The Social Media Rebound Effect (My Answer to the Contrarian Question)


The contrarian question asks, "What important truth do few people agree with you on?" This is my attempt at answering this question. The short answer is that I do not believe social media is progressing in a straight line as most people expect. Instead, it's going to 'rebound' such that mastering pre-social media norms will be vital in the future.

In other words, i don't think that video killed the radio star. It did for a while, but radio will make a comeback (shout out to podcasts and audiobooks).

I'm going to break down my response in three key areas: Building a following, always-on messaging, and online Islamic Iearning.

Building a Following

The follower count is the ultimate vanity metric. As tools like Facebook and Twitter rose in prominence, the goal was to develop as large of a platform as possible. That meant doing whatever you could to increase your number of followers on each channel. Til today, this is the goal for most people. A person's, or organization's, influence is quickly judged by the number of followers they have. 25k followers on Facebook? Must be the real deal.

This brought its own set of unintended consequences. People grew up leaving public breadcrumbs of their lives online. Troublesome privacy concerns were raised (and appear to be getting worse). A large platform brought with it unprecedented expectations and influence in a short time-frame, making it difficult to adjust.

We are now observing a rebound effect. The public Twitter conversations amongst friends have more or less vanished. Public Facebook accounts are associated with "influencers" (and 'micro-influencers') more than the average person. The conversation has rebounded to more private mediums. Snapchat became instantly popular (until Rihanna and Kylie Jenner killed it) due to its private conversations and disappearing videos. Kids could be kids again.

Discussions that happened on Facebook and Twitter shifted to group chats such as WhatsApp and Telegram. They went from public for everyone's consumption to private within a smaller group. This also seems to indicate that our social media will become more of a complement to our "in-person" friends as opposed to a means of cultivating predominantly online friendships.

Algorithm changes with Facebook and Instagram have forced organizations to rethink what social media marketing means. Platforms were built on rented real estate. A page with 1 million followers would post something only to have it seen by less than 2% of their supposed audience. The most reliable means of building a platform through today remains the aptly titled email newsletter.

The vanity of the follower count is too difficult to overcome. This is why I believe most people will still focus on that as a metric of success. In my view however, the focus should be spent cultivating a smaller but more dedicated following (the idea of 1,000 true fans).

Always-On Messaging

Needing to be accessible has been a status symbol. When I was growing up, it was the pager. You had to be really important (usually a physician or a drug dealer) to carry a pager with you. Then there was the car-phone. It was extremely expensive, but the cost was justifiable if you were important enough that your phone calls couldn't wait until you got home.

The beep, vibrate, and red badge give us this undue feeling of importance hundreds of times a day. There is virtue in being the person that replies to every email, text message, tweet, DM, comment, and snap within 30 minutes. That virtue is slowly disappearing as people become more and more overwhelmed. As someone who has always prided myself on being 'that guy' who replied to emails immediately and maintained an inbox zero, I simply can't anymore. Most emails are responded to in 1-2 weeks, if at all.

The constant barrage of messages makes it difficult to focus or accomplish much else other than being engaged with others back and forth. This is especially the case as we shift more and more toward wearable technologies such as smart watches. Apple, interestingly enough, positioned the Apple Watch as an alternative to having to use your phone all the time. This is an intriguing concept, but there is still a long way to go.

The mobile phone has gone from a luxury item to a digital leash within the span of a few short years. It's not that I can choose to respond to my emails from my phone at my own leisure and convenience - rather, I'm expected to respond immediately precisely because I have access at all times.

Although technology is pushing us in the direction of being always on, I believe we will see a rebound effect where the opposite happens. More and more people will turn off notifications and delete social media apps from their mobile devices. Always-on accessibility will be carefully customized for family and close friends only.

Online Islamic Learning

Everything is going virtual. Classroom learning is now online. The weekly halaqahs and Friday khutbahs are now live-streamed. It makes sense then to put everything online, right? Most people would say so, and their actions definitely show as much.

I believe the glut of online information and content will create a rebound effect such that in-person learning will become more valuable. Whatever you want to learn is available online for free already. The only thing missing is the experience.

There might be 10 different weekly tafseer classes in my community, but I'm probably going to go to the one that my friends attend. This is because I'm considering variables beyond just learning. Many seminars have started incorporating larger amounts of workshop style and interactive activities. The Muslim community is a step behind right now in the sense that the experience of watching an online video, listening to a podcast, or sitting in a classroom are nearly indistinguishable. The next big success story will be the one who figures out a way to reinvent the in-person experience in such a way that less than 20% of it is replicable online.