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Social networks are doomed to a vicious circle

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Social networks are doomed to a vicious circle

Social networks will start to behave as we want when we pay for them (photo: CC0 Public Domain)

The social networks that connect us today are gradually losing their uniqueness and appeal, and people are flipping from one to the other in the hope of finding something that suits them. Conceived as a good thing, soon they all become annoying, insolent, and start to look alike – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat…

Every new social network comes with glittering promises to be different. Everyone wants to be “healthier”, more simple and clean, more human. The importance of human relationships is praised everywhere – with friends, with classmates, with like-minded people and co-thinkers. We even witnessed fleeting attempts to show us that, you see, likes and followers don’t matter so much anymore.

This is how every social media starts. But what happens next? All enter the same channel. Design changes are starting to happen. “New functionalities” appear – they invite you to share something unique, write a birthday greeting to a friend, upload a photo.

History repeats itself

Social media behavior is a pattern that all social networks repeat – and seem doomed to repeat. Like politicians, they forget their original promise: to be just a nice place that connects people. They gradually move towards something that looks quite different. How can history repeat itself so stubbornly?! All of them stray from their original idea and disappoint us.

Perhaps the vicious cycle repeats itself because we continue to be unaware of something. Every platform starts with a bold idea, clear and clear principles, a distinctive look. And we forget that “if you don’t pay anything for the product, then the product is you”.

Then the founders of the new social network discovered one by one that something was not quite right with their idea. Without realizing it, they are caught up in the constant growth of the number of users, and this has become their most important task. And even if they realize it, they find that there is no turning back and they are swept away as if by an avalanche. Crazy growth becomes the only goal, the only way forward, regardless of everything else.

Caught in a bad trap

Unlike most other businesses in the world that live for the needs of their customers, social networks (like the media) are caught in a bad trap: they have to serve their users, but also those who pay the bill – the advertisers. And the needs of these two groups are radically different.

Users want what the platform was originally designed for – be it short messaging, photo sharing, discussions around ideas or more. Customers enjoy these surprising, energized spaces to connect with friends in a new way.

But these usage scenarios inevitably have one peculiarity. You can post one or several photos; you can send messages to several friends; but still these are a limited number of actions and interactions. And for investors and advertisers, this is a problem.

Therefore, every social network has to find ways to get you to send another photo, write another message, and more, and more – more and more every day! This is precisely what defines the new “functionalities” in social media. They are not made to please us, but to provoke us to do something more.

The vicious cycle repeats itself. And it cannot be otherwise. When a company relies on online advertising, there is no way to avoid the drawbacks of this business model. Users and theirs remain in the background.

That’s how the moments come when the social network gets a “redesign” – and this redesign can even enrage users. Most of them complain, they want their old look. But the big boss comes out with a statement and says the new design is better and we should like it.

It should, of course, because it was made with a purpose! The goal is to sell even more ads. It’s not important that something about the platform is convenient for users, because now there is another thing that is convenient for advertisers.

A challenging undertaking

But maybe things will change when a new generation of social networks comes along – ones we pay for?

This question is very ticklish. First of all, is there anyone brave enough to develop a social networking system that treats users as customers rather than a product? Or at least find a better way to monetize the emotional engagement of its users. This conversion is a much more challenging endeavor than caching traditional online ads.

The second question is whether people would be willing to pay for social networks that actually serve them, do something useful. We pay for all sorts of software applications, from meeting to money management and streaming. Why not something to help our social contacts?

Of course, this will require rethinking. After all, we are used to some social media that is free – no matter how much it annoys and annoys us. Last but not least, the price of the service from a purely technological point of view – from the point of view of the value of data transfer, storage and computing power – is getting lower every day.

And the third question is difficult: will there be investors willing to put their money into something that requires so much effort and changing consumer habits? However, the advertising market is already so well developed that perhaps a social network with customer payments could hardly “catch up” with it. According to some statistics, in the case of Facebook, advertising brings the company $200 per year per head of the user base.

The numbers

This is how it becomes clear how concrete is the ugly picture with social networks today. To be attractive to advertisers, they continue to fight for the number of users. And for growth. They need them to be able to sell ads.

Numbers, ah, numbers are the key to revenue and profits. Therefore, every user must be online every day. Therefore, every user needs to be drawn into experiences and interactions – figuratively speaking, to be “sucked in”.

This is exactly what happens every time we do anything on a social network – every time we find ourselves tempted to post, comment, share, upload a photo, even wish someone a happy birthday.

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