Before we get into that, let’s quickly look at some of the shifts that have got us here.
Raw n unfiltered + TabooWhat + The Influencer Paradox + Featureless social + Voices Deplatformed = The next gen of social…
You can skip this bit if you want to get straight to the next-gen futures of social.
Where we are now…
Raw n unfiltered
It’s clear that influence has changed, moving from airbrushed celebrity photoshoots and millennial hustle to an attention economy where raw n unfiltered content triumphs. This is a shift that is flourishing on platforms like TikTok and Clubhouse, built for fast-paced content and serendipity. This is ‘influence’ which trades on low-fi live production and where realness is key. From messy bedroom floors to ‘hot girl shit’ parodies, where the sound of someone’s voice is all to know about them.
Brands and businesses are already taking note, Asos’ pandemic photoshoots were the definition of ‘in-house’ (literally) and signal a future where authentic content will bleed into everything we see and do. From the billboards at tube stops to the mannequins in shops. This realness is something we’ll explore more in both lean in and lean out social.
TabooWhat? (Mental Health)
Another shift is the trend of TabooWhat? where the exposure of Gen Z to the good, bad and ugly of internet culture at such a young age has driven accelerated emotional intelligence but also desensitised to a lot of the taboo’s older generations hold.
The result on social media is that almost nothing is out of bounds.
While there are many dangers to this trend, combined with raw n unfiltered it’s opened a portal into the detailed inner workings of ‘wellbeing-porn’, self mental health diagnosis on TikTok, 1-day digital detoxes’ and hours of content documenting the struggles of a 24/7 online culture. This is a space where unfiltered is normalised, live-streamed and commented on, the self love revolutions will be televised.
Waves of countless celebrities taking social media breaks and openly discussing mental issues will lead the way for a future of more conscious social, which is something we will explore in Lean out socials.
The Influencer Paradox
There’s a self-destructive paradox between influencers and platforms like Instagram coming into focus, for those who have built millions of followers are threatening the very platforms they’ve built them on.
When millions of pounds gets spent on ads shown to bots, and a recent 2020 study by Marketing agency TAKUMI shows “two-thirds (60%) of 16–24-year-olds agree that influencer marketing provides better ROI for brand marketing campaigns compared with traditional advertising”… influencers are now in direct competition with Instagrams revenue model itself.
The result is Instagram has started restricting the reach of influencers, causing a constant fight against the waves of algorithms and changes punishing the reach of small businesses, in fact, no one really knows what’s going on with the algorithms at all.
It’s clear that social media platforms have been built around outdated concepts of monetization like old media, where print ads were placed next to news stories to steal attention, the Next Gen of social media will have to monetize attention in a new way.
Youtube shorts, Instagram reels, Instagram shopping, Facebook audio-only rooms…Snapchat face filters, Instagram face filters, Facebook face filters…clubhouse voice filters?
What if all social media features are featureless?
It seems the way we’re going, not that they’ll have no features, but no differentiation in features. This trend has become so apathetic for many, the brands so mainstream and bland, that loyalty to any platform is merely novelty which becomes a habit and addiction.
This is where TikTok really punched through the noise, by filling every inch of the screen with content, the raw n unfiltered users became the branding for the platform.
The future of social will have to create novelty, innovation, and scarcity to stand out.
Finally a recent trigger we can’t ignore is the ‘2021 Storming of the United States Capitol’ which was encouraged, organised, and documented through social platforms.
This event resulted in the voice of the ‘most powerful man in the western world’ being removed from Twitter, a stark reminder of not only the centralised nature of these platforms but also the polarisation of spaces we use every day.
Platforms that have ignored and failed repeatedly to create safe and moderated spaces online, but have the ability to intervene at any time.
This trigger will lead to a wave of closed and vertical socials further polarising filter bubbles, interests, and perspectives, something we will explore in lean out social.
