Social Media Technology

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Contents

What is Social Media?

Social media is growing rapidly and has taken the world by storm. According to Investopedia, “social media is a computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities” [1]. Social media has evolved over the years and will likely be a large part of the future.


Figure 1. Social Media Logos [2]

Types of Social Media

Below we have identified a few of the most popular types of social media and how they can be used effectively in business.

Social Networks

Social networks are one of the most popular types of social media and are used to connect with others to share ideas and information. [3] Examples of social media networks can include websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. In business, social media networks have evolved and can be used to effectively reach target audiences for advertisements or sharing information. [4] Additionally, they can be used for networking and with in-app analytics, they can conduct market research by tracking demographics. [4]

Bookmarking

Bookmarking social media refers to sites where information is categorized into threads and users can choose the specific content they are interested in. [5] Bookmarking sites, such as Pinterest, can be used in business to promote products directly to customers according to their interests. Unlike other social media sites, Pinterest encourages users to leave their site and allows users to click on direct links to businesses' products or services.

Social News & Discussion

Social news and discussion-based social media are used to encourage conversations between others. [4] For example, sites like Reddit have threads with a variety of topics that users can follow and discuss. In business, news and discussion sites can be used to research popular topics and better understand consumer demands. These types of sites can also be used to answer customer questions and through product promotion provide customers with solutions. It also can be used to advertise and promote a business. [3]

Media Sharing

Media sharing is a type of social media that allows users to share media such as photos over the Internet. Media sharing is crossing over much more frequently with social networks as video and photo content is becoming increasingly popular. [3] These media sites are great for engaging with specific audiences and creating engaging content to promote brand awareness.[3] For example, Youtube allows users to comment on videos and engage more directly with the creator.

Messaging

Social media messaging apps allow users to send instant messages to other people. These apps allow users to share photos, gifs, texts, and more. Popular messaging social media apps include WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.[6] In business, they can be used to promote your brand with custom filters (ex. Snapchat), help reach new audiences, and can be a great way to provide customer service to customers around the globe.

Microblogging

Microblogging is a type of social media, such as Twitter, that allows users to quickly share short text updates.[7] Users typically have followers and follow others to stay updated on their content.[7] In business, microblogging is a great way to connect personally with customers and establish a unique brand voice, as seen by Wendy’s Twitter account.

Figure 2. Wendy's Tweet [8]

The Evolution of Social Media

Looking back, communication has always been important. To better understand the evolution of social media, we can look back at how communication began.

Early Methods of Communication

Leading up to 1945 and World War II, the main methods of communication were telegraphs, pneumatic posts, the telephone and radio.[9] These methods were some of the first ways that people were able to communicate with each other around the globe and kicked off the start of the communication era.

Moving into post-war, between the years 1945 and 1980, new technologies began to emerge. CompuServe was the first localized computer network.[9] Additionally, the internet began to emerge through primitive emails which began in 1966 [9] and Usenet, a computer network used for sharing posts with newsgroups. [10]

In 1985, early social media began. GEnie, also known as the General Electric Network for Information Exchange was the first competitor to CompuServe and was known for online text games, computing and email product lines. [11] The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL), was also started in 1985 and used a dial-up bulletin board system. [12]

Introduction to Social Media

The first chat room, The Palace, appeared in 1994 and allowed users to connect over the internet in chat rooms, or as they were called on the site, palaces.[9] Instead of having one main location, The Palace took an alternative approach and the “server software was given away for free and ran on consumer PCs”.[13]

Sixdegrees came along in 1997 and is recognized as the first “true” social media networking website.[9] Users could connect with one another, send messages, and share posts.[14]

In 2002, Friendster was created and began to dominate social media.[9] It took a similar approach to social media as other sites but additionally was used “also as a dating site and event, band, and hobby discovery service”. [9]

