Social media's visual future

With Pinterest and Instragram social media status quo the next step in this journey could be all about video.

An image is worth 1,000 words and in the context of social media, where posts are commonly limited to short sentences, saying so much so quickly is always bound to have great appeal. While the likes of Instagram and Pinterest have shown the market the real value of merging social with mobile, this is just the beginning. The next step in this journey could be all about video.

Facebook, still the flagship of social media platforms, was born to share visual content with friends. People setting up their Facebook accounts never got very far with making connections without a personal image. The same held true for Twitter, LinkedIN and most other social media platforms, where profile images were important to encourage social connection and the sharing of images enriched the social media experience.

The crown of the most popular image sharing social media platform has so far remained with Facebook, with Flickr essentially offering a distributed repository that lacked any great strength of social interaction. However, Facebook and Flickr have both missed an opportunity for mobile device integration.

Twitter and LinkedIn depend primarily on text-based social interaction, a model that is essentially ‘broadcast SMS’ with strong network effects. Their image sharing and distribution has largely been a secondary functional ‘add-on’. With the Facebook model dominating image sharing and video largely settled around YouTube, the rich-media story within social media seemed resolved.  So how is it that images (and rich media) have once again become the hottest battleground within the social media milieu?

Enter the game changers         

Along came Instagram and Pinterest as social media platforms, as well as a smart-phone and tablet feature war around screen quality and camera resolution. The very nature of the monetisation of mobile phones drives telecommunication carriers and handset manufacturers to put a new device in your hand every two to three years to sustain their growth.

In a world with almost ubiquitous mobile phone uptake, market growth has to come from innovation, or at least perceived innovation and obsolescence of earlier technology. Nearly every adult, and many children, carry around a highly serviceable still-shot and video camera into their pocket.

This portable media studio is also complete with connectivity and improving data plans that allow for low cost media distribution. Some might call this ‘media grooming’ or perhaps pent-up-demand for social publishing solutions. Instagram and Pinterest entered the social media space with clearly greater mobile device utility, stronger and faster social engagement, and found even more optimisation in simplicity of use. These improvements completed an end-to-end circuit from mobile image creation, through distribution and back to audience consumption, often on a mobile device as well. The ‘new kids on the block’, surprised Facebook and Flickr who already thought they had the optimal model and path of least resistance.

Instagram

Instagram built image capture, studio effects, mobile distribution and social networking into one application and then went about dealing with the multiple mobile device platforms. Better than Facebook, they understood that image capture needed to be fast, fun and seamless.

Not surprisingly Facebook parted with a billion dollars to acquire Instagram and shore-up their ‘king of social Images’ position prior to their own hundred-billion dollar IPO. With the Facebook acquisition and an Android device solution, Instagram added 10-million accounts in 10-days and now captures well in excess of a million new images every day.

Pinterest

Pinterest has shown that the battle for social supremacy still rages. Many see social media as ‘low culture’ and yet here is an image platform that is more about high-quality photography, aspirational image stories and strongest appeal to professional women. There is currently a strong skew to young females (18 to 35), however, the scope of appeal is broadening every day.

Pinterest understood two things better than almost anyone else. Firstly as a new player, they had to ‘stand on the shoulders’ of others to reach critical mass. This has led to quality integration with both Facebook and Twitter and simplicity in making mutual network connections and sharing publishing across multiple platforms, capturing larger audiences in the process.

The second shift, is elegant simplicity in every direction – capture from anywhere, taking images, using files, liking (pinning) images from any website and reposting from others, as well as distribution to anywhere – access from mobile, web and within other social media platforms. The two-direction, simple integration is seeing Pinterest as a rapid-growth real competitor to other alternatives and a strong choice for quality aspirational and rich-brand images.

The whole ‘I dream of having … insert your item here’ nature of Pinterest is a boon to brands that have top-of-the-market strength and visual appeal. In addition, the almost complete focus on images and ‘pin-board’ grouping has the same singular purpose appeal that has held Twitter in good stead against the complexity of the Facebook portal.

 In the same way that Pinterest and Instagram re-opened innovation within image-based social media, video has returned as a fertile territory for change.

The emergency of internet connected ‘Smart-TVs’, the continued growth in bandwidth and the video capabilities of smart phones will drive a revolution in video and real-time immersive social interaction. There is a lot to happen yet and YouTube may be next in the firing line.

David Warwick is director of services at BWired in Melbourne and consults to leading brands on their online communications strategy and implementation.