The theory of (social media) evolution

social media evolution

Why have we seen such an explosion in social media development? Read on to find out the Theory of (Social Media) Evolution and what it means to the eCommerce landscape.

It’s hard to remember when social media was only just a concept, and not the all-seeing, all-knowing powerhouse of activity it is now, with the ability to make or break a company. There is a little controversy over where it all began, but it is generally accepted that the first example of a social networking site as we know it today came in the form of Six Degrees in 1997. Of course, the messaging aspect can be found in the chat rooms that have been around since the ‘80s. 

For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, Six Degrees was the first instance of being able to create a profile and connect with people on an online forum, but it wasn’t until the infamous Facebook that social media exploded… why? 

Millennial Media

You may have read my articles on the millennial generation before, but this group really is key to this evolution. This generation were in their infancy during the ‘90s social media start-ups, and put simply, the vast majority of the population didn’t see the opportunities those start-ups had. As they grew into adolescence, social networking really started to gather pace, with the once much loved MySpace launching in 2003 to become a hive of what-I-had-for-dinner activity.

It took a millennial to realise social media’s true potential though, after having been brought up with the archaic versions of computers you occasionally see in libraries every now and then, and even setting up a primitive version of AOL’s Instant Messenger a year before its release in his pre-teen years. When Mark Zuckerberg launched the first Facebook version from his Harvard dormitory room on 4th February, 2004, it was not long before network after network pushed and shoved their way onto the scene.

I Want It Now

Before Facebook became a global phenomenon, MSN and MySpace were pretty much the sole focus of life for those aged 14-18. Those who were between those ages at the time are now these “young professional” consumers that so many companies want to target, but with instant messaging and instant posting came a huge problem for the rest of the world – a new type of consumer that wants everything instantly. 

People like to have instant answers, and you can blame MSN for that. People like the ease of being able to hit a send button rather than having to find a number before getting passed from pillar to post trying to find the right department to help you. People like the idea of being able to find the brands they love on any channel, and now they downright expect it, to the point where checking up on the credibility of a new business can lead to abandonment if they are not seen to be on any social platform, as they clearly aren’t in touch with them as a consumer.

The Love-to-Complain Generation

Having adapted to the idea of approaching businesses directly through Twitter and Facebook, one other thing that this kind of media has solidified in people’s minds is their right to complain, sometimes very aggressively, about absolutely anything, no matter how trivial. While this method of lodging complaints has been very useful for a lot of eCommerce companies, as it is a fantastic way to regulate levels of service, deal with missing orders and so on, there are more and more instances of customers taking it to the extremes that this channel was never intended for. 

Before, when you had to make a complaint over the phone, there was a level of effort required and of course you had to deal with an actual person, which many people find awkward to do when making a complaint. Now, it’s as easy as checking your Facebook feed of an evening, searching for the company and typing a post, or simply Googling the company and sending an email. 

While social media represents a very personal attachment to a brand, the laziness of it has removed the anxiety and hesitation people used to feel about speaking directly to a person about bad service – the same principle as not wanting to cause a fuss in a restaurant, and instead waiting until you get home to post a TripAdvisor review instead. Now that social media has entered the realms of eCommerce, the common thinking is that this too will evolve quickly over the next 5 years, to form a new strain of sales platform.

The Theory In Brief

Within 20 years, social media has gone from a virtual bulletin board to a global social interaction and information sharing network of sites. Videos and hashtags can go viral within a matter of minutes, charity campaigns can sweep the globe and raise millions in a day, and it is the single fastest way of sharing any major breaking-news story.

It was only a natural progression that this would feed into the world of eCommerce. First were the user profiles, then the company profiles, then the customer service portals, and so we have today come to use it as a selling platform. So, where is it headed? 

Given the speed at which this has been adopted, and with which we move onto the next big fad in modern society, it will probably take no more than 5 – 10 years for this to become a fully integrated part of our lives, just like people imagine for wearable technology. However, I believe that when it comes to commerce, nothing replaces the luxurious element of going into a brick and mortar store or the ease of eCommerce. Customers still like to feel as though their shopping is an experience, and something to be enjoyed, so while social commerce will now doubt find its own place in the market for those quick and easy purchases, I doubt it will spell trouble for the more tradition eCommerce routes.