The Next Layer Of Social Media

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What’s next for Social Media?

If I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked that question… More often than not, I deflect the question. I’m humble enough to know that my optics into what works and where this is all going is not what it could be. If I could see into the future, I would have created the first online auction or sold books online back in the day, instead companies like eBay and Amazon came along. If I knew where things were going, I would not have have looked at YouTube when it first came out and said, "who would want to watch shaky cam videos on a 2×2 screen that has buffering issues!" (and yes, I’ve said stupider things like, "I don’t see the point of Twitter" – when it first came out). Thankfully, I also have the humility to admit indiscretions like these, but still spend the time critically thinking about what may be coming next.

Social Media will not go away.

Some think that Social Media is just a fad. My friend, Jason Falls, called it a "market correction" when we recorded a Podcast together recently (take a listen here: SPOS #270 – No BS Social Media With Jason Falls). Others think that all media will become Social Media. I don’t agree (at least not one hundred percent) with any of these assessments.

  1. Social Media is not a fad. Perhaps certain channels and platforms will have popularity and then disappear into the ether, but Arianna Huffington is right: "self-expression is the new entertainment." Now that individuals are connected and can publish their own thoughts, share them and collaborate, we are not going to return to a hierarchical broadcasting platform any time soon. On top of that, Social Media is well over a decade old (The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published in 2000). Fads come and go much faster than that.
  2. Social Media is not a market correction. This is not a return to anything. Technology continually changes our landscape and technology has dramatically changed our media. It’s not like we had this technology or media before and that we are returning to it. This is new (even though it’s ten years old) and the rules (if there ever are/will be rules) have not been firmly established or agreed upon yet. As technology continues to advance, so too will our media. It’s more of an evolution than a revolution at this point, but it doesn’t look, feel or act like a market correction.
  3. Social Media will not become all media. The next layer of Social Media will be the integration of the ability for all media to be social… but it won’t necessarily act that way. Think of it this way: just because you can make a media channel social, it doesn’t mean that all media channels will be social. That being said, if a smaller minority wants specific media to be more social, the layers/ability will be present for them to be social.

Whoa… that’s a mouthful. Confused? Don’t be.

Think about television (and for more thoughts on TV, please read this: The Shift To TV Everywhere): if television becomes completely social and interactive, what happens to the people who just want to sit back and enjoy their show after a long day of work? What about an article in a magazine? If someone want to just read it (and not share it, highlight it, comment on it, friend it, whatever), are they allowed to? Social Media will simply be one layer added to the media mix for those who want to engage, connect and be a part of the discourse.

The next layer of Social Media will be about two things…

Media will be either passive or active. That’s it. Those are the two things (1. Passive Media. 2. Active Media). People will either consume the media (like reading a newspaper or listening to radio) or they will be active with their media (like Facebook and Twitter). The truth is that some media will be predominantly passive (like watching a television show) with a whisper of active components (the ability to chat about it or share it with friends), while other media will be predominantly active (like Facebook) where the user won’t get much intrinsic value unless they’re an active participant, but it will have layers of passivity (like people who are on Twitter, but they’re not really tweeting or following back anybody, they’re just there to passively follow celebrities, etc…). Personally, this is the easiest way for me to think about innovation in media: Is it passive or active? What’s the percentage? Can a passive media become an active media? Can an active media become a passive media? Is this what the public wants? How will passive and active media play together in a marketing mix? How well will brands be able to blend those two types of media together?

The future of Social Media feel less interesting when you think about how active and passive media acts – especially as those worlds collide.


  1. ‘Social Media is not a market correction’
    Maybe it is.
    I’ve become interested in the Gutenberg Parenthsis idea.
    Its an academic theory, around literatute and ‘containment’.
    Before books stories, info etc was fluid and adaptable.
    Then the printing press ‘contained’ and made things static.
    Now digital media has restored the fluidity.
    The idea applies to most media.
    Think about the music business.
    In the pre-recorded music age and the blues, folk traditions for instance music spread through performance. Performers would adapt and rewrite songs to suit their own style or whatever.
    Then with the advent of recordings music became less of a performance and more of a document. Contained.
    Now in it’s post-parenthesis state, performance is much more important as the recordings have less value, due to the easy distribution (or piracy depending on your pov). When you apply this idea to other media it seems to make sense.
    I wrote a little thing in an advertising context the other week.

  2. Hey Mitch,
    A pleasure to hear a proper breakdown that puts in perspective the “social” in our every day media. Its definitely interesting to understand from an advertising students perspective, even in acknowledging an active media that may change to a passive media, good stuff.

