The Social Struggle is real: Why 2018 is going to be an interesting year for social media

By Harry Gardiner

18th January 2018

To say 2017 was a turbulent year for social media would be putting things lightly. From Twitter allowing Trump (and the hate that follows him) to rampage across its channel, to Facebook flat out admitting that its platform might be bad for you, social media has come a long way from the bright, shining, connected network of friends it once was.

However, if 2017 was tough, 2018 is shaping up to look like it’ll be expert difficulty, final boss level hard. Let’s look at how three of the biggest social media platforms are going to struggle this year.

YouTube’s young offenders

Social media has always had an issue with how content is delivered. Despite amazing advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the unfathomable social algorithms seem determined to display confusing, unrelated, and sometimes even offensive media.

Of course, the downside of YouTube and Facebook algorithms serving up a relatively unfiltered stream of what’s popular is that every now and again they’ll deliver something genuinely unsettling, or even harmful. Such was the case with the recent rise of bootleg Peppa Pig videos.

Last year, YouTube had to deal with a spate of disturbing and exploitative content that was hidden within content aimed specifically at children. Parents were searching for seemingly innocent episodes of popular children’s TV shows such as Peppa Pig, only to find that the videos were of a much darker nature.

They’ve since announced a number of measures to flag, review and restrict content like this, but there’s still a long way to go.

This severe filtration problem isn’t helped by those in power abusing the system either. YouTube has always had an issue with policing the content that it’s young vloggers release, however, one such (so called) internet celebrity recently came under fire and brought the platform under scrutiny with him, after releasing shocking footage of a cadaver in Japan’s hallowed ‘Suicide Forest’.

The fact that the content not only remained on the platform long enough to gain millions of views, but was even allowed to be published in the first place, is a huge issue. Not just for Logan Paul’s younger viewers (a demographic he’s incredibly popular with), but for YouTube users everywhere.

All this has led to what some have described as a moral panic for YouTube, as it frantically looks to clamp down and fix it’s many issues. It took almost two weeks for YouTube to actually punish Logan Paul, but it may take a lot longer than that to gain back people’s trust.

Facebook’s friendly nature

Talking of trust, Facebook is trying to win back fans by announcing that it will be making changes to the way it presents content on the news feed, prioritising posts from friends and family over those from brands and businesses.

In a recent statement – the platform’s co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said that he expects the change will negatively impact the platform.

By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down.

Since that announcement, the company’s shares have dropped by more than 4.4 per cent and Zuckerberg has personally lost over $3 billion in worth.

Whilst that may sound drastic, the idea of businesses losing their grip on the news feed, and missing out on potential ad revenue because of it, sounds like a potential nightmare for some brands and, of course, marketing teams who have already invested so much in the platform.

However, the CEO says he’s not doing this for the businesses, in his words, “We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use but also good for people’s well-being.

Zuckerberg has made a vow to make 2018 the year that he fixes Facebook, and whilst it will be an incredibly steep uphill battle, at least putting people first seems to be a step in the right direction, even if businesses suffer because of it.

That being said, this isn’t the first time we have been told that Facebook is moving to make the platform more “social” again, and it isn’t the first time we have had to prepare for potential dips in engagement following initial updates and changes. Rather than a short-term impact, it is the long term changes that will be the most interesting. Not just for Facebook, but also Facebook’s cool cousin (interestingly left out of Mr Zuckerberg’s announcement), Instagram.

Snapchat’s slip and slide

In a recent survey by stock analysts Cowen & Co., advertisers were asked to rank the importance of social media companies in their marketing strategies. Facebook and Instagram came in first and second respectively, whilst Snapchat came in last place, with its score actually dropping when compared to year on year results.

This itself caused parent company Snap Inc’s shares to fall, a practice that they’re sadly all too familiar with. According to Bloomberg, “Shares of Snapchat have fallen about 20% since the company first sold stock to the public in March”.

It’s not just Snap’s shares that are worrying people either. The app’s latest update has seen a redesign that is not sitting well with users. Much like Facebook, Snapchat are trying to separate social from media by placing all content from friends on one side of the app, and sponsored content on the other.

However, the drastic change to the user interface has seen harsh backlash, and even led to people organising public protests to return the app to its former state. But Snap is hardly the first platform for users to protest and threaten to leave because of some changes, especially commercial ones.

Whatever Snapchat’s next move is, it better be a good one. And now is certainly the time. Much like its competitors, 2018 is going to be about keeping those audiences engaged and reassuring marketers that their money is best spent with Snap.

The struggle

On which social media is going to struggle the most this year, is a very hard question to answer. As competition continues between them, the public’s attention span remains low and advertisers demand transparent ROI; all the major platforms have something to prove.

They’ve spent much of their existence trying to gain dominance as harmless networks that allow the world to connect and waste time online together (whilst they enjoy highly targeted advertising from high-bidding businesses).

With the market saturated and the connections well and truly made (and severed, and then made again), it will be interesting to see how the social giants will put the social back in media, and deliver actual worth and value to their users, as well as remain financially profitable.