Social Media Going NICHE

When Facebook first came into the social media scene, it set the standard for what was cool and how this whole thing was going to work. Post pictures, tell stories and accumulate friends. The more friends you had, the cooler you were and winning the game was all in the numbers. Some social media platforms may still operate this way, or is it particular to the user? Facebook is no longer about having many friends- we seek privacy and security now that so many horror stories have surfaced pertaining to murderers, stalkers, breaches and theft. But other platforms such as Instagram or Twitter seem to still value the ‘as many followers as possible’ formula.

Social sharing has not gone anywhere, it is now a question of who are you sharing with and on which platform. Facebook still has over 1.2 billion active users and the numbers are not dwindling.

The recent variation in the way we use social media is through the use of smaller social sharing and messaging tools, mainly mobile, that have gotten the most buzz and gained the highest portion of unique users. New trends encourage users to personalize their messages to certain people or small groups of individuals instead of broadcasting posts to larger networks of people.

This does not necessarily mean that people are deleting their Facebook accounts and running to sign up for Snapchat accounts by the masses. The platforms serve different purposes and are not exactly interchangeable. This being said, the pattern seems to be that younger users are being drawn to more niche social ‘hangouts’ as the older generation is sticking to Facebook- and only Facebook. The mind set may be ‘once my mom is on Facebook, I’m gone’. Facebook teen user numbers are on the decline. And there are many reasons for this reaction.

The new trend is also ‘anonymous apps’. A brand new niche that allows the posting of ‘secrets’ without any of the backlash of your name being attached to everything you post- a very appealing idea for youth especially. Apps like Whisper and YikYak combine the fun and exciting nature of teen gossip with the Internet’s ability attach anonymous to each and every post.

I think it is too early to say that they’re abandoning the larger social networks, but certainly the audience for those networks is now fragmented,”

Shayla Thiel-Stern, Journalism professor at the University of Minnesota who focuses on digital media and culture.

Kids are always moving towards the next, coolest social media outlet. They want the most interactive and fun platform out there. Snapchat caught heat for becoming known as the ‘sexting app’, this did not slow down it’s use. If anything, it gained attention and kids wanted to be on it more and more. If they can rebel while on social media and minimize the risk of actually getting into trouble at home or school- chances are they will jump on the band wagon.

We are all too familiar with Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp for the over-the-top sum of 19 billion. We asked and answered the question of why. With over 450 million users worldwide, Facebook likely thought- why not? They are also owners of Instagram, the photo-sharing network with over 150 million users. These moves by Facebook suggest that the once dominant social network is worried that their relevance is not what it once was. Perhaps it has become so large that the social aspect itself is slowly disappearing.

Perhaps the pressure of being ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ is too much for young users and smaller, more niche sites allow them to interrelate with users who share more in common with them. Finding those with whom you share a direct interests and connecting with only those people with whom you want to share something personal or private. Keep the rest of the class out and make connections only between true friends and desired recipients.

So we ask ourselves where the future of social media and interaction is going. Will the hype around anonymous and disappearing messages last or be thrown out with the trash when the new trend hits? Does Facebook fear it will become obsolete in the near future? Grasping at 19 billion dollar straws points to yes.

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