In 2003, LinkedIn appeared as the first business-centred social media site.[9] Over the last 18 years, LinkedIn has continued to adapt and is still prominent in social media in 2021. In addition to LinkedIn, MySpace was also created in 2003. MySpace is a social media networking platform that allows users to create a profile and customize it with photos and posts.[9] MySpace was extremely popular between 2005-2008 and dominated the market until Facebook was introduced in 2006.[15] MySpace struggled to keep users as their user experience and ability to customize profiles was less appealing than Facebook’s simple design.[16] Facebook is now the most popular social media site in the world.[9]

In 2005, Youtube launched as the first of its kind, with the ability to upload and share videos.[9] Youtube continues to be extremely successful and is still a popular video sharing site. Twitter followed soon after in 2006 and quickly became a leader in microblogging social media.[9] Twitter created the opportunity for users to stay connected with family, friends and celebrities.

By 2008, businesses were beginning to open business accounts on social media as they recognized the potential that these sites could have to connect with customers and share their products and services.[9] This was the beginning of businesses using social media as a strategy.

Recent Social Media

Figure 3. Instagram Feed [17]

In 2010, Instagram, a photo-sharing app, launched.[9] Instagram became instantly successful and was acquired by Facebook in 2012.[9] As of 2021, Instagram is still extremely popular.

In 2012, Vine, an app that allowed users to share short videos, was launched.[18] Initially, the app was extremely popular, however, with increasing competition from Instagram and Twitter, it shut down in 2016.[18]

In 2016, TikTok, an app that shared short videos and media like Vine had, was developed.[9] TikTok has become increasingly popular over the years, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, and it is a “highly addictive social media platform for millions of users around the world”.[9]

COVID-19 Pandemic's Impact on Social Media

The COVID-19 Pandemic that broke out in 2020 had a direct impact on the evolution of social media. Suddenly, social media became one of the main sources of entertainment and communication. It created a way for people to connect with friends and family during quarantine as well as stay updated on pandemic news.[19]

The pandemic drastically increased social media usage as 41% of Canadians said they spent more time on social media.[20] Additionally, 46% of Canadians reported an increase in their use of free streaming services such as Youtube and Twitch.[20] With so many users increasing their use of social media during the pandemic, social media is more relevant than ever.

Today, social media continues to evolve and develop. It is becoming an increasingly large part of our everyday lives and has intertwined into a “virtual ecosystem”.[9] Moving forward, social media is likely to make traditional forms of communication, such as newspapers, extinct. As technology advances, communication will continue to be a priority and social media creates opportunities to continue to making communication as easy as possible.

Social Media Technologies

In this section of the blog, we will analyze certain technical components of three social media platforms to better understand the successes of Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Language of Each App

Each social media platform is written in a different language and this depends on the creator’s objectives for the app and its evolution. Certain apps are written to process multiple threads and others to run single threads. Threading is about managing how work is prioritized in an app. The goal is to make the code execute fast and prioritize anything that the user can see and interact with, thus optimizing the performance of an app.[21]

Instagram uses a Django-based stack, which is a free and open-source application framework that inherits Python’s high performance. [22] Django uses multiple threads which increases its speed of running the code from 23 seconds to 5 seconds.[23] This increases the performance of the app as it is able to run synchronous tasks at higher speeds, decreasing the waiting time for downloads and users while using Instagram. Django also provides app caching, such as images or videos that one has recently viewed on the app, and database optimization. [22] This is done by accessing the cache instead of the original server to retrieve information, leading to a further improvement in its performance for Instagram users. [22]

Facebook utilizes JavaScript, which is an open-source framework that Facebook modified for its needs and use.[24] As mentioned earlier, more threads increase the speed of processing, but JavaScript is not as efficient with multithreads as it is with single threads. [22]

TikTok uses Swift for IOS and Kotlin for Androids.[25] Both of these languages are more recent and modern, and developers like to use them for their low complexity and high flexibility.[26] Swift is a general-purpose programming language developed by Apple.-[27] Similarly, Kotlin is also a general-purpose, but it was developed by JetBrains, a Czech Development Software Company, and was designed to operate fully with JavaScript.[28] By using these two different softwares, TikTok is able to run its app faster on users’ phones.

