Is the era of social media over?
Let the new era of connected knowledge begin.
Facebook's loses $120b in market cap within a single day. Twitter's share price drops 20% in the wake of user decline, as it attempts to reduce the volume of fake accounts, which in turn will impact advertising revenue.
On the surface, this looks very bad for the two social media juggernauts. Two big declines within the same period.
Facebook's slump could be considered a correction as it supposedly cracks down on data misuse, fake news and privacy issues. So, while it can't be ignored that both businesses have fundamental issues, I don't think Facebook or Twitter are going anywhere any time soon. (That said, their early rocket-ship-like success could perhaps indicate a need to pivot in the longer term, informed by lessons learnt after that initial dizzying success has slowed.)
Perhaps the most fundamental issue for us users is that - when it comes to Facebook and Twitter - we have used (or even become these products) without fully understanding the business case for these platforms. Then, along comes Cambridge Analytica and the truth is clear. User data has always been the product on Facebook and Twitter. These are marketplaces pretending to serve a social purpose.
In contrast, LinkedIn has a clearer proposition. It (primarily) helps people find work. People need jobs: LinkedIn has the candidates and makes money from the ads for the jobs. This is a marketplace with equal equity, a virtuous circle.
However, even though Facebook has seen a decline in active users, most of us feel offended but unaffected by the misuse of our data and therefore carry on much as we did before. I am still Whatsapping my friends and sharing personal pictures on Instagram, all with an understanding that somehow the data I create is not mine. I don't own it. Facebook does.
So, do social networks have a role in the next 20 years? I predict that they will evolve. And that one might collapse under the weight of the pressure. I also predict that networks based explicitly on trusted expertise will rise to fill the gap.
Expert networks of known individuals where people exchange information and knowledge with each other are nothing new; the internet is home to thousands of professional communities. But as users begin to leave their social networks and to seek out find new, safe social spaces online, expert networks will proliferate.
It's worth noting though that we will look at these networks differently to how we look at social networks, that success will be measured in a new way. The numbers won't matter as much. (That Facebook has 2.2 billion users somehow no longer seems like a good thing.) It will be about the right people. Real people. The experts and the people that need this expertise.
We built our entire model off this hypothesis.
In my next post, I am going to give some examples of the rise of the expert network and how trusted brands need to own their expert networks to support traditional business models (e.g. events, consulting, publishing, business services and healthcare).