So these are just a few examples of the volatile state of play for social media today, this is where we split, we lean in and be immersed, or lean out and breath.
Let’s start with Lean in Social.
What does lean into social 3.0 mean?
Lean in social is all about complete immersion into ‘social media’ in every aspect of our lives, whether it’s our attention, our identity, or even our decisions. Young Gen Z, Alpha and NextGen have grown up having never known anything else.
Talking about a time before social media 3.0 will feel as outdated as talking about times before having phones to find a restaurant, or talking about the speed of dial-up.
In this part 1 we will explore; ‘deep socials’, ‘complete fan influence’ and ‘in the moment’ socials.
Everywhere we look the physical and digital are blurring, social 3.0 is no exception, there’s a new wave of socials that will shift our sense of identity entirely.
Anyone who writes about this area opens with the line “Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have come across Lil Miquela” but there’s a reason she is the archetype for this point. Lil Miquela is the Gen Z ‘Ai’ virtual influencer who has grown up with many of the Gen Z cohorts who follow her. Kinda like a Harry Potter for young millennials.
Lil Miquela, and other virtual influencers like her are signals that influence can be ‘real’ without being real.
We’re seeing this across the world of VTubers, online entertainers disguising their appearance using a customised digital avatar. A great example of the tech being used here. In a report released by youtube, 47% of its viewers are open to “watching content from creators or characters who are fictional or virtual”
On platforms like TikTok Gen Z are exploring this too, under the term #maincharacter, which sees people imagining themselves as a protagonist or the “main character” in a fictionalised version of their life.
Olivia Yallop says in an article for guardian; “Becoming your own protagonist speaks to the way that younger generations self-narrativise, particularly given the tools at their disposal: a front-facing camera.”
Another example of this is a recent article where the headline reads ‘YOUNG FEMALE TWITTER STAR TURNS OUT TO BE 50-YEAR-OLD MAN USING DEEPFAKES”
The power of a clickbait headline is truly a beautiful thing, but if you look closer at this story, instead of being malicious, there’s something deeply human about it. The creator of this deepfake identity just wanted to create a world where they were more desired, they just wanted to be noticed.
“No one will read what a normal middle-aged man, taking care of his motorcycle and taking pictures outside”
This need for attention isn’t something new to social media, neither is the use of avatars, but a combination of machine learning and deepfakes, and a generation growing up on minecraft and Roblox building their own lives, games and worlds could make a massive difference.
Online platforms like reddit have operated on pseudonyms for years, finsta’s are commonplace for Gen Z, and for years we’ve seen curated perfect lives, perfect dinners and perfect pictures on social 2.0.
We know deep down that those we follow are excluding the full picture.
So the next step in Social 3.0 might mean the era of deep socials, where just like our love for Lil Miquella, we stop caring whether something is as real as a ‘human’ or as real as our humanity projected on them.
What if the next social media required you to have a digital self, just like they require a phone number or email address?
What if a face filter was literally that, a switchable identity that you committed to ever time you went ‘online’?
What if you had a digital I-D for virtual profiles which connected virtual worlds like decentralised and social worlds?
What if brands couldn’t tell whether you were a ‘real’ or ‘deep’ social?
Complete fan influence
The next trend I’ll explore in lean in social media is the complete immersion of fan influence. When already so much of what we do is affected by crafting our social identity (ever stopped eating your food to take a picture of it first). Social 3.0 could evolve into something which affects everything we do.
We’ve started to see examples of this already, NewNew, a social platform where your ‘fans’ can vote on your decisions.
NewNew was covered in a recent article on the future creator economy;
“Have you ever wanted to control my life?” Lev Cameron, 15, a TikToker with 3.3 million followers, asked in a recent video posted to NewNew. “Now is your time. You can actually control things I do throughout the day and vote on it and then I will show you if I end up doing the stuff you voted for.”