Instagram is predicted to overtake Facebook as the app is more user-friendly [29], which can be attributed in part to the language that is written in. Instagram is able to process tasks faster than Facebook due to its multiprocessor and multithreading ability. However, TikTok is expanding rapidly as it is able to customize the experience for its users due to the two different languages that it uses. Instagram and Facebook are both usable to compete with the high speed and performance of TikTok as their threading allows for greater interaction, which influences their highly addictive algorithm.

Storage System in Each App

All of the three apps, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, use many storage databases; however, they have one primary database that handles most of the workload and directly impacts the performance of the app.

Instagram utilizes PostgreSQL as its main storage database.[30] This is an open-source relational database management system[31] that Instagram had adopted to handle the data of its users. This system also handles any data that is created while posting a picture, liking a post, or tagging a friend on your post.

On the other hand, Facebook utilizes MySQL, which is another relational database management system with different features than PostgreSQL.[32] This also stores information regarding the activity of its users, which includes, but is not limited to, wall posts, user information, and timelines. Facebook has one of the largest MySQL database clusters as the app has the world’s largest user numbers.[33]

TikTok utilized Alibaba Cloud as its primary storage system. Alibaba Cloud is a cloud computing system, which is the subsidiary of Alibaba Group.[34] Data from users in the United States and Southeast Asia was backed-up in a database centre located in Singapore. However, in 2021, TikTok announced that they will be moving off the Alibaba cloud and moving their user data to Oracle Database.[35] Oracle Database was developed by Oracle Corporations, which is an American multinational computer technology corporation that provides all-in-one database solutions to its customers.[36]

The different databases that each platform employs affects the performance and experience for its users. PostgreSQL is known to be faster while handling massive data sets, complicated queries, and read-write operations.[37] Whereas, MySQL is known to be faster with read-only commands.[37] Oracle is better at retrieving information and maintaining data information security.[38] MySQL and PostgreSQL are open sources, whereas Oracle was developed by a corporation, proven to be very costly. Oracle is also updated by its corporation and companies cannot change the coding to fit their needs without Oracle’s permission, whereas MySQL and PostgreSQL are customizable once downloaded, as they are open source. As per recent reports, TikTok was suspected of selling its users’ information to China and other third parties. This led some countries to ban the app, such as India, and others are fighting legal battles with the company, such as the Trump administration. After an analysis conducted by a research group at Citizen Labs, they arrived at the conclusion that TikTok is likely no more of a threat to users than Facebook.[38] This is due to the massive user information that Facebook has stored over the years regarding all its users. All the apps collect similar data and use it to analyze the user’s behaviour to improve its algorithm, resulting in better performance of their respective app.

Messaging System within Each App

Each app uses a different messaging system, which depends on the language of the app and the goals of the developer. Instagram uses RabbitMQ which utilizes Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) to manage messaging systems.[30] RabbitMQ is an open-source tested technology that is used for queuing and messaging management.[30] On the other hand, Facebook uses two different systems to manage Facebook Messenger. Facebook uses Iris and Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) to support messaging between devices. Iris was developed in-house by Facebook as they needed an ordered queue implementation and the syncing of multiple devices.[39] Facebook messenger now merges Facebook chats, Instagram DMs and messages in your phone. Facebook can perform this task because the MQTT shows messages in chronological order and Iris is able to store and pull together all of the messages from your accounts.[39] Instagram and Facebook have direct messages enabled as a one sign-up for the apps. However, TikTok has a process that the user will have to go through the app to allow direct messaging. It is unclear which system TikTok uses for their messaging system, as it is a quite recent app and all of the information regarding this platform is not readily available. TikTok went a step further than Facebook and Instagram, as it has banned under-16 years olds from private messaging.[40] This was implemented by TikTok to increase their security and decrease online bullying and harassment, but many have found a way around it by falsifying their age. As of now, TikTok does not use any application to verify this information, but it is something that could be implemented soon.

Technologies Changing Social Media

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Targeted Marketing

Figure 4. Facebook Live Stream of user talking about suicidal thoughts and Facbook's algorithm in action [41]

Among other functions, such as detecting and deleting spam accounts, AI is used by platforms to help them prioritize content on the app based on the user’s preferences, browsing history and interactions with friends. As AI is able to identify and analyze users’ preferences, this is also used in the marketing sector.[42] Any business is able to create an advertisement for a specific audience and pay for a social media platform, such as Facebook and Instagram, to reach only the people who are more likely to engage and interact with the ad. According to Statista, Facebook ads and Instagram ads are the most popular platforms for marketers as they have access to a range of audiences and millions of users.[43] They are both very similar as they provide the opportunity for businesses to create ads with a series of questions and various delivery methods to optimize the businesses’ objectives. Once the marketing campaign is complete, businesses are able to evaluate the performance of the ads by analyzing different components, such as interactions with the ad, engagement, clicks and ROI (it needs to be calculated, but all the information is provided by the ad’s summary). Thus, AI helps marketing efforts to be effective and reduces the amount of time a business is forced to spend on each platform.[42]

AI is not able to use an emotional touch to determine what people want in specific periods of time.[44] For example, if a business wants to support communities that were affected by BC’s summer wildfires, AI is not able to identify this. However, it can sift through loads of data and, when the business attempts to find more information on how it can help, AI will support the decision-making by showing them the most relevant and used websites or ideas that others have adopted.

Facebook uses “protective detection” AI to detect suicidal posts before they are reported.[43] AI is able to do so by monitoring and tracking posts, comments, and other data to understand how users use slang, abbreviations, which helps AI to learn the context of each post. AI can also send resources and notify friends or first responders. Both Facebook and Instagram use AI to stop bullying, harassment and block people who are sharing sensitive content without consent.

Influencer Marketing

Figure 5. Influencer marketing statistics [45]

Influencer marketing is considered to be one of the most effective social media marketing strategies, particularly on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.[42] Businesses can connect with hundreds of thousands of followers (or more) without growing your following to that level. This means that businesses can hire an influencer, who's following is the target audience of a marketing campaign. In social media, an influencer is defined as a person who has gained credibility in a certain niche.[46] People watch videos of influencers recommending a product or service before buying it, or have even found something that they did not need through an influencer on social media. In fact, in a survey, 49%of customers said they relied on influencers for product recommendations.[46] In another, 74% of people said they relied on social media to make purchasing decisions; and it was found that 42%of people who saw influencer advertisements ended up trying a product or service recommended by those influencers.[46] This shows that many rely on social media influencers to buy many of their products. Thus, almost all brands are using influencer marketing as it is proven that by spending $1 on influencer marketing, brands create $18 in revenue on average.[46] During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen brands increase their spending on this marketing strategy and used influencers mainly on two platforms: TikTok and Instagram. Brands have realized that social media influencers are able to target audiences that they themselves may not have access to, leading to an increase in engagement and purchases.

Communication Mediums

Communication mediums have developed throughout the years from in-person to texting and emailing to sending direct messages on Instagram or using Snapchat. The main difference between emailing or texting and Snapchat is the time of a response. When a user receives an email, they are able to read and reply to it at a later time after dwelling on the response. However, when one is using Snapchat or Instagram, where the sender is able to see if one has viewed their message, one has a short time frame to respond. When Snapchat first started, one only had the context either available for only 24 hours, if it was a message or just a few seconds for videos and pictures. This created a sense of urgency to reply immediately. Thus, social media creates a sense of urgency that brands and consumers exploit.[42] Another example is WhatsApp, one of the first applications that allowed people from around the world to text and call each other without fees. Now, we also have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram connecting us with the rest of the world. Online payments are another example of how communication has changed. Brands can now post pictures of their products and services and tag their website while directing customers to their cart for an easy and seamless purchase. Users are literally a few clicks away from brands and purchases

Privacy in Social Media

Since the arrival of social networking sites in the early 2000s, they have expanded exponentially, with the biggest names in social media being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat since the mid 2010s. The massive influx of personal information that has become available online and stored in the cloud has put user privacy at the forefront of discussion regarding the database's ability to safely store any personal information. The extent to which users and social media platform administrators can access user profiles has become a new topic of ethical consideration, and the legality, awareness, and boundaries of subsequent privacy violations are critical concerns during the advancement of the technological age.

