Commentary

Trending Social Developments And Issues

Social media use may be reaching saturation in terms of penetration, but its impact on the way we live our lives and talk among ourselves seems to be on the verge of another dimension. Here’s a look at a few of the major trends we saw emerging in 2016.

Chat Bots
In March, we titled an article “The Chat Bots Are Coming! The Chat Bots Are Coming!” Well, they’re here all right. But they seem a lot like those storied New Yorkers who, if you ask for directions, will oblige in detail whether they actually know what they’re talking about or not.

I can’t count how many pitches I received this year from PR folks offering up experts to talk about the impact bots will have on civilization as we navigate it. I finally made a suggestion to one persistent chap: “Tell you what, let me interview your chat bot about chat bots.” The reply came back a few days later: “Uh, could you submit the questions in advance?”

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If you’ve got a bot that can hit a fastball, let me know. Meanwhile, check out Bob Garfield’s “No Ifs, Ands Or Bots” for an amusing take on the subject.

Virtual And Augmented Reality
There was a lot of talk this year about how social is going to drive virtual and augmented reality. It started when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made a surprise appearance at Samsung’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February and told the assembled, “One day you’re going to be able to put on a headset and that’s going to change the way you live, work and communicate.” VR, he said, “is the most social platform.”

The Pokémon Go phenomenon in July had us asking some experts if we were seeing the breakout moment for AR (see “Using Augmented Reality To Drive Social Success”), and if brands needed to get their own AR apps developed posthaste. Well, yes. And no. It’s still a bit early.

Last week Facebook launched Oculus Rooms and Parties for Gear VR headsets -- and it will be available for Rift in 2017. But the back-on-earth reality is that most consumers have yet to don VR goggles, no less converse within virtual spaces.

Social As A Blugeon
Forget policy papers, well-vetted news releases and on-site Sunday press conferences looking to woo reporters who need to fill column inches on a slow news day. Foreign policy positions have been expressed in 140 characters or less. A tweet can drive the lead story of the evening news broadcasts. Opponents are eviscerated with a twist of phrase. As for discourse, forget playing by the rules of moderated debates. That’s what hashtags are for.

Harassment and bullying online goes back to the BBSs of the ’80s, of course, but “platforms such as the ephemeral Snapchat and the anonymous Yik Yak have turned shaming into a drive-by blood sport,” I wrote — while offering some anecdotes — in July. 

The challenge isGetting Beyond Vitriol And Conflict” to use social to build community, work out differences and support people who need it. Participants of mom.life are promised a “shaming-free experience.” A campaign for the U.N.’s World Humanitarian Summit used social to engage users with some “impossible choices” refugees have to make, while also pressuring world leaders to take action. And “The Addicts Mom,” a closed Facebook group, not only provides a lifeline to parents, but also intimately connects a tribe of people who would rather not be in it.

Facebook Live Video
A lot has happened sinceFitmark bags became one of the first brands to take advantage of Facebook’s opening up its Live to anyone with a smartphone. Namely, everyone and her sister seems to be broadcasting the likes of kale being chopped.

But that doesn't mean there’s not a lot of useful, engaging and impactful use of Live, too. Boston public radio station WBUR used it to create the most effective hour of fundraising it has had in its 66 years of wheedling, for example. And, in a couple of weeks, an expert in marketing to the top 1% will tell us why luxury brands need to immediately starting embracing Live as the “new broadcast TV.”

What’s Up?
Speaking of the future, next week I’ll ask some social media experts and practitioners what will be coming in 2017 -- besides the first movie starring emoji.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that too much of what can be a very positive way to engage and communicate with each other can also lead to anxiety or depression. That's why former dopamine-driven social-media addicts like Halley Bock recommend mixing in a lot of real-life social interactions with your digital exchanges.

So give those thumbs a rest, hug your loved ones, and have a happy holiday.

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