The Future Of Social Media Is Mobile Tribes

Guest author Matthew Brian Beck is a journalist and advertising strategist based in New York City.

The next big thing is getting smaller and smaller.

Historically, our social media experience has been chained to the first-screen browser and the one News Feed to rule them all. We’ve been saturated with bloated content from overpopulated streams. We’ve been bombarded with updates and notifications from friends and family we love, pages we Like, accounts we follow, colleagues we connect with, and acquaintances that can’t even remember where we knew them from—we just couldn’t keep up. We felt an impulsive urge to clean house, to make our feeds less cluttered and more manageable.

But as our daily Internet consumption moves away from the desktop (and even the laptop), the landscape of social media is seeing a dramatic shift in native platforms and user behaviors. Smartphone hardware has matured. Wireless data networks have advanced. Mobile-first design has gone mainstream. But content oversaturation and deterioration of meaningful interactions is still a concern. That problematic intersection has birthed a new zeitgeist: Mobile tribes.

We crave interpersonal interaction, the basic human need to connect and communicate with each other. The basal layer of social media has remained unchanged, but the chief characteristic of tribes is the tendency to categorize membership in distinct groups, movements, cultures and ideologies—to band together in subpopulations of shared interests, tastes, demographics and marketplaces. Yet, within tribes is the free will to exercise personal choice over who we connect and communicate with. That’s where mobile comes in.

The Age Of The Mega Platform Is Over

In the post-PC era, we’re increasingly finding content and connections exclusively on our phones.

The first generation of social media touted “networking”, but the next generation, raised in always-on connectivity, will embrace ephemerality and digital tribalism. Those users will abandon the major social networks and migrate to more granular mobile villages with simpler ecosystems. They will follow a small circle of close friends on Instagram, pin with a small handful of followers on Pinterest, message with a girlfriend or schoolmate on WhatsApp or Snapchat, or follow a co-worker’s check-ins on Foursquare. Or, they will build the next platforms and apps that don’t exist yet.

Every platform will be socialized, but every user base will be judged on quality of life, not sheer numbers. Big data will not matter as much as small relationships. Media and content will become less fragmented and centralized, more native and branded to the single-channel niche apps they appear in and the mobile tribes they appeal to.

Even Facebook, the big-box chain of social networking, realizes its problem of content oversaturation and the trend towards granularity and mobile tribes. The company has doubled down on developing its mobile suite (where most of the company’s active power users live, and where the ad dollars are most brisk) and “unbundling the big blue app,” according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“I think on mobile, people want different things,” Zuckerberg told The New York Times. “Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you can get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile, there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences.”

Brands, companies and startups that build social products, services and devices must build for app-only tribes in the future. They must think like the end user, one that has always grown up with a smartphone and a few favorite apps. These new platforms will be connected for (and by) app-only mobile natives—carefully curated and tightly managed for the community, but also streamlined for productivity and responsiveness. They must know and respect the user, and his or her mobile tribe.

Because on the Internet, there’s just too much stuff to see, people to meet, food to Instagram, and not nearly enough time for it all.

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