Social network security and privacy issues result from the large amounts of information these sites collect each day. Features that invite users to participate in messages, invitations, photos, open platform applications and other applications are often the venues for others to gain access to a user's private information. [47]

Four things you may not know about Social Media Privacy

Social media has changed the landscape of internet privacy, in part by creating a culture founded on sharing. Maintaining your social media privacy isn’t just about evaluating what you share — it’s also about learning who has access to your personal information.

Fortunately, there are steps one can take to protect their social media privacy. And the first step is learning how and where your privacy is being threatened. Here are four things someone may not know about social media privacy. [48]


1. Default privacy settings can expose your personal information

Social media privacy settings are rarely straightforward. The majority of social media platforms have default settings you may not be comfortable with. These default settings, also known as opt-out settings, rely on your passive consent to access your personal information. Instead of asking you to check a box that says you consent to have your information shared, opt-out settings require you to seek out and change a default setting. Other common opt-out privacy settings include agreeing to:

  • Allow your profile to show up in public searches
  • Alerts that display when you’re online
  • Have your cookies saved. [49]


2. The rise in data breaches puts your information at risk

Social media companies have access to a vast amount of personal information. The average social media platform can figure out your:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Birthday
  • Phone number
  • Location
  • Job


3. Your friends can compromise your social media privacy

Even if you tighten your privacy controls, you’re still not in control of your friends’ privacy settings. Social media companies and advertisers can still access your personal information through your friends’ profiles and posts. Your friends might let Facebook access their contacts list, for example, which can then expose your phone number and email address to trackers. Likes, comments, and the general exchange of information between you and your friends get encoded on each other’s profiles. [50]


4. Syncing apps spread your personal information across the web

Using your social media account to sign in to other online accounts may make internet logins easier, but it also limits your privacy. When you sync two apps or accounts, you give both apps permission to access the data on the corresponding platform. If you sign in to your favourite retail store using your Facebook profile, not only does Facebook get access to your account information in the online store, but the store also has access to your Facebook profile. This information swap spreads your personal details far beyond the two apps you’re using. That’s because most social media and advertising companies reserve the right to sell or share your information with third parties. [51]

Threats to Privacy on Social Media

Criminals are experts at tricking social media users into handing over sensitive information, stealing personal data, and gaining access to accounts users consider private. Following are the most typical social media threats. [52]

Data Mining

Everyone leaves a data trail behind on the internet. Every time someone creates a new social media account, they provide personal information that can include their name, birthdate, geographic location, and personal interests. In addition, companies collect data on user behaviours: when, where, and how users interact with their platform. All of this data is stored and leveraged by companies to better target advertising to their users. Sometimes, companies share users’ data with third-party entities, often without users’ knowledge or consent. [53]

Phishing Attempts

Phishing is one of the most common ways criminals attempt to gain access to sensitive personal information. Often in the form of an email, a text message, or a phone call, a phishing attack presents itself as a message from a legitimate organization. These messages trick people into sharing sensitive data, including passwords, banking information, or credit card details. Phishing attacks often pose as social media platforms. In August 2019, a massive phishing campaign targeted Instagram users by posing as a two-factor authentication system, prompting users to log in to a false Instagram page. [54]

Malware Sharing

Malware (malicious software) is designed to gain access to computers and the data they contain. Malware can be used to steal sensitive information (spyware), extort money (ransomware), or profit from forced advertising (adware). Social media platforms are an ideal delivery system for malware distributors. Once an account has been compromised (often by obtaining passwords through a phishing attack), cybercriminals can take over that account to distribute malware to all of the user’s friends or contacts. [55]

Botnet Attacks

Social media bots are automated accounts that create posts or automatically follow new people whenever a certain term is mentioned. A large group of bots can form a network known as a botnet. Bots and botnets are prevalent on social media and are used to steal data, send spam, and launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that help cybercriminals gain access to people’s devices and networks.

