the next-gen platform must be there for its users

Social networks and other online content sharing platforms have become such powerful tools of communication, even eclipsing the popularity of mainstream media today. In this day and age, a one-way communication channel where the audience is literally at the receiving end works no more.

Social platforms are granting a bit of power to each and every individual to have their say and to be heard by all. But how much “power” do we actually have?

More than ever before, user is “king”

Today, users want to have total control over the content they see and interact with, to use the apps on their own terms, whenever they want, with a method that best suits them. In their relationships with businesses, they expect all interactions – both online and offline – to be consistent and highly personalized. They are quick to move on if they are not satisfied with an experience.

The new generation of users not only expects – but demands – a seamless and frictionless relationship with all sorts of products and services they use. They prefer to self-serve, and they don’t want to talk to “customer service” and waste their time explaining. They expect companies to be flexible enough to interact in the ways they prefer, not the other way around.

Top needs of the future user include personalization, immediate response and problem solving, information readily available, flawless experience and a sense of a community and a culture. The future app is listening to users’ needs and innovating, not just creating faster versions of the same old thing.

Facebook has indeed started with a brilliant idea that greatly impacted the humanity and paved the way for many other social media networks. Facebook has now 2.2 billion monthly users, Twitter 330 million and Instagram 800 million worldwide monthly users. Regardless of their impressive popularity, we are seeing more and more people taking breaks from social media to focus more on their personal lives and/or to preserve their mental health.

Social networks began as means of connecting with friends. Today, many of the psychological and emotional challenges associated with social media are related to the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Does this mean that social networks failed to catch up with their users’ needs and expectations in global? What was the turning point that switched them from socializing tools to prevalent addictions that people need to take a break from?

Facebook is all about exploiting user data and turning it into cash

It is no secret that Facebook earns by offering targeted advertising opportunities to companies and small businesses. In fact, over 98% of its revenue derives from advertising. The remaining 2% is comprised of payments (in-app purchases of Facebook games), sales of Oculus Rift (VR headset owned by Facebook) and others.

The primary advantage of Facebook’s self-serve advertising platform is the granular targeting features. Over the past few years Facebook has increased their targeting capabilities, enabling advertisers to place their ads in front of the audience that matches their target buyers’ specific demographic and geographic criteria, interests, and even recent life events. Targeted advertising on Facebook has become so uncanny that it feels like we’re being surveilled. As the targeted ads are getting more accurate – and creepy, it’s more important than ever to understand their system.

Using your online activity and the information you provided about yourself, Facebook puts you in a specific demographic group and advertises to you. What you and your friends like helps determine what everyone on your friends list sees for ads. Any ad you click on then increases the likelihood of another similar ad.

When an advertiser creates an ad on Facebook, they can select all sorts of parameters so they reach the right people. A simple example of a parameter would be: “Engaged, lives in New York, between the ages of 20-30.” That’s simple, but advertisers can actually narrow that down to insane specifics, like “Engaged, lives in New York, between the ages of 20-30, earns between 80k-100k annually, likes swimming, goes to the gym and drives a BMW.” If your profile fits those parameters, you’ll likely see the ad.

The fact that Facebook uses the information we provide in our profiles and activity to target us with ads might be old news. However, what you might not know is that Facebook also uses their partnerships to get the information on what you buy in real life stores to influence and track the ads you see. To do this, Facebook is combining the information they have with information from their partners – data collection companies. They sell this data to advertisers or corporations to give them a chance to reach people both on and off Facebook.

After all, it doesn’t matter how Facebook achieves its frighteningly accurate ads and suggestions, the end result is the same: an uncomfortable, privacy-invasive user experience. This lack of transparency about what is really going on behind the Facebook curtain is what can lead users to jump to completely justified conclusions for creepy ad phenomena.

But Zuckerberg’s testimonies have made it clear that he is not listening to users’ legitimate feedback and concerns here. During his testimony, he said that Facebook users prefer a “relevant” ad experience – that is, a highly targeted one.

