Remember Friendster? Or Xanga? In social media, giants can be made overnight, but how do you stay there? One way a few of the big players are doing so is by providing (or acquiring) a variety of features and content. The more parts of your life they touch, the stronger foothold they have. In February 2014, Facebook announced plans to purchase instant messaging service WhatsApp. Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in April 2012 highlighted the potential for social photo sharing whereas Twitter’s Vine acquisition in October 2012 did the same for short video content.

Twitter recognized the value of video for enhancing television engagement with its Amplify program, which allows brands to include video content within their tweets. For example, ESPN and Ford Fusion partnered with Twitter to tweet NFL replays to its followers. Facebook pushed for personalized content curation with the launch of its “Interest Lists” in 2012. This feature allows networkers to organize content into categories such as “recipes” and browse lists created by others.

Can we actually go text-free?

The evolution of social network content may make it seem like text is a dying medium when you consider the practice of companies like Twitter and Facebook moving away from a text-centric format. However, the key lesson is to recognize the value of variety in content type while maintaining consistency in messaging. As MIT Technology Review reported, the average length of global tweets declined between 2009 and 2012, which researchers from the University of the Philippines attributed to more widespread use and acceptance of jargon. In other words, text is not dead, but networkers are finding ways of saying more with less.

What It Means

The capability to support diverse content has extended social media’s influence beyond the purely digital realm. According to Mintel’s March 2013 survey31% of US adults who use social networks capture video or images specifically so they can share that content online. Furthermore, 53% of networkers said they talk about things they see on social media in face-to-face conversations.

The lines between digital and real-world activity have also been blurring for businesses with the emergence of location-aware apps and ads. Given social media’s already strong connection to mobile and local advertising, the evolution of social network content will help lower the divide between the digital and physical worlds.

The rise of social network sites geared toward specific content types – video, audio, text – has enabled a diverse ecosystem of user-created content. As individuals and organizations more readily engage with this ecosystem, social networks themselves will evolve their capabilities to support all of these numerous types of media.

Bryant brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News, where he oversaw the editorial team, wrote as a trade journalist and prepared a range of industry white papers.

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