Instagram's Terms of Use

Do you use Instagram? Probably. Did you read the terms of use? Probably not. You’re not alone. Most people don’t read terms and conditions. So here are some key things to know and understand about Instagram.

1. You own your own photos, right?

Instagram claims it does not take ownership of its users’ content. But the terms state that the user grants Instagram a “non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, worldwide license to use their content”. What this means is that Instagram has all the rights of the original owner of the content – aside from the fact that it is not an exclusive licence. It is important that photographers are aware of this because if they sell an image under an exclusive licence, posting the image on their Instagram would breach that licence. [56]

2. Instagram can give away or sell your content

Instagram can sub-licence your content. This means that it could licence a user’s photograph or video to any third party, for free, without seeking permission, giving any notice or offering any payment to the user. It could also take a user’s content and let another company use that photo in exchange for a fee – which Instagram keeps. 8. Instagram makes money from ‘sharing’ Instagram, which was launched in 2010 and bought by Facebook in 2012, reaches over 500 million daily active users who share approximately 80 million photos a day. It is a lucrative business and it is expected to make USD $10.87 billion in 2019. The company’s key revenue stream is advertising – essentially, the more people who use and share on Instagram, the more money they make. [57]

3. You could be sued for copyright infringement

Even though the culture of social media is all about sharing, technically posting a photo or video that isn’t your own, would be contrary to the Instagram terms and could be an infringement of copyright. In the terms, users agree that they either own all the content they post or have sought permission to use it. Otherwise, it could be construed as copyright infringement. For example, Khloe Kardashian faced legal action (which was later dropped) after she posted a photograph of herself on her own Instagram which was owned by a photographic agency. [58]

The Future of Social Media

Immersive Technology

Figure 6. Immersive Technology [59]

Immersive technology is any technology that extends reality or creates a new reality by shutting a user out from the rest of the world and immersing them in a digital environment by leveraging the 360-degree space. The different types of immersive technology are all described as extended reality (XR), which include augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). [60]

This has applications in different domains such as gaming, healthcare, education, manufacturing, the workforce, marketing, and live events. [61]


Augmented Reality (AR)

AR projects computer-generated augmentations on top of the real world. [60] Users are not completely shut off from the real world, rather, AR extends their reality.

The most popular example of AR would be Snapchat Filters which overlay digital images onto the user’s face. Another familiar example would be the game Pokemon Go where users are able to walk around their neighbourhood with their mobile phones and find Pokemon that are overlaid on the environment around the user. [60]

IKEA has been able to leverage AR to allow users to test their products in real-time by placing it virtually in their homes using Apple’s iOS technology. IKEA’s app automatically scales products, based on room dimensions, with 98 percent accuracy. [62] This allows consumers to try out a product before purchasing it.


Virtual Reality (VR)

Figure 7. Sony PlayStation VR Headset [63]

VR has been widely known throughout the last couple of years. Through the use of a VR headset, the user is shut out from the rest of the world and immersed in a simulated environment and into an entirely different reality. This allows the user to experience real and imagined worlds as if they are really there. [60]

The pandemic has also changed how businesses operate, leading to a rise in remote working, a trend expected to outlast the virus crisis. This will lead to increased interest in remotely managed professional training programs made easier through VR products.

