How the future of social media lies in data

We contributed an article to Reputation Online about the crucial role we believe data will play in the future of social media. You can read our thoughts in full below, or click the link to read the article.

Speaking at SXSW was Kevin Weil of Twitter, tacking the thorny issue of exactly who has access to the huge amounts of personal data generated by Twitter.

The growth in value of Twitter (and other social networking sites) coincides with the growth of user-data gathered by these platforms – and now demands a fundamental re-evaluation of what we consider to be ‘private’.

Make no mistake; the future of social media is in data. To date, companies such as Facebook and Twitter have focused the majority of their time (and venture capital) on building their audience size. However, long term success will not be judged by number of users – but instead by how well these organisations can monetise audience data, not audience eye-balls.

In terms of how this will be done, there is no one clear route the networks will all take. However, basic things such as paid-for analytics packages for organisations with a presence on these platforms will be one of the early changes in terms of services we’ll come to see. With community platforms such as Lithium already offering deep customer data, it will only be a matter of time before the big players follow suit. Indeed organisations are already beginning to demand, and will soon expect, that they can access rich data about their audience and will be happy to pay for the privilege.

Of course monetising audience data won’t be without its pitfalls. The issue of privacy, never far from discussions about social networking, will continue to be at the heart of it – and not everyone will be as keen to share. As audiences begin to realise that their data is being used to make money, they will start to demand heightened privacy controls and the ability to opt in to or out of services that want to harvest their data for sale. I would venture that in navigating these choppy waters, it will be the platforms that are most open and honest about their data and privacy settings that will fare best. Indeed, there is also a chance that increasingly scrutinised privacy regulations might prevent some plans for monetisation from coming to fruition.

Whether Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn are acquired by someone else, or whether they remain independent is immaterial, as all social media companies will have to change if they are to survive. It’s how they do this and whether their audiences buy-in to the changes in ethos and service that will determine success or failure. Data might be the battleground, but equally important will be the hearts and minds of the services’ audiences

Matt Rebeiro

Matt helps our clients devise, develop and prototype ideas for social media activities, initiatives and programs.

His specialist subjects include understanding how social media has altered our traditional media consumption habits, as well as the luxury sector, retail and F&B. In addition, Matt also spends time working across the clothing, beauty, property and FMCG sectors.

Matt has been with RMM since 2007 and before that he ran a community radio station and studied Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

Matt mostly likes science fiction, skateboards and scotch eggs.

One response to “How the future of social media lies in data”

  1. Liran M.

    Interesting outlook, no doubt.

    I agree that it won’t be long before Facebook or Twitter design data collection packages, which they will sell to interested business parties. The potential in this area is huge. With so many million active members, social networking sites are sitting on a treasure trove of customer information. This raises the question of ethics, as is aptly pointed out above.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind Facebook collecting my “personal” (and willingly published) personal data (name, hobbies, location, etc), provided it’s passed on in anonymous form. What I certainly don’t want to see are targeted FB messages from advertisers referring to a detail in my “personal background” tab. If private companies wish to pay social networking sites to provide them with generalized information on who their subscribers are and what they do, fine. This does not constitute an ethical breach of privacy. But once this stream of statistical data allows business organizations to target specific users’ inboxes/walls/etc, then I consider that there’s a problem. It’s not just spam – but also a cynical use of what should be private, or at least non-marketable, data.

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