2018’s put one big spotlight on the power of social channels to influence us. Abuses of personal data like Cambridge Analytica aside, we’ve woken up to the fact that using platforms like Facebook and Twitter as intended affect us negatively, both psychologically as it decreases our self-esteem and culturally as it emphasizes filter bubbles and drives us deeper into our tribes.
That’s a big reason why social platforms have put a major emphasis on platform health. In other words, they want their offerings to enrich people’s lives, not make them worse. That, of course, is being heavily balanced with the fact that these companies want to, in no way, hurt their financial performance.
Take Twitter, which saw a drop of 9 million monthly active users in its latest earnings report. This was attributed to what Twitter referred to as part of its efforts to improve “conversational health.” The removed accounts were actually those creating a more toxic environment. That paid off for Twitter, which saw an improvement in daily active users as the platform, likely, become more enjoyable.
Twitter wants to do more and is even evaluating the removal of the like button to get users away from the desire to drive engagement with their tweets and instead encourage conversation on the platform. A drop in the bucket compared to Twitter’s troll problem, but it shows that they are evaluating everything.
Even Facebook sees the need to change. On its earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg noted that the News Feed would become a less important part of its platform. Instead, Facebook will be doing more to drive users and advertisers to offerings like Stories and private messaging. In other words, it will be encouraging more intimate conversations among friends and fewer interactions from one person to many others.
On top of all of that, each of these platforms are working to create high-quality entertaining video content—Facebook with Watch, Snapchat with a new lineup of serialized, narrative-driven content called shows. They want to give users other, more vetted reasons to come to their platforms.
Each of these platforms is talking about a fundamental shift from what the social web has been. The social web traditionally was about creating content and distributing it to as many people as possible. That’s what the News Feed was built on. Twitter was made to broadcast thoughts to a wide audience, and only sometimes engage in conversations.
Then Snapchat came along and saw an opportunity to do things differently. It created a platform that was about making the act of connecting with personal connections online as fun as humanly possible. Snapchat’s certainly not the biggest player out there, but platforms like Facebook are looking to be more like Snapchat. They want to be more about interpersonal relationships and sharing—as long as they can make it work financially.
It’s looking like the era of every person being a media brand is fading away, and we’ll get back to basics. But it’s going to be a long-haul. Each of these platforms will continue to turn the dials on their individual features and see just how much they’re willing to encourage users to adopt other features and behaviors—other features and behaviors that haven’t proven to be as lucrative as old ones.
These platforms are going to face a test—a test of just how much platform health is a priority. Twitter has a good story to tell, but it could be doing much, much more. The News Feed is a revenue magnet for Facebook. Is it really willing to undercut it to get users to adopt “healthier” Facebook habits? These platforms should be met with a healthy amount of skepticism, but one has to be optimistic as well. These platforms will not go away any time soon, so we, as a society, can only hope they get better.