We’ve seen big companies, like Apple and Microsoft, investing in VR and are reportedly working on VR headsets and using VR to improve robotic interactions using cloud-based services. [64] Currently, Facebook’s Oculus Quest VR headset is leading in the VR market with a 38.7% market share, followed by Sony with 21.9%. [64] Sony has gained a large market share through their Sony PlayStation VR headset which was released in 2016. It's fully functional with the PlayStation and provides the ability to explore virtual reality worlds. We will begin to see VR headsets getting smaller, lighter, and incorporate more features. [65]

Mixed Reality (MR)

MR is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time. Mixed reality does not exclusively take place in either the physical world or virtual world, but is a hybrid of reality and virtual reality. [60] MR is similar to AR as they both overlay digital images on top of the user’s environment, however, MR used a pair of glasses to do so. There has been some debate that MR is arguably the best type of immersive technology in comparison to its counterparts as it “serves as the computer of the future.” [60]

Microsoft has developed their own MR product, HoloLens. On their website for the HoloLens, they state that MR is a “holographic computer” and has been used to boost organizational productivity in the manufacturing, health care, and education industries. [66] Some argue that MR will take extended reality to the next level as it continues to evolve. When it comes to computers and desktops, we might see a future where this traditional hardware is no longer used and the use of MR headsets is used to complete computer work instead. [60]

Immersive Technology Applications in Social Media

Figure 8. Simone Biles using AR in the 2020 Olympic Games [67]
Figure 9. Simone Biles using AR in the 2020 Olympic Games [68]

Shopping Tools and Ecommerce

Immersive technology has revolutionized the definition of “online shopping”. Stores are able to leverage technology to provide their customers with the ability to test out products before purchasing them. Instagram’s application of AR, for example, has provided their customers with the unique opportunity to see how a product would look like on themselves to help them with purchasing the product. [69] Other social media platforms, like Snapchat and Facebook, have been adopting this type of technology for their customers to enhance their experience.

While social media has long been used to generate engagement, the ability to generate sales is becoming a solid trend. Brands are now provided with the necessary tools to promote their products on social media to get sales. With advanced tracking tools such as the Facebook Pixel, it is possible to chart out the buyer’s journey. To simplify publishing on social media, brands can leverage platforms such as HubSpot. It allows them to create and publish their campaigns directly as well as schedule posts well in advance so that they can be published exactly when they want. According to Kleiner Perkins, about 55% of people who found a product on social media purchased it later. Among social media channels, Facebook is the leading platform for product discovery and Instagram and Pinterest are closely catching up in this trend as well. [69]

Advertising

Apple has been able to leverage AR for promoting the widely known subway system of New York City, which only recently added contactless payment, powered by Apple Pay. [70] Subway ridership has plummeted in 2020 due to the pandemic. Now that New York has opened back up, the city was looking to promote their subway in a new and innovative way. Since Apple Pay is not available in all 472 subway stations around the city, Apple has been able to show riders how to use Apple Pay with a unique AR experience. The web-enabled AR experience shows the user how to walk through a life sized NYC turnstile, walk through it, and take a trip over the Brooklyn Bridge. [70]

The 2020 Olympic Games in Japan have also provided tech companies with the opportunity to showcase their usage of immersive technology. Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and Instagram have all released their AR platforms to allow athletes to engage with their fans. [71]

Longer Video Content

Instagram and Tik Tok have made big changes recently that will be centred around longer video content. On June 30th, Instagram’s CEO announced that Instagram is “no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app” with a focus on video, messaging, shopping, and creators. He said that competition from TikTok and YouTube is fueling the increased focus on video. [72] This change will start showing recommended, full-screen videos on users’ feed alongside photos and videos from people they know. Instagram already shows recommended photos in feeds, and the platform allows for both 15- and 30-second video reels as well as longer live videos, which can last up to four hours but which viewers must watch in real-time. [72]

The moves are reflective of large social media companies adding and emulating features that have become popular with consumers and worked well for their competitors. When this change takes effect, Instagram will look more like TikTok, and TikTok will look more like YouTube. Instagram already took steps to add favourite features from other platforms when it debuted Snapchat-like stories in 2016. Twitter and Facebook both rolled out audio chatrooms earlier this year after the audio app Clubhouse became popular during the pandemic. [72]

TikTok has exploded to the top of the social media game with short-form videos, a modern interface and a scary-good algorithm. In May, it topped Sensor Tower’s top worldwide apps list with more than 80 million downloads. Instagram racked up just 11 million, in comparison. To keep up, Instagram has to convince its audience — and its advertisers — that its videos are worth some extra time on the app. [72]

