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An illustration of business people and social media icons. (Jori Bolton For The Globe and Mail)
An illustration of business people and social media icons. (Jori Bolton For The Globe and Mail)

Agenda 2020

For companies, is social media a passing fad? Add to ...

The Agenda 2020 series asks experts to discuss what business leaders should be doing now to prepare their organizations to be healthy, efficient and growing by 2020. Read more at tgam.ca/agenda2020.

As businesses look increasingly to social media to spread their message, make sales and collect customer information, they also face the challenge of creating messages for constantly changing platforms and apps. We asked Josh Muirhead, director of engage at Winnipeg-based social media management services company ICUC and former global knowledge manager at Edelman Digital in Toronto, and Sidneyeve Matrix, an associate professor of media at Queen’s University in Kingston, to examine the role that social media will play in six years’ time.

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Will social media still be relevant in six years, or is it a passing fad?

Josh Muirhead: Absolutely. I think professionals and businesses are starting to view it not as a separate thing but as part of their communications. What may happen is that not only will it still be relevant, but I think we as a society will be so used to a layer of social media, in whatever way that may look like in six years, being almost an omnipresent experience.

Sidneyeve Matrix: That is so not the case in my day job, in higher education. You might think it would be because of the generation that I’m teaching but when it’s everywhere, it really becomes information overload and I find that my students are very savvy in using social media as a filter in such a way that they can decide what information is relevant.

With the acceleration of the information that’s out there and the number of platforms that are available to tap into, is there a danger of reaching a breaking point?

JM: Working in digital and social media for eight to 10 hours a day, I know I make a conscientious effort that once I get home I turn off the computer, the phone, the tablet and I disconnect. From a broader perspective, you do see people on their phones all the time, constantly checking whether it’s social, or e-mail, which are the big two.

SM: One thing I’m also finding is gravitation away from the bigger platforms where all the social media is aggregated, like Facebook, to really brief and ephemeral updates, through Instagram or Snapchat, or Twitter, BBM, or multimedia messaging.

JM: I don’t see that shift but I don’t necessarily disagree. I do agree that people are finding different ways to express and to communicate.

SM: Personalization is key because if all of my friends are using multimedia chat, then I’m perhaps going to spend a lot less time on Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter, because no brand message can compete with how interesting my friends are when I’m 20 years old.

Can we see big businesses try to further integrate themselves into more personal social media spaces in the next six years?

JM: Many people see the big brands on Facebook and say, ‘Why are they investing so heavily here?’ If I’m a major brand and I’m on Facebook and a few of your friends like me enough to hit that “Like” button, then through methods that Facebook is very open and honest about, I can start to use that information to hopefully attract you and your friends, and friends of those friends, because ultimately we put a high value on things that are friends-and-family trusted. Most of our purchasing decisions are based on those factors.

SM: It sounds like social amplification. In the future we can be less worried about platforms and more worried about creating content that people will want to share because as soon as you have it you do get that organic virality because of the trust factor on these sites.

JM: Our No. 1 focus was to really push our clients to not be platform- or channel-focused, but to be platform or channel agnostic and to develop the story or narrative that allows audience, whoever that may be, to have that personal buy-in. Do I think brands are going to continue to push on those and have deeper relationships? Absolutely. At the end of the day, advertising is still the No. 1 spend for any business out there.

As social media is constantly evolving, how can businesses adopt a strategy when the ground keeps shifting?

SM: They can look to the younger generation and see what is happening in the education space because those are the expectations that the next generation of consumers are going to bring to the marketplace, and when we look at the K-12 classrooms, we see a real emphasis on highly personalized learning experiences, a real emphasis on mobile-optimized content, high interest in video content.

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