Social Media Is Dead
And it has massive implications for audiences, creators and the media industry in general.
(You’ll find the text version of “Social Media Is Dead” below this embedded video)
Social media as we know it is dead.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out because this has massive implications for audiences, creators and the media industry in general.
Let’s start by going back almost two decades. The major platforms at the time were Myspace (launched in 2003), followed by Facebook (launched in 2004).
The content you saw on those platforms was based on mutual connections. You followed your friends and family, and whatever they posted was what you saw.
Then came Twitter (launched in 2006) and later Instagram (launched in 2010), which were a little bit different. On those platforms, you still had mutual connections, but accounts were public by default. That encouraged you to follow accounts of people you didn’t know, giving you more content to consume beyond just what your friends and family posted.
For two decades, this was the predominant model in social media. The content you saw was based on who you friended or followed—also known as your social graph.
But things have changed very rapidly in recent years.
TikTok ignores the social graph and serves users algorithmically recommended content. The app doesn’t need to know who your friends are to show you content that you like.
Its sophisticated algorithms pick content for you to watch that is better suited to your interests and preferences than if you were to choose for yourself.
And because it doesn’t rely on your connections, TikTok can serve you videos from its entire base of creators, vastly increasing the potential content it can show you.
The platforms dedicated to content from just your friends, your family and the other accounts you intentionally choose to follow could never match the breadth and quality of content on TikTok, making them less engaging.
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The old social media companies know this; and as a result, platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and even Facebook are converting to the TikTok model—where they are going to prioritize showing you algorithmically recommended content over content from the people you follow.
This is why social media as we know it is dead. Today's social media industry is vastly different from what it was before—so much so that you could argue it deserves a new name.
Michael Mignano, a tech entrepreneur, calls this new industry “recommendation media.”
In recommendation media, the algorithm replaces the social graph. It also blurs the line between what we’ve thought of as social apps and other content platforms that weren’t considered to be social.
YouTube used to be its own separate thing, but now it’s competing with TikTok, who in turn is competing with Instagram.
These apps can’t rely on having clearly defined niches that they alone dominate. They all now compete for one limited resource—peoples’ time and attention—and the winners of this competition will be the apps that have the most engaging content, no matter where it comes from.
So, what are the repercussions of this shift? Well, it’s great for viewers. The TikTok algorithm knows us better than we know ourselves. It can show us an endless stream of videos that entertain, inspire and educate us without us having to pick and choose exactly what to watch.
For content creators, it’s more of a mixed bag. The algorithm doesn’t care whether you’re a movie star or a random person on the street.
If you make a captivating video, it has a really good shot at being seen by a lot of people.
It levels the playing field between the average person and someone who is already popular. An established following helps but isn’t the end all be all as it is on other platforms.
But therein lies the downside for creators. Because content is served to viewers based on the algorithm and not who they follow, creators lose a lot of control.
They can gain a massive following very quickly, but the value of that following is less than under the traditional social media model. In the old model, every piece of content a creator put out would be broadcast to their entire following.
Creators collectively had a lot of power in determining what got seen on the social media platforms.
Now the algorithm has taken that power. Every piece of content won’t necessarily be seen by a creator’s following.
It’s completely up to the algorithm.
This has made creators more commoditized. In the platform’s eyes, each creator, no matter their following, is interchangeable with another.
The content matters more; the creator matters less.
That’s why you’ve seen pushback from some top creators—like Kylie Jenner—who don’t like this shift. Someone with a massive following like Kylie has much less power when the algorithm is the ultimate arbiter of what gets seen.
A Bigger Shift
The transition from social media to recommendation media is a big one, but believe it or not, we might see an even bigger shift in the coming years.
You’ve probably seen AI models like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion in action recently. These models create content using machine learning algorithms.
Right now, their output is relatively simple and they don’t make videos. But everyone in the AI industry knows that it’s just a matter of time before we get high quality, A.I.-generated video content.
At that point, platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram won’t even need human creators. Algorithms will create content and recommend content.
The implications of this are massive, and it makes me wonder: where will humans even fit into that future?
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