Social media and digital technologies have changed the way we connect, interact, and really, the way we live our lives overall. But that influence has evolved over time, and as such, the significance of it may not be clear - if you were to tell someone that social media has changed the world as we know it, they'd likely scoff at the suggestion. But taking a step back from the day-to-day updates - the Likes, the selfies, the endless stream of emoji - move back from the superficial layer of the newly connected world and the wider societal impacts of social media become clear. Whether you know it or not - even whether you use the platforms or not - the impact of their presence are leading transformational shifts within our world, both online and off.
This is one of the things that I find most interesting about social media - yes, it's great for entertainment and for engaging people in new, exciting ways, but the true power of the medium is in its connectivity, in its ability to link us together and highlight the commonalities of the human condition. Through social data, we can see shifts in behavior and sentiment, all happening in real time - social can advance the conversation around any topic simply by providing each participant with a voice.
This, in essence, is the key focus of a new Facebook IQ study which seeks to "explore technology's transformative role in our everyday lives". To do this, Facebook commissioned research firm Crowd DNA to survey people from vastly different regions around the world and gather insights on how the impact of technology is resulting in shifts in attitudes, values and daily rituals. Facebook matched these findings against keywords and conversations around the same shifts across Facebook and Instagram, giving them an overview of how these elements are evolving based on connective technology.
Their results highlight some interesting and inspiring trends, and key patterns to be aware of for marketers looking to understand and make best use of the medium. Here' are the five areas where Facebook's data indicated some of the most significant attitudinal a behavioral shifts.
1. "Personal Sustainability"
Health technology is advancing at a rapid rate, and interest in the benefits of bio-tracking - particularly through the use of wearables - is also growing in-step. As noted by Facebook:
"In an age where we can monitor, map and predict what's going on inside of us, technology isn't just about simplifying our lives-it's about giving us the ability to engineer the best possible version of ourselves, with the ultimate aim of ensuring our own personal sustainability."
That, in turn, has lead to a significant increase in people sharing more information online about their health and their efforts to better understand and better utilize the bio-data options available.
New technologies are enabling people to learn more and more about the inner workings of their bodies, customized to them, specifically. This, in turn, enables people to put plans in place to live longer, healthier lives based upon real-world, personalized research and data - and sharing the conversations about such developments online expands the conversation and widens awareness of what's possible, bringing it into focus for more people in more areas of the world.
In a brand messaging context, Facebook recommends that businesses:
"Consider how product extensions, brand messaging and experiences can tie into health as the ultimate status symbol."
As technologies evolve towards delivering better health outcomes, the accumulation of that shared data can only serve to help advance the cause and promote the benefits among the wider populous.
2. "Mobile Empowerment"
Connecting the world is one of Facebook's over-arching and evolution-governing aims. Mark Zuckerberg has personally re-iterated this many times, and the company's commitment to their internet.org initiative underlines this directive. By connecting the world, we all benefit through increased exposure to more diverse viewpoints and more opportunities to share and participate equally. (Or, at least, so goes the theory).
In this sense, Facebook's taken the opportunity in this report to highlight the benefits of connecting underserved populations in emerging markets to the internet, and the economic, entrepreneurial and educational gains they've seen from this.
Importantly, Facebook notes that:
"...gaining mobile Internet access has benefits beyond basic services and pressing social challenges like healthcare, education and poverty-it also opens new avenues for social connection, idea sharing and entertainment."
It is amazing to consider the disparity in technology and connectivity across the different regions of the world - basic tools many would consider essential are simply not available in many regions. Indeed, internet.org's own data suggests that two-thirds of the world aren't connected to the internet. As those regions become more connected to the global conversation, so too do their opportunities increase - as noted in the above stats, access to social media and other information tools make it easier to contribute, to participate and to advocate for equality and fairness.
3. "Playing with Food"
Societal sharing can play a key part in the discussion, and thus wider acceptance, of evolving food practices and procedures. This is particularly relevant in the development of new sustainable food production models - as global consciousness around sustainable food production grows, we need to boost awareness and consideration alternative food sources, including the use of technological-based options, to replace unsustainable food sources. But perceptions around such food alternatives can be hard to shift.
In this case, the wider conversation and trends, facilitated by our increased social connectivity, can play a significant role in achieving greater acceptance - and this is evident in Facebook's data, as highlighted in this graph.
Based on this, Facebook advises that:
"A growing acceptance of alternative food sources signals the adoption of long-term thinking. Even beyond food production, there's increased awareness of the impact of consumption on the environment. Recognize that consumers are open to innovative and surprising solutions to protect the planet for future generations."
4. "Reinventing Rituals"
One of the most evident impacts of social media on society is in the evolution of ways in which we interact. As Facebook notes:
"We're driven by the same emotional desire to connect, but how we do so is fundamentally shifting. This is partly because we're embracing tech to solve age-old problems (like finding "the one"). It could also be a response to social and economic factors: more people are living alone and moving between countries for work. But just because we live alone doesn't mean we have to be lonely. Technology offers all sorts of opportunities to connect with family and friends online to celebrate important moments in new ways."
Underlining this, Facebook's data has uncovered an interesting trend - conversation on Facebook around dating apps and online dating in the four nations studied is actually growing fastest amongst users aged 55-64.
People are also becoming more accustomed to using social platforms as a means of connection that transcends geographic limitations. Shared Instagram accounts, date nights over video chat - there are now an increasing number of ways to stay connected to those you care about - being alone, physically, no longer means you have to be alone. The evolution of virtual reality will change this dynamic yet again, but it is heartening to see the ways in which people are finding new ways to meet and connect with like-minded people via social platforms.
As a result of these new developments in connectivity, new industries, products and services will evolve, underlining the shift to a new way of being 'together'. Considering such possibilities, and the shifts in rituals and relationship behaviour, is important in strategizing how brands can also connect with these audiences.
5. "Embracing Identity"
And the last key trend highlighted by Facebook is the shift in perception around personal identity, and the acceptance of personal choices around gender, sexual orientation and spirituality more widely. In the western world, this shift has been most clearly embodied by Caitlyn Jenner and her mission to foster greater acceptance for trans-gender people in society. Facebook's data shows that the conversation is, indeed, evolving:
"Driving this newfound empowerment is unparalleled access to new ideas and information, unlocking the facets of human experience. All of this combines to create a deeper understanding of what identity means and the freedom to throw off the shackles of convention and share who we really want to be."
Through greater connectivity and the ability to share new thoughts and new perspectives more freely (and widely), we're seeing the conversation shift beyond traditional stereotypes and accepted behaviour. This is another example of how social is providing a voice to all people, and a way for that voice to be heard and shared across the world, advancing the conversation. It's a powerful reminder of what's possible through these new mediums, and of the wider impact greater connectivity is having on the world - and how you can better communicate within it.
Facebook's data highlights the ways in which social media is changing the world - both online and off - and how society is advancing due to greater connectivity. The power of the medium cannot be understated in this sense, and understanding its influence is crucial for anyone trying to connect with audiences and participate in the wider discussion.
In terms of marketing, that's you, it's your job to understand these elements and see how the wider fabric of human connection is being woven - and where you can fit and deliver benefits beyond the platforms alone.
The full Facebook 'Tech Transformations" report is available here