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The Volatile Future of Social Media

Have you ever thought social media is a bit too, well, social? Craving a more personal experience? That’s what Shawn Boyer is betting on, and he offered an explanation why in the opening session at the VSCPA’s 2019 Business & Industry Conference this week at the Williamsburg Lodge.

Boyer is the founder of an alternative social media platform, GoHappy, aimed at providing a more nuanced social media experience than Facebook and Twitter. It’s not just a focus for him, but even for those social media giants, with Facebook putting more influence into its own private groups in recent months with an eye on creating the experience its users want.

“Our hope is that people have a much better understanding of the impact that social media is having on its users and that that is a trigger for them to look at their own social media usage,” he said when discussing the session, “to examine that and think about ‘Am I using it in the way that’s most healthy for me?’ And also being able to cast a potential picture of what the social media landscape may look like over the next five years or so.”

The issue, Boyer says, is in the business model of the existing social titans — the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter, along with Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat. All of those outlets are publicly traded companies, making continued growth a major focus, which can conflict with the desire to focus on safety and humanity.

“All of them have advertising-driven models. That means it’s not only in their best interest for them to bring on more and more users, but also to bring on those same users more and more,” Boyer said. “It’s all about eyeballs — how much time you are spending on the site and seeing ads and clicking through to those ads. So most of what they’re putting in your feed is going to be algorithm-driven and not what your friends and connections want you to see.”

He added: “I think there are going to be some additions in the social media landscape that are going to result in a different business model, where the person’s information isn’t the product.”

Hence the development of GoHappy, which promises not to sell users’ personal information to third parties. The app still needs to make money, of course, and while it remains free, Boyer is mulling several different business models, one of which is a “freemium” plan where users can use the app for free in perpetuity, but might have to pay a nominal monthly fee to save items they’ve previously shared or that others have shared with them.

Boyer cited numerous popular social and messaging apps currently popular with ever-coveted younger users, from WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) to smaller, more targeted apps that present a different nut to crack in terms of advertising and monetization. He said that reach on Facebook might begin to drop off with changes to the service’s algorithm and that the exodus of younger users could exacerbate that decrease.

“For businesses that are currently advertising on any of the larger platforms, I don’t know that things are going to decrease so substantially in the next three to five years that there’s going to be a need to totally overhaul your social media advertising approach,” he said. “But if the younger audience is one that you’re going to target, I would be attuned to where those people are going. 

“It may not be that there’s an opportunity there — if they move over to something like Signal or Telegram or Viber, there aren’t the same opportunities to do what you can do on Facebook or Instagram or Snap. There are still going to be opportunities to reach them, but they’re not going to look the same.”

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