The Evolution of Social Media Networking & its Imminent Future

By Hector Cisneros

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Internet Social Networking (a.k.a., Social Media) as we know it today, has been with us for several years. With only a little more than a decade since the birth of modern social networks, it looks like we’re poised at the beginning of a new era of competition, sophistication and monetization. Some say we’re entering the era of maturity and stability, while others say we’ve just crossed the line of infringing on consumer privacy and implementing a new level of customer-no-service. In this article from Working the Web to Win, we’ll explore the state of affairs for social media, both from a consumer and business perspective, and we’ll predict where social networking is headed. 

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Social Media has evolved from very humble beginnings, and I don’t mean Facebook, LinkedIn or even Friendster! Social media and social networking can be traced back to the very beginning of word-of-mouth messages. This easily takes us back to Martin Luther and the “social posts” of his era, which lead to the beginning of the religious revolution of the Reformation. In fact, this is where the term “posting” was originally coined. Priest and scholar, Martin Luther, had posted his list of grievances against the Catholic Church onto a door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. It went viral (so to speak) and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Centuries and a completely different medium later (hand-scribed post the Guttenberg printing press versus instant electronic media), today social media and social networking has created a new revolution. Advertisers can no longer dupe the general public with fancy, misleading ads and slick TV/radio commercials. Gone are the days where anyone could tout the false virtues of mediocre or poorly made products, in order to get us to buy them.

The actual road to modern social networking and what we call “social media” has many of its electronic roots in the ARPANET era. These roots stem from CompuServe's bulletin board, AOL’s early instant messaging (AIM) and early web logs. Eventually this lead to the first online communities, Blogger and Twitter.  We began with what seemed to be totally free, word-of-mouth connecting networks that evolved into the mega-corporations such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google (which owns YouTube, Blogger and Google+). Here is an excellent historical, social media timeline provided by the “Sun Sentinel”:

1971 – The first email is sent (between two computers sitting on the same desk).
1979 – Usernets and BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) came online, allowing users to exchange data over phone lines.
1980 – CompuServe and Prodigy hit the scene with the first commercial offering of news, weather, shopping, games, and more.
1991 – America Online launches AOL for DOS and quickly rises to one of the most popular online destinations with over 30 million members in its prime. Millions of people used AOL as their first gateway to the World Wide Web.
1994 – Geocities launches as a community where users create their own websites categorized by one of six "cities.”
1995 – TheGlobe.com gave users the freedom to post their own content and interact with other users.
1995 – Classmates.com is born allowing users to find and connect with former acquaintances from school life.
1997 – ICQ (Internet Relay Chat) is purchased by America Online; AOL Instant Messenger launches, and a “new language” is born (i.e., OMG, LOL, BRB, etc.).
1997 – SixDegrees.com launches allowing users to create profiles and list friends.
2002 – Friendster.com launches and quickly grows to three million users in three months.
2003 – MySpace.com is frantically coded in 10 days to try and mimic the rapid growth of Friendster. Grows to the most popular social networking site in 2006 with 100 million users. LinkedIn and Photobucket also join the game.
2004 – Facebook launches originally as a way for college students to connect. The year also saw the birth of Digg and Flickr.
2005 – YouTube launches and gives anyone with a video camera the chance to become an Internet sensation.
2006 – Twitter launches and squeezes our communication into 140 character "tweets.”
2008 – Facebook overtakes MySpace as the most popular social networking site.
http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/images/pixel.gifhttp://articles.sun-sentinel.com/images/pixel.gif2011 – Google introduces Google+ after two previous failed attempts to break into the social space (Wave and Buzz).

The following video is also very helpful:


Today, there are many new social networks and the number of subscribers easily reaches into the many billions. Newer, more pictorial networks such as Pintrest, Instagram, SnapChat chat and What’s App have provided new havens for those more interested in share pictures, videos and direct messages via smartphones. Let’s face it, there are more mobile users today accessing the Internet than there are desktop users.

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Many have perceived social networks as free, but they have never been totally free. Somebody has always paid for them. You can’t have hundreds of programmers, thousands of servers, huge headquarters, and billions in assets without someone paying the piper! From a consumer perceptive, these networks have appeared to be free because the price we have been paying is not as tangible as cash or other easy-to- perceive assets.  The price we’re paying is equally, if not more precious than gold ... we’ve been playing with our private data and readily giving up our privacy. We have been connecting with each other by exchanging personal information about ourselves in order to create a huge database of private information about our lives that the large social networks then sell to third-party vendors as targeted advertising prospects.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google have always been selling the promise of access to our psychographic information as a mineable commodity, or as it is today, the outright selling our data to third parties. I know what you’re thinking only your friends and people you're connected to can see your data. This may have been true at one point in time, but there’s definitely no online privacy today ― at all. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and other social networks, vendors are paying to mine your data and to target your account for advertising. Businesses are paying big money for targeted promotions, running ads and exposing views of their promoted posts on all of these major social networks. The near future will bring new fees to any business who wants its message to show up in its social network timeline.  

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Soon, all the news feeds and timelines will be artificially corrupted with "ad stories" or promoted posts purchaseby vendors vying to sell you their products or services as their prospect. Facebook has already announced that it plans on providing its own news feed and I’m sure it plans on selling your psychographic information as soon as you subscribe to it. Likewise, Twitter is already selling promoted posts that shows up in your Twitter feed that has nothing to do with people you’ve decided to follow. LinkedIn has always had a commercial side and its news service also sells promoted ads and posts in and alongside its time line news feed. Google well, let’s face it, Google sells everything.


