Social Media Evolution and Survival Since 1851

I am not a history buff, it was always one of my worst subjects in school but after serving as a Chief Operating Officer for several companies I have come to appreciate the lessons that can be learned by looking back. It usually isn’t the tactics, tasks or strategies you see in the past, it is the macro-economics, processes and conditions that tend to repeat, time and time again in history, nature, society and technology.

Social, Media – Look and Feel Over Time

Social media, historically could be defined in many ways. In the past it was any form of media that helped promote, incite or start a conversation. If we look back at how media has been consumed and used, it has matured, improved and grown over time. As our technology improves, the time it takes for us to adopt that technology and assimilate it into our lives decreases greatly.

In the animated graphic below, I use one of my many leather-bound books to illustrate the changes in communication, presentation and consumption, as well as the compaction of time it takes for us to adopt those changes.

Social, Media from 1851 to 2051
A look at how social media has change since 1851.

These are not specific dates or historical selections, I just flipped through looking for transitions:

  • 1851 – Dense story telling, tiny text and massive amounts of information in a single consumption location
  • 1912 – Photography is used to help tell the story
  • 1927 – Photography and better (widgets) compartmentalization of information, improved use of fonts and size
  • 1944 – You start to see the “z” formation of information. Headlines and widgetized information follows our eyes natural tendency to read in a “Z.”
  • 1961 – Photos, maps or other graphics start to appear as more than just headlines.
  • 2001 – Color and more polished (almost magazine) layouts start to bleed into our daily news.
  • 2002 – Further polishing of layout, photography, information flow

Since the early 1990’s we have gone through almost all of these stages, to our current, semi-polished world of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instragram, etc.

Where do we go from here?

Let’s look at what makes a successful social media platform from a user-experience standpoint (at a very high level, not specific layout details). I have posted about strategic decision making in social media and design is always one of the important factors you must consider when making social media decisions or recommendations.

When considering social media platforms, look for these indicators as signs of maturity and some indication that design is an intentional, strategic initiative in their long term product and service plan:

  • Simplicity – Even search providers & SEO specialists know that more content isn’t always better. Relevant, succinct and usable content is always more valuable than verbosity. K.I.S.S. is alive and well in social media (Keep It Simple Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious).
  • Imagery – Anyone can put photography in an article or post. Look for sites that “get photography” and how to tell stories or improve our ability to tell them. There is a balance between photography and typography, an outstanding photo needs none. Many photos have or need context, which is OK but doing it well is an art.
  • Flow – Facebook’s timeline made sense to everyone, it was logical, simple and (at most) semi-well done. It isn’t the best timeline solution on the market but it works. Any social media solution that you test should be innately simple, intuitive and functional. If you can’t figure it out without help, give it time before you recommend it to others.
  • Video – Video is a substantial money-maker for websites, they can charge a substantial premium for pre-roll and video, over static banner ads. Just because video makes money, doesn’t mean it’s what users want or need. Facebook’s recent move to pre-rolling all video had little to do with consumers (it’s rather annoying), it will be interesting to see how many people actually engage with them over time. Video is invasive enough that many people will be turned off (or on) simply by it’s existence on a network. Video is great for advertisers! Is it great for users (outside of YouTube)? I’m not sold.
  • Layout – Layout is a combination of everything listed above. In our current information age, everything is thrown at the wall and the public has to determine if any of it sticks or not. Sites that manage the mash-up of information without overloading us, perform well.
  • Intelligence – Effective marketing has more to do with how well you know your customers than the tactics you use to reach them. The same is true when you design and implement innovation or technology. Solutions that target a specific audience and design to compliment their level of intelligence tend to thrive. Creating solutions that are general to a global population are wonderful but are usually dumb-down to a common denominator. If your audience is specific, make your solution specific an compliment their intelligence, if others don’t get it, that’s OK, they aren’t your audience/customers.

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