The Future of Social Media looks a lot like Television’s Past

What will social media look like in 2020?

I’d venture that we could look to television for many answers. I’m not talking about The Jetsons or space age programs that show everyone in the future wearing the same jumpsuit with one stripe. The evolution of television itself is a helpful analogue to imagine the future of social.

Let’s look back…

While we talk about “real-time” today as a buzzy new concept, television in its earliest days was, in fact, real-time.  In the thirties, it was used to broadcast significant live events like the coronation procession of King George VI, the Wimbledon tournament, and live sporting events in the United States.

In the forties, major networks like ABC, CBS, and NBC emerged with limited programming around niche interests like cooking and children’s entertainment.

By the 1950s, scripted programming made its appearance, and along with it came advertising.

Fast forward to the eighties when the arrival of cable, pay-per-view, and 24-hour news and sports made television an always-on affair.

The aughts brought real-time and scripted programming together in a new genre of scripted reality shows like Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Today, consumers have more choice than ever about what to watch and when. With thousands of cable networks and channels, On-Demand and DVR services, and new subscription models like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

What can this tell us about the future of social?

I am sharing several forward-looking trends during my SXSW session Seeing 20/20: A Social Forecast, but here are five ways TV can tell us where social is headed.

1.  Social Scripted Reality

From the start, social was also real-time. It was about sharing your reality with others: “Here’s what I’m doing now.” The rise of YouTube and other social video formats after it like Vine and Instagram provided a platform for social storytelling— introducing scripted social content. As with TV, expect to see reality and scripted content merge again. Snapchat and others will move in this direction.

2.  Channel Proliferation

Just as the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) played a pivotal role in the massive adoption of television, the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) have been instrumental in ushering in the social age. But just as television diversified, so will social. Expect to see more niche networks that allow micro consumption of highly targeted content—think dedicated networks for dedicated audiences like The Food Network or The History Channel.

3.  Social Ubiquity

Not only will there be more social networks, social media will continue to expand across screens and devices, it will be available everywhere. Desktop, mobile, TV, in-venue, wearables —if there is a screen, it will be social.

4.  The End of “You had to be there”

VCRs, DVRs and on-demand programming all freed us from the commitment to scheduled programming. This allowed us to fit in entertainment around our busy schedules. As we become even busier and continue to place higher value on shared social experiences, Social DVR’s will be common and widely used as a way to combat FOMO. People will be able to experience recent and distant past events with an added contextual layer provided by their social networks.

5.  The Human Nielsen Rating

The growing trend of the quantified self will continue as we have more and more opportunities to share our life from physical sensors. Our willingness to share this information will make us a constant beacon of our movements, our diagnostics, and our preferences.

Want more insight into where social is headed?  I’ll be talking about the ideas presented here as well as the future of customer care, social commerce, the evolution of content, the internet of things and more during my SXSW session Seeing 20/20: A Social Forecast. The session is RSVP only and we expect a full house. I hope to see you there.

Manish Mehta's picture

Manish Mehta

Manish is responsible for global product strategy and engineering at Spredfast. He is passionate about building technology that engages consumers in conversations, while improving marketing and advertising performance for brands. Prior to Spredfast, Manish served as CEO of Marketvine, an eCommerce solutions provider, which he founded as a stealth mode incubation effort within Dell in 2012. Manish originally joined Dell in 1995, and provided visionary leadership across several roles including VP of Dell's global Social Media & Community group, VP of Dell Labs, VP of Social Commerce Incubation, VP and Global GM of, and a Partner at Dell Ventures. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University.