Instagram’s CEO also states that video is driving “an immense amount of growth online for all the major platforms right now and it’s one that I think we need to lean into more.” A Cisco study states that by 2022, 82% of online content will be video content. [72]

Critics for Longer Video Content

Longer, more prominent video content is undoubtedly a good thing for content creators and social media advertisers. But the question now is if users stick around for longer video content on TikTok and more frequent video interruptions on Instagram? Another issue is whether consumers will want to indulge in these separate media platforms that are all trying to emulate the same longer video format. Photos have been universally known as the way we share our hobbies, and Instagram is the main platform for doing just that. Will it now become a platform that users don’t want to use and will get tired of? [73]

These types of changes to remain competitive might cost them many users who prefer one platform over the other. For users, this could also increase the number of advertisements and sponsored content, resulting in less control over what they see on their feeds. [73]

Blockchain-based Social Media

Figure 10. Blockchain Process [74]

Some users might decide to engage in Blockchain Social Media instead, which is nothing but decentralized platforms that allow the development of applications and smart contracts. The major benefit of such platforms is that they offer end-to-end encryptions for every interaction enabling individuals to have more privacy and control over their information. [75]

Social media platforms have always been under the limelight due to their privacy and security concerns. Since all platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, and others are centralized, they very well exploit the user’s content. Using Blockchain-based social media platforms ensures greater privacy and allows users’ right to express themselves freely. [75] Distributed ledger technology enables users to make transactions privately as only the sender and recipient know about the transaction’s contents. Blockchain enables people to express their opinion without the risk of punishment. [75]

Blockchain has introduced ‘Minds,’ a decentralized social media platform allowing users to permanently save their content, ensuring that nobody can ever delete it once published. The decentralized nature of Blockchain technology is the future of several fields, especially in social media, because of the fact there is no central organization or supervisor controlling value. [75]

Apart from security and privacy, content producers on social media platforms are losing a significant amount of money due to the involvement of third-party intermediaries. Blockchain-based social media platforms allow users to have complete control over where and how their content can be distributed. [75] The distribution capability gives them the improved capacity to profit from the production of passive income. Not only this, such decentralized platforms reward users for posting on their networks. Blockchain-based social media platforms may transform the way we interact on the internet. [75]

Is Social Media Here to Stay?

Social media has undoubtedly become integrated into our everyday lives, whether that be for simple tasks; such as turning to Facebook for local news or to Twitter for the latest gossip, or for complex tasks; such as checking WealthSimple to see how your long-term investments are doing. We have seen how technology has been leveraged to speed up the evolution of the world and has created an abundance of advancements. With many companies making large investments into technologies, we can only see these advancements becoming more adopted into our future and continue to grow. It can be argued that social media is simply the vessel that will evolve as technology becomes more and more complex, and will continue to look different as time progresses. Immersive technology creates a landscape for social media to continue to be immersive in our daily lives.


During COVID-19 we have seen how reliant we are on social media technologies and have observed their impact on our lives. Classes are hosted online on Zoom or Collaborate at SFU. These platforms were developed from its predecessor, The Palace, which allows students and teachers to continue their education without losing time. During the pandemic, companies also opted to have employees work remotely from home to keep everyone safe. These habits that we have developed in the last year and a half will not vanish, in fact, more companies may look into investing in platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. Companies not only saved money on rental space but have noticed that teams are able to get the same work done efficiently from the comfort of their home. Thus, whether one likes it or not, social media technologies are here to stay and they will play a bigger role in our lives as they develop. These have not only been important to keep us connected during the pandemic, but they have helped authorities relay information regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations via outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more. Algorithms were able to keep false news out of the public eye. Social media technology plays a big role in our daily lives and most are so reliant on them that we would not be able to go back to a simpler time.

Authors

Kara Gerke Shawna Ghirra Jasleen Kaur Harinder Singh
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

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