If that was the case, Congress would not have called Facebook’s CEO to testify on privacy concerns. And recent polls confirm that, while some users like targeted ads, the majority of users do not consider targeted ads “better” than traditional forms of advertising, and 63% would like to see less of them. (Source)

Twitter has a serious abuse problem and doesn’t seem to do anything about it

Every single day on Twitter, people encounter abuse and harassment in some form or another. If they are not targeted for their gender, skin color, sexual orientation, occupation or so, people are targeted for their opinion on a certain topic that they have shared on Twitter publicly.
Plenty of marginalized people are subjected to harassment and abuse on the popular social media platform, and regardless of all the complaining, reporting and discussions on it, nothing has really been done to fix it.

There are people who have gone up against their abusers only to have their accounts suspended. At the same time, abusers themselves were left to continue their attacks against other people.

“Lauren Chief Elk is a Twitter user who advocates for social justice issues. She used to tweet under the account ChiefElk until it was suspended for violating Twitter rules. She had the “nerve” to go up against someone who was repeatedly abusing her on the platform, and instead of taking action against the abuser, Twitter punished Lauren for what was reportedly considered abuse against her abuser. Ironic, right?” (Source)

When Donald Trump basically declared war on North Korea, many asked why the tweet wasn’t removed and his account suspended. In a series of tweets, the official Twitter policy account said that the tweet was left to stand because of its “newsworthiness.” It was considered to be a tweet of “public interest.”

Yes, Twitter has terms of service that we all agree to when we sign up to use the platform. But there is no transparency in the interpretation of those rules, and there seems to be no transparency in just how or against whom the rules will be applied and enforced – and against whom they won’t.

Furthermore, when an abuser or troll is suspended, there is nothing that stops that person from creating multiple accounts from which to continue the abuse. He or she can have an infinite number of accounts and infinite ways to inflict harm. This is something Twitter has either not taken into consideration or does not consider to be a real issue. Trolls, after all, add to the overall number of users on Twitter, and the number of users on the platform is what matters – for better or for worse.

Tumblr’s censorships went against their initial brand promise

Tumblr’s censorship that started with subtle content restrictions in 2013 and escalated with the ban on adult content in December 2018 is a profound misunderstanding of who their audience is and has always been.

Tumblr was the place where users grasped the true meaning of freedom of expression and body positivity. For queer, overweight people, people of color, and everyone else who strived for free and uncensored expression of who they are, Tumblr was a savior of sorts.

In the words of David Karp back in 2014 “People use Tumblr to write, to draw comics, to share GIFs, to crush on unconventionally attractive celebrities, to celebrate cultural detritus in both ironic and unironic ways, to share and debate their political beliefs, to explore their identities, and to find communities of all kinds that I never knew existed. I may have launched Tumblr, but our users have carried it to where it is today.”

Tumblr’s community is largely made up of self-expression seekers who first flocked to Tumblr precisely because of their advocating for free Internet, free speech and self-expression. Anti-censorship was generally understood to be one of Tumblr’s core principles.

In 2013, Tumblr CEO David Karp was on The Colbert Report, touting the company’s open policy: “We’ve taken a pretty hard line on freedom of speech, supporting our users’ creation, whatever that looks like, and that’s just not something we want to police.”

In 2014, few tech companies did more to fight for net neutrality than Tumblr and CEO David Karp spoke passionately about the importance of the open web: “I couldn’t have created Tumblr without net neutrality,” he said for Politico. (Source)

Three years and two corporate takeovers later, however, Tumblr has become a non-existent voice in the “Keep the Internet free” movement, while much less subtly censoring the content that doesn’t pass their new “filter”.

Tumblr’s ban on adult content that took place as of December 2018 is simply a further extension of increasing controls on what their users are allowed to consume on Tumblr. What’s funny (or sad) is that they are not only going against their own identity and “DNA”, but also against their loyal user base. They don’t seem to care how their users feel about their censorship crusade.

The fact that a company has the power to force an eclipse on what it deems to be inappropriate is a huge problem. It just reinforces the social restrictions most of Tumblr’s users sought to escape in the first place.

I want to break free!

Being censored and living in the “echo chamber” while not receiving a single penny from the media owners that exploit the personal data we share and turn it into cash is the truth we’re living on social media today. It’s not a healthy environment and it’s not sustainable.

The next generation of users will be willing to share more of their personal information for more convenience and less friction. They will prefer proactive activity from media owners if it’s a valuable, trustable experience.

Today’s users want all these things but have realistic expectations. They know that social networks aren’t set up to deliver this type of experience. The difference is that new generation of users will demand it. They won’t be so accommodating. