From my previous blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a bit obsessed with evolution. I do have a picture of Charles Darwin on my desk, but I also have a sock monkey, a toy skateboard, a gold Scrabble tile and a mini cactus – so y’know. Don’t judge me.
It’s fair to say however that in the past six or seven years, social media networks, especially the titans: Twitter and Facebook, have evolved rapidly.
Back in 2006/ 2007, each new channel had it’s own unique selling point. From my perspective, before I realised Twitter’s microblogging potential and long before I discovered @ messages or hashags, I saw it as a tool to send free texts to my friends. For my first year or so on Twitter, I only followed close friends, and only close friends followed me, so my tweets were mostly about arranging trips to the pub (I’ve since purged the internet of those mundane posts!). It was certainly social, but there wasn’t much of a network to speak of.
Facebook on the other hand, was a more ‘grown up’ version of Myspace that felt like a community (a retreat, even!) for those of us bored with animated backgrounds and obnoxious pop-songs on auto-play.
As time has gone on however, and more channels have emerged, with increasing numbers of users adopting them, the core purpose of each channel has evolved and their functionality has blurred.
With the evolution of status updates to open text (away from the rigid ‘Xenia is…’ format Facebook used to insist upon), users began microblogging on Facebook in the same way they once had on Twitter. But as Twitter grew and more companies and celebrities took to the channel, it too changed into something else – a forum for public conversations with brands and companies.
Then, as Facebook became more customisable, with cover photos and apps, it somehow started to resemble the Myspace of old.
Geo-tagging or 'checking yourself in' to places has also crossed channels, from Foursquare to Facebook, to Instagram and Twitter. Then Twitter let you upload photos and videos, Instagram also allowed videos to be posted, and now Facebook has not only enabled photos in comments, but has decided to incorporate hash tags – a technique that Twitter users have been adopting to categorise their posts for a number of years now.
So what does all this blurring of social media actually mean, and is there any real difference between channels anymore?
Twitter has, much to the chagrin of anyone who has ever experienced the backlash of ‘trolls’ or the annoyance of spam-bots, retained some semblance of anonymity. Users are still able to have pseudonyms and alternative identities – just ask Guido Fawkes.
But Facebook is, in many ways, the polar opposite – it contains a vast digital archive of identity and personal history. Graph search demonstrates this perfectly as it allows users to conduct highly specific searches using rich Facebook content (sometimes with amusing results).
It’s for this reason that brands are able to form lasting, personal relationships with consumers on Facebook – a highly attractive marketing proposition – whereas, arguably, those conversations on Twitter are more fleeting.
The recent introduction then, of searchable hashtags to Facebook is a particularly significant one. When it comes to Facebook, the hashtag is more than just a method for categorising posts – it gives implicit permission for the post to become publicly searchable.
This development – allowing highly personal content and conversations between friends to become part of a global search, is an interesting and significant one. By categorising their own data in this way, users will be helping advertisers to create more targeted and meaningful ads – essentially shaping their own experience.
As social media channels continue to evolve into a many-headed micro-blogging, geo-tagging, photo-sharing beast, users will increasingly be turned off by channels that don’t understand them, make use of the information they have made available and personalise content accordingly.