Gone are the days where your business post was easily seen by your business followers. Yes, your followers can see you on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ but the post feed is not as “pure” as it was in the past. This is especially true on Facebook where you have to buy ads or promote posts to be easily seen in your followers’ Facebook page timeline.

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Almost five years ago, I wrote about the “Six Cardinal Rules for Success in Social Media Marketing” and in it stated, “No one ever joined a social network to be sold to …” and that “… they joined to connect with others, share and find useful information and to be entertained.”  I contend that this is still true today. Subscribers are either ignorant of the loss of privacy or they believe that it's worth the trade-off.  The fact remains: social networking is more popular than ever.

Today there are over 350 social networks. Yet, there is a change in the air. Younger generations are moving away from Facebook, Twitter, and Google, opting for the more instant and visually oriented What’s App, Snap Chat and Instagram. Some say this is because they don’t want parental oversight, but I say they just want more privacy. The same privacy that we used to enjoy as adults. More adult migrations will begin to take place as unsettling news comes out on how social networking is negatively affecting marriages (linked to more divorces) and the loss of other types of face to face social connections. Plus most adults don’t realize they have lose their privacy. I think we will see other migrations taking place once new, more private networks emerge.

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Right now, there’s a great opportunity for new, more private and less commercial social networks to emerge. Ones that are easier for us to use, are more respectful of privacy, and that provide better customer service (or at least a phone number where you can call for help and receive it in real time when you need it). The current social network leaders are becoming highly monetized, provide little or no customer service, and record and sell all of your private data. As consumers begin to realize they have been taken, they’ll either give in to a life that is less private or they’ll rebel. Right now, the top social networks are vulnerable because their monopoly has allowed them to provide poor customer service with little consequences, they sell our personal data and none of them have consumer’s interest at heart.

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Think of it this way: For some, the trading of your privacy for the ability to connect to friends, family and co-workers, is worth the price of admission. For others, the idea of not owning what you post is repugnant. Let’s take the example of an items that made headlines in the news recently. Some think that keeping a dead person’s Facebook page up and running is a monument to their life. Others will feel that this is not in good taste and just another way of abusing personal and private data. Even though you're related to the deceased, you cannot gain access or pull down to their page if you don’t have their username and password.

In the past, I’ve written several prediction articles about social media. So in this article I am going to stick my neck out again. I predict right here and now that we’re on the verge of a new social networking era. One that will usher in private social networks that are pay to play. New (startup) social networks that will attack the current social network leaders where they are weakest (that currently poor consumer service, lack of privacy, aren't user-friendly, etc.). We will move into a dichotomy of pay-to-play or pay-with-your-privacy.

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Having said all of this, it’s my belief that social media has been a good influence on society as a whole. It has diminished the influence of the old media giants like TV, radio and print that allowed many advertisers to run misleading ads that influenced our choices, even though those products were mediocre or just plain bad. Social media has forced many businesses with poor or no customer service to improve their customer service game. Plus, as consumers, we have benefited from the sharing of product ratings and vendor testimonials, which have led us to make better product choices and receive better customer service. For many, a real bonus is that we have made all those long-lost connections with friends, family and former school mates.

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So what do you say? Do you think it’s OK to give up the ownership of your posts, pictures, videos and give control to the big social networks? Or are you one of those people who are becoming disgruntled with the directions that social networking has taken? Are you looking for a more private way to network, even if it means paying a nominal fee each month? Either way, the reality is that it costs money ― lots of it ― to build, run and maintain these large social networks. The days of what seemed like “free” social media are gone forever.

My recommendation is if you have any social network accounts, take the time to back up the data you have posted to them. You can find out how to do this by Googling it or by looking in the help section of the specific social network. If you don’t like what you have learned in this article, backup your data and asked to be removed from that network. Still, understand that whatever you have posted will be staying in their unlisted database for as long as they feel that data is valuable.

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As consumers, we have a lot of say in the way our world treats us. If we don’t like how we are treated we have to choose to act. We just have to work together and take affirmative action. We’ve seen this happen in elections, with social injustices, and with companies that have been selling poor products and providing lousy customer service.

The same is true for how the social media giants treat us. If we work together, we can hold these social media firms accountable for how they treat us and what kind of service they provide. I recommend you contact your social networks if you have complaints and share those stories of abuse with your friends, family and co-workers. It might be a good idea to share your complaint on a different social network to avoid any retaliation from the offending network. If the stories go viral and get enough traction, the social giants will stand up and take notice. They have backed down in the past when enough people complained about bad policies or poor service.

Do yourself a favor: think carefully about what I have said and decide. It’s your life and privacy that’s at stake. Social Networking is at a crossroads and everyone is going to have to make a choice.

In this article, I have provided a brief history of the evolution of Social Networking, discussed its current state of affairs, and prognosticated about its imminent future. I provided a timeline of social media’s development and pointed out the direction that I see Social Networking taking in the near future.

That's my opinion.  I look forward to reading yours.

If you liked this article, you can find more by typing “social media or social networking” in the search box at the top left of this blog. I further recommend reading “ Hector's the Connector’s Social Media Predictions for 2014,” “Internet Marketing: Lessons Learned & Best Practices Part 3 – The Social Media Dynamic,” “The Evolution of Internet Advertising,” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the 21st Century - Take Two.”

If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment sections below. I hope you have found these questions and answers useful. Thanks for sharing your time with me.


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Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web To Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.”




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