In the case of NewNew, while social peer pressure and fans to creators is nothing new, the barrier to entry is. On platforms like this, you can instantly start monetizing your ‘fans’ without needing to gain millions of followers, but in exchange allow access to a level of fan to influencer intimacy we’ve never seen before. Especially when you’re 15.
Where does this leave us, with millions of followers comes resilience, almost a protection that it’s not personal, ‘haters gonna hate’ and all that. What happens if 100 people are voting on your life decisions? what happens if it’s 10? What happens if they’re friends, what happens if they’re complete strangers?
Currently we’ve built a model of influence that operates around crafted identities on platforms like Instagram, and our idea of ‘influence’ is typically someone who has influence over their followers, but social 3.0 like NewNew flip that concept entirely on its head.
In social 3.0 we’d see fans' complete influence over the influencer, replacing the influencer self created identity with the collective identity decided by the fans…
As I previously explored in my article on social tokens, cryptocurrency could be the mechanism that would allow complete fan influence to take hold of our lives.
When we begin to build money into consumer social networks, not tipping or supporting, but as an indication of value, we’re entering a dangerous territory.
Likes, follows and comments have long been a reflection of value, but not as blatant as we could see in social 3.0. We’re already seeing this on infamous platforms like BitClout, where people are investing large amounts of money in people, without even knowing them personally.
I’ll finish talking about complete fan influence with a few what ifs;
What if you could pay for a coffee with likes?
What if Linkedin integrated a Human IPO feature, so you could invest in someone before you hired them?
What if every morning you woke up to your followers having chosen your outfits?
What if your followers voted on which brands you work with and which you don’t?
What if your fans curated your feed because they were financially invested in you?
In the moment Social
The final trend I’ll explore is ‘in the moment’ social, a reaction to platforms where all your feeds look the same and algorithms push content you can’t look away from. Platforms where habit and addiction reign king.
*opens instagram without thinking*
‘In the moment’ social is best described for me by an article by Tasha Kim in 2020, I’ll paraphrase it here.
TikTok operates like a casino, no clocks visible, endless scrolling of ‘random’ content, and a feed like a fruit machine, triggering similar addictions.
Clubhouse’s serendipity means you’re always seconds away from hearing something groundbreaking, or missing Elon Musk ‘dropping’ into the room, with audio that cannot be paused or muted from outside the app.
It’s the perfect blend of FOMO and discovery.
We’re also seeing this in new apps like honk (which is entirely ‘live’ typing conversations) or dialup (a serendipitous voice chat which connects you with someone via a phone call) both seemingly aimed at Next Gen Consumers.
What these have in common is the ability to make the time you spend on an app unique. Not recorded, not staged, just for you in that moment.
It’s this need for constant novelty which signals a next generation of social that pushes away from algorithms promising consistency and more towards chance with that unique blend of FOMO and discovery, rebelling against featureless social to create the engaging and unexpected.
What if your instagram was shared with 10 random people in the world?
What if the style of post changed everytime you uploaded, audio, visual, text?
What if every time you logged onto social it was unique?
For brands, ‘in the moment social’ will be increasingly hard to navigate, curate and monitor. Brand image, tone of voice, and for those brands who choose to engage, sitting on the fence on difficult conversations will be a thing of the past.
CEO’s in clubhouse rooms, brand messages which vanish, pop-up spaces in virtual worlds, and influencer brands reigning supreme.
This era for social will require Brand’s accountability for the moments they create.
These three trends have explored what Lean in could mean for the Next Gen of socials. For Gen Z and Alpha this may seem like obvious next steps, crafting parallel identities, gaining money for their content, and streaming their every mood. However it’s clear that whether it's financial, emotional, or control, lean in social will demand so much more from the attention economy than we already give.
In part 2 of this article, lean out and breathe, we’ll explore a more conscious, decelerated form of social, based around building decentralised behaviours, mental health support, positivity, closed socials, and much more.
Part 2 coming soon.
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As always, feel free to contact me through socials to discuss anything I’ve written about here.