How social media has changed the internet

The internet has changed significantly in the last decade or so and it’s mainly thanks to social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram et al have shaped the way we all subscribe to and interact with content.

The way we used to follow our interests was that we’d search Google for them, select the links to anything that appealed to us and maybe bookmark a site’s home page for future use. We might even remember a domain name and type it directly into the browser when we wanted to revisit a site.

Few people bother typing a domain name these days. We follow our interests by subscribing to them from social media and we expect relevant articles — or at least links to them — to be served up to us via our social media accounts.

At a cursory glance, these two processes may look quite similar but one of the knock-on effects has been to devalue the idea of a site identity. People just don’t visit home pages with the same frequency they used to; they’re far more likely to link directly to an article rather than the home page and then jump back out of the site when they’ve read it.

Large corporate sites that need to run a shop of some sort still retain a fair bit of identity — think Amazon here — but smaller companies and bloggers may as well sign up to Medium and store all their content there. One’s ‘home page’ essentially becomes one’s social media account.

Social media has done a good job of changing our browsing habits and that’s reflected in the rapid movement of advertisers from things like Google Adwords to things like Facebook advertising. Google didn’t help themselves here. In the 2000s they had the sort of arrogance that comes with a monopoly and treated a lot of their advertising customers in a dismissive, unhelpful manner, and people don’t forget that. Google’s attitude did nothing to encourage brand loyalty and when the opportunity to jump ship arose, people jumped all too gladly.

In fact, social media has got this sewn up so well that it’s almost expected that their platforms are used to promote both corporate and individual content. If you want exposure these days, you’d better get a grip of social media.

I’d caution against being too hasty, though. I think there are still good reasons for maintaining your own internet property via your own web site and hosted on your own server. The main reason is control. If your content resides on Medium, Kinja, Blogger, Facebook or with any other third party, you’re subject to the whims of that particular platform. They could change the rules at any time or even go out of business. You can still use social media to link to your content but you’re not handing control of that content to a third party.

Remember also that social media is the Current Big Thing and there’ll be a Next Big Thing one day. Facebook in particular is coming under scrutiny over privacy issues lately and I think such concerns are going to become more prominent in the future. We jumped into social media with both feet and didn’t really pay too much attention to privacy, but as our data is increasingly aggregated for corporate profit we’re going to become more aware of it and, I think, we’re going to push back. This has the potential to change the internet landscape again.

By all means use social media to advertise your content but I think you’re better off keeping control of its source via your own platform because there always will be a Next Big Thing.