The Impact of Social Media in the Coming 3.0: Super Niche Social Networks

This post was written by Clinton Bonner. You can follow him on Twitter here. In late 2009 through 2011, I ran a small blog titled ‘Everything to Everything’ where the focus was on the coming inter-connectivity of all ‘things’ aka the 3.0, and the specific impacts we would see, hear, and feel relatively soon. One such post from 2010 focused on the soon-to-be coming rise of super niche social networks and how it would impact what we knew of ‘social’ at that time (mainly Facebook and Twitter) and how social would ‘act’ quite differently going forward. The piece was dubbed, “How the Bible Will Destroy Facebook” and no, it didn’t involve any smiting or a single, amazing proclamation that the Almighty prefers Twitter being a fan of brevity. Instead it was focused on what I was seeing at that point; that digital device innovation paired with what was a predictable onslaught of sensor technologies into our society was paving the way for a rise of amazingly super niche social networks. I am no Nostradamus, but 3 years later, it has begun. I choose the word ‘begun’ quite carefully, because the true evolution of ‘social’ has some distance to run, and greater purpose to serve. So what role does ‘social’ play in this future state of innovation? Let’s first look at two incredibly popular brands, their latest updates to their software/device compatibility, and then let’s discuss where social is heading next.

Streaming Music and Quantified Self Gain Specific Social Features

Spotify adds Facebook like threaded conversations to individual songs - image TopCoder Blog

Spotify, depending on who you ask and apparently NOT Thom Yorke, is the top music streaming choice for many. The ability to access entire albums on-demand and share curated playlists quite socially have already been to some, a step up over rival Pandora. But it was ‘social’ news from Spotify just earlier this week that piqued me so. Spotify did something simple, yet smart, when they added a threaded conversation per each song streaming. Think about what this means for just one second. On a micro level, each and every song transcends streaming content that can be shared on the likes of social Goliaths, Facebook and Twitter, and instead transforms into its very own micro-social network, being accessed by users mostly on their mobile devices. The center of gravity is no longer wholly Spotify, the service and its tentacles outward to Facebook, but instead, the individual song itself becomes the gravitational pull, inside Spotify. The intention is to drive more focused conversations and mid-thread, peer-to-peer recommendations to occur directly in the individual song thread. Of course, the ultimate intention is to gather ever more accurate data on a gigantic user base, and this social step, is a game-changer in that regard. In my opinion it’s a natural progression to drive these conversations to the micro-level and it begets better, more specific social content around the original content, the song. Recommendation engines will improve, user experience will be altered positively, and again Spotify will now gain even more user data than before that they can use to monetize in a variety of ways. If why this matters is still not clicking for you, please consider exhibit number two.

Nike+ Fuelband bright image - TopCoder Blog

NIKE has been pouring dollars into its gamified running and quantified self training platform, NIKE+ for several years now and with good reason. If you have never heard of NIKE+, the 10-second skinny is such: NIKE combines a sleek, gamified mobile app with sensor technology embeds in their products and wearable technologies that feed data to the application so that athletes from all walks of life can gain quantified self analytics on their training performances. Realizing that sentence might require a legend for newbies to the quantified self space – see below: If you are unfamiliar with the quantified self movement – Watch this video If you are unfamiliar with what technologies and trends comprise the quantified self – Read this post If you are unfamiliar with the future of wearable technologies – Enjoy this article In NIKE’s newest NIKE+ platform update, the big focus was on improved social functionality, and specifically the ability to challenge your friends and other NIKE+ users to a variety of running challenges. From a very recent NIKEInc.com article:

“Runners’ insights on the thrill of competition helped inform the new Nike+ Challenges feature. Users can determine the Challenge’s name, mileage goal, time period and participants. A new chat feature allows friends to encourage each other and share tips throughout the challenge. Runners can stay motivated by checking the live leaderboard to track progress and see where they rank amongst their friends.”

You can enjoy the full article here, but you likely see the point behind NIKE’s strategy. Sure, information will still be shared to Facebook, Twitter, G+ and the like, but more focused discussions, with super-niche user experiences will be happening on the NIKE+ platform itself. Mobile, synced to smart hardware devices, with increased and ever more specific social experiences all leads to users adopting and staying with a brand for the long haul. And if you think it stops with running for NIKE, ask yourself this simple question: How long do you think it will be before sensors are embedded in golf balls and golf club heads? Flatly, it won’t be long. And if you think this is only applicable to athletics or music streaming, go deeper.

Content Specific Networks: The Next Wave of Social Media

Hamlet on Kindle - cover - TopCoder BlogAnyone producing or publishing content of consequence has the opportunity to capitalize on the next wave of social networking. It doesn’t have to hinge on wearable devices, so please don’t think you need to develop a specific piece of hardware to ‘play’ in what will be the next great wave of social. Put simply, soon, compelling content itself will all have robust social experiences baked into “itself”. In Hamlet, the play was the thing; well in the 3.0, the thing IS the thing and it can have its very own social component (if it makes sense and adds value of course) that drives interactions and creates, yes, ever more user data. What do I mean? Pretend for a moment that you are reading Hamlet, right now on your Kindle and you arrived upon a section of the tale where the meaning was a bit lost on you. Imagine social micro-discussions around passages, chapters, entire stories, even sentences, living and dynamically changing conversations that you can enter and exit with supreme fluidity helping you to gain needed context, domain, or some new form of understanding or appreciation of the “thing”. Think of the impact content specific networks will have on education, Open Innovation, expert communities, eLearning and much more. Right now, it makes incredible sense for NIKE to create these experiences so more people buy their devices, wear their athletic gear, and stay with the swoosh long-term. But how far off are we from the Wiley Publications and Hearst Media’s of the world before they are helping to create these exceptionally niche social conversations around, and more aptly, within their content? Again, it won’t be long and it’s the reason I wrote “Why the Bible will Destroy Facebook” over three years ago. Content is already king, and this will only increase the ‘power’ and reach of quality content. By the way … did I just read something about Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post … ? Yes, yes I did. Finally, why does this all matter to you and how you approach innovation?

Social as a Key Element of Continuous Innovation

‘Social’ isn’t a nicety and it is certainly not limited to the smaller window of only being a marketing exercise to master. Think larger. Social in the coming 3.0 is all about hyper-specificity, gained access, domain sharing, knowledge distribution and re-purposing, and ultimately, innovation acceleration leading us into an era of continuous innovation. The shift won’t happen over night, but it will transpire as the masses’ collective opinion sways from: “I don’t have time for yet another social network.” – over to – “This community, at this time, is extraordinarily valuable to me, and I will choose to spend some of my time within it.” As nano-technologies place sensors inside our own bodies, nano-social networks will place communities of significance inside content itself. Get ahead of what is coming, understand how it can help you innovate faster, and position yourself and your enterprise to use social as a key driver to sustained and continuous innovation efforts. We’ll have more on the elements that comprise continuous innovation soon. Thanks for reading and yes, for socially sharing this post as well.

image credit: insider.nike.com, gizmodo.com, amazon.com

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