One fundamental shift that we have all seen in user behaviour online over the last two to three years has been the huge move to social media platforms as not only a communications channel but a transactional, commercial and ‘lifeblood’ one.
Now, some of the reasons for this are relatively simple – younger generations are using these (private or public) platforms to stay in touch, communicate and engage with those who they feel an affinity with. Of course, where consumers go – especially younger ones (who dare I say are more susceptible to influence) marketing follows and where marketing goes money and then tech development and investment (in terms of agency focus) trots behind.
Equally, the initial rise of the social platforms – starting of course with Facebook - generated investment (from VC’s and advertisers) ahead of any profit which therefore enabled increased exposure (and advertising) to the masses extolling the virtues of keeping in touch – which then grew (because of the human ego) into taking photos and commenting on your dinner.
Then came videos of your dinner, then interviews with celebrities, then buying goods – all recommended to you from your ‘friends’ and peers. All on one platform (primarily Facebook) within a ‘walled garden’ of content, interactions and digital life. The Internet became an add-on.
And that is the way it has generally remained in my opinion. Whenever I’m working with an agency or direct client on a digital project, one of the first discussion points is what digital channels and touchpoints should be our focus. Social media is always one of the longest discussion pieces, closely followed (very interestingly) with more frequency – by offline interactions – websites are banded with landing pages more and more frequently as a ‘must have’ rather than intrinsic into any strategy.
Now putting to one side that these answers are generally forcing digital professionals (unless you are in a top London/New York agency) into a commoditisation of their skills – I’ve seen talented creatives working on a Facebook campaign as opposed to a multi-layered, multi-channel creative programmes – it does restrict and limit the user ‘experience’ – in the truest sense of that word. And this is I think, a more subtle angle.
There are only so many ways that one can feel ‘experiences’ on a social platform, notwithstanding the restrictions that are placed on it by Facebook et al. We have become complicit commoditising and restricting what we as individuals believe an experience to be. It used to be (for better or worse) something you remember – now in some cases a good experience is something you forget – and that’s wrong (and for another blog post I think).
But what does this social media takeover mean for the future of our use of digital?
Clearly AI (in all its forms) is the next leap in the tech and digital space – but much of this tech will be used and deployed on social platforms – not least because Facebook and Google are at the forefront of development (the other ‘mainstream’ ones being Amazon, Apple, Tesla), deployment and development costs on Facebook are cheaper, Messenger is so ubiquitous in its daily use and obviously social platforms are a quick route to a huge market..
But this residence of much in the way of AI (conversational or otherwise) on social platforms is in many ways a contradiction of the phrase ‘social’… All forms of AI are in their heart an algorithm and these will be working and interacting and influencing humans on a ‘social’ platform. You could (and I am) justifiably argue that interacting with an algorithm is the very antithesis of what being social is all about.
When you add this AI interaction with the fact that we have commoditised and devalued what an experience is (with the help of Social Media platforms) we’ve created the perfect environment (in our minds and day to day lives) to allow Social Media to steal the Internet, to ‘own’ experiences, to influence and ignore and ultimately - to do the same to our future use of AI and all its potential.