More people than ever before are using social media sites. But while Facebook has 2.2 billion users worldwide and Instagram around 1 billion, suspicion and mistrust of social media platforms has never been higher.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which broke in March 2018 and revealed that the personal data of 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested unbeknownst to the individuals in question, was the low point in a year which saw scandal after scandal plague social media platforms and their popularity.
Elsewhere, the industry faces constant disruption from new technology, new trends and new demands from users from every background imaginable. It remains, however, undoubtedly one of the most effective ways of people connecting with individuals and brands.
But it does need to change. And it is. To find out how social media will look different next year, we spoke with David Cohn, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Pigeon, an anonymous chatbot community for content posting and leader of Alpha Group, about what 2019 will look like for the world of social media.
Innovation Enterprise: How does Pigeon utilize AI and machine learning?
David Cohn: At Pigeon, we use AI to more acutely understand the types of content people like so we can improve their experience and help us determine how we can create more interesting niche communities.
For example, is our community consistently deciding to share and spread photos of delicious looking food? If so, how do we encourage people to share more of it, and should we consider creating a food community on Pigeon where people can get more of what they'd like? Pigeon is an anonymous platform, so our team is only concerned with macro trends and providing the best overall user experience.
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IE: How will we see AI shape social media in the next two years?
DC: AI will be used by companies on several fronts. The first is an increase in listening and predicting behavior. We are all very familiar with this to some extent. Visit a website and through retargeting you'll see an ad to buy their product on Facebook.
But how many more signals and predictions about purchasing behavior can be established? Through location, facial recognition and some basic assumptions, the purchase of a magazine and your daily commute might suggest your next big expenditure.
But enough about AI exploitation for capitalism, how might it make true social experiences better? The major platforms don't have a bug with echo chambers, it's a feature. From their point of view, truly bipartisan, they don't care who says what, just that there's engagement, usually from like-minded people. It's the borders where ideologues meet and fight that people walk away from a platform with a bad taste in their mouth. So, why not use AI to better eliminate these moments.
IE: Will the issues surrounding data protection hold back AI's utilization in social media?
DC: Aside from the obvious GDPR considerations, there's a general creepiness factor at play. While in many instances huge social media companies may be able to explain how they are leveraging AI for the business, the fact remains that in order for it to be effective, AI needs to feast on user data. As data breaches tied directly to social personas continue to make news, people begin to think twice about what they share, how it is consumed and who has access.
IE: What was your long-term goal in creating Pigeon?
DC: The long-term goal for Pigeon is to build new niche communities on the platform where users from all over the world can share content freely. By sharing content anonymously, users don't have to worry about how their content will be perceived by friends/family or its impact on their personal legacy.
By design, Pigeon is not permanently tied to any one niche or platform. The chatbot's underlying technology is highly extensible and can be applied in any number of directions, from apps that let users anonymously solicit feedback on their music to communities built around a particular interest like cooking or bird watching.
With the rise of paid influencers, large brands and profit-driven algorithms determining what content gets spread on social media, honest and value-driven content sharing has taken a backseat. At Pigeon, we are aiming to address this problem by providing users with a platform that allows them to share quality content regardless of their identity.
IE: With the rise of "dark social" do you think anonymity will be a big trend in social media?
DC: I believe more social media companies will begin considering the benefits of fostering engagement in a "dark social" space in 2019. Today, Snapchat is an existing example of a company that is appealing to younger generations – with 78% of 18–24-year-olds using the platform – by allowing user content to disappear. If a Snap goes unopened, it's deleted after 30 days. If a Snap sent to a group chat goes unopened, it's deleted after 24 hours. On the app, people can share content they find funny, interesting or important without having it associated with them forever.
With all the data scandals of this year, will social media remain a relevant method of connecting with consumers?
Although reports have been released within the past year that reveal more consumers are deleting their social media accounts due to data scandals, there is still a large audience that participates on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Social media will still remain relevant for brands who are aiming to target specific consumer groups.
In 2019, I suspect brands creating highly attractive and personable content in an effort to successfully engage, retain and attract consumer audiences. In order to maintain these audiences, brands should learn from the recent data privacy scandals and be careful about who they share and give access to their customer data.
What are some of the data trends you expect to see emerge in 2019?
For social media, I suspect we will continue to see bots like Swelly, Sensay and Fam continue to grow on social platforms to enhance consumer engagements. Bots won't just be used to satisfy an immediate need, but a deeply human one. We will use bots to connect with and understand others, culminating in something like a Yenta.
I also predict the growing influence of "dark social" niche communities on social platforms. The context gap is one of the driving forces behind the emergence of dark social, where identity and permanence take a backseat to content. If you think about it, in their daily lives, people often interact with different groups. The things you might talk about with your family around the dinner table are often a far cry from the conversations you have with friends during a pub crawl. Context collapse is what happens when these different groups collide in one place – usually weddings or social media.
If you share something online, everyone you know is able to see it. This often leads to a chilling effect where people find there isn't much they want to share with everyone. Dark social just may be the answer.