  3. Insightful as always Mitch. Passive vs. Active media. Great way to classify that everyone can instantly grasp. I found a recent blog post that complements what you are saying where the author talks about the generation perception gap of how technology is utilized (see 5 Things my 4 year old taught me about technology – Your blog and that one resonate with me because they are based on the perception and perspective of the user. Those of us who remember or grew up in a time before high bandwidth internet or (god forbid) Social Media, react completely differently to it than those, like the 4 year old, who know nothing else. The labels of Passive vs. Active media is actually only relevant to our generation (and those older than us). For those who have never experienced anything else, their expectation will be that all media must be Active for it to engage and hold their attention. Social Media will evolve into more and more Active engagement. It won’t be all that long when we will look back at what Twitter / Facebook are today and think of them as Passive forms of media.

  4. Great post – completely agree. The online world is taking the form of our personas – just as marketers study buyer personas. People are becoming social and social is becoming personable. Now we have phones that talk to us, mobile search and social exploding and documents in the cloud.
    What does the future hold…?

  5. Mitch,
    Great post as always and I agree Social Media is not a Fad, amazing that is still a discussion and that some are still called Social Media Evangelists.
    Not even sure how it can be considered a Market Correction other than that what we need to communicate has not changed only the way we do it, and you might call it a Revolutionary Evolution of Communication, mainly due to the speed and breadth of distribution.
    The one I am having trouble with is the thought that most people just want TV to wash over them passively. How many times in the past before Social did you gather with your Friends to watch Major events live and even call the ones who couldn’t be there to discuss something you just saw, especially sports or major breaking news? How many times when after watching a popular Drama or Comedy did you rush to be the first the next day to discuss with your friends or co-workers? How many times have you yelled at the TV when you saw something that upset you?
    Well, now with Social TV you can gather with all of your Friends on Facebook, it will even help you pick a show based on what your friends are watching. Some are even saying that Facebook will wrap around TV and become a if not The Network.
    Don’t have friends that’s ok you can share your thoughts with strangers with similar interests via Twitter. You can even Engage with the Actors, News Anchors, Athletes and Politicians Live, before, during and after the program via Twitter.
    Yes, sometimes you might be too tired to Engage but you’ll still be able to see what is being said by others and with many programs that may be better than the actual program itself. And probably for the super Passive viewer it will be like closed captioning and you will be able to turn off the Stream. But there is a new disease out there called FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) and very few people are immune to it.
    Dave Morgan with SimulMedia recently called Social Media, “Steroids for Television”. And many are calling this the New Golden Age of TV as Social has stemmed the tide of Time Shifted Viewing, and is recreating that 3 Channel, shared TV experience again.
    As I’m typing this I’m watching Jimmy Fallon and he’s doing his #HashTag bit, tonight its #halloweenfail.

  6. Sony is doing something in the gaming community that has interesting future potential on the “Active” side of social media. It’s a virtual community called Playstation Home. It’s essentially layers of chat rooms with sophisticated graphics and real time animation. Avatars representing real people can move around from place to place in a virtual world, interacting with one another, playing multi-player games and even shopping. Of course Sony is focused on gaming, but the concept has much greater potential as a social network. I believe that Microsoft has a similar network for X-Box 360 players. You should check it out.

  7. How about ‘personal social’… Currently we control to a degree what and whom we interact with on our SM feeds…. But there is still room for less clutter…. Further intuitive growth should see our feeds becoming more and more relevant… FB/Twitter etc to learn what is interesting us and filter out – to make the experience more relevant to each person… This would apply to both active and passive…

  8. This is a very important article for many reasons:
    1. People need to stop thinking about Social Media as the one and only thing they should be doing.
    2. Social Media will evolve as communication and technology continue to evolve, so get to know the platforms and language.
    3. Social Media is a communication/marketing tool. In the past we have marketed our businesses wherever our customers lived, well today they live online. If you want to be successful you need to be where your customers are.
    Thanks for the great topic!

  9. I think what we will see is more of companies using social to compliment their content mix. Rather then an either or situation, it is more effective in combination.

  10. If I understand your post correctly then I would say most companies are already doing it. Just moving slowly towards their end goal.

  11. Passive vs. Active I believe caters to the dominant personality types – Introvert and Extrovert or shy vs. outgoing.
    Outgoing people love the way social media lets them work the crowd and I imagine shy people like social media because they can still get their need met to connect with others, but they can do it by just watching. People who attend professional sporting events are doing anything but watching passively but yet they feel connected to the company/team.
    When you can make both personality types not only feel welcome in your world but to thrive, I believe you can win with social media.

  12. Hi Regal, your right, I’m not sure we would find a company that is using social as their only strategy, after all the number one most influential strategy for marketers is still seen as offline events/seminars. Traditional will always have its place, digital can just make it more effective.

  13. Ah! We all dream and wish we could have invented the hoola-hoop, paper clip, scotch tape or what ever becomes ubiquitous in society, something we can’t live without. In the market place or in the media, everyone thinks about what’s the next best thing. Those who accomplish this task may or may not predict the future or intend for this to happen. Something of a creative force imbues their work and their fame becomes their name.
    As for the future of media, I believe we all desire to be closer. We want to be able to communicate and remove the barriers of our fallen Tower of Babel. Who will be the one, or group of people to make this happen? I don’t know, but it is our destiny.

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