Social and media will split

“As users migrate to these closed systems, they’re also shifting away from the type of broad-based algorithmic feeds packed with news and media content that were the hallmark of first-generation social media.”

Broadcast-focused, open social networks revolutionized the way we connect with people online. First-wave social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram ushered in a golden era of social media and allowed people to build audiences and have their voice heard by millions.

But in 2017, the novelty of racking up a million followers on Instagram or seeing what your third-grade crush is up to on Facebook has washed away. Tweeting out your opinions only to be shouted down by Nazis has caused many users to abandon posting on open social networks and instead spend more time in closed networks and group chats.

This means less time scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram feed and more time posting in Facebook Groups or connecting with friends via Messenger. It means abandoning the quest to respond to every confused man on Twitter and instead DMing with groups of people who matter. It means maintaining several small, interest-based Instagram accounts or Finstas, rather than a single, public-facing persona.

As users migrate to these closed systems, they’re also shifting away from the type of broad-based algorithmic feeds packed with news and media content that were the hallmark of first-generation social media. This isn’t to say that people are consuming less media; they aren’t. However, I predict that media consumption will become a more separate, intentional behavior.

Platforms seem to be anticipating this shift. Snapchat announced it would split the chat function from its media portal in November. Facebook has tested a content-only news feed devoid of status updates by friends and launched Watch, a video portal that contains highly produced content from publishers and media partners. Instagram is spinning out its messaging function into Instagram Direct, a dedicated chat app.

In 2018, publishers will have to find their footing and adopt new distribution strategies to take advantage of this shift in user behavior. This doesn’t mean investing in another incredibly frustrating Facebook Messenger bot that exactly four people will use, or trying to awkwardly insert your brand into personal conversations between friends.

It does mean producing the type of premium content users will subscribe to and seek out. It means spending less time trying to reach the widest audience on the web and more time building intentional, dedicated audiences. It also, unfortunately, means developing closer relationships with social platforms that still control the means of distribution via media portals like Facebook Watch or Snapchat Discover.

Just as the first wave of social media upended previous consumption habits and allowed a whole new generation of media brands to launch and flourish, group messaging and social 2.0 will provide exciting new opportunities for publishers and news brands — even if we’re all still at the mercy of Facebook.

Taylor Lorenz is a technology reporter at The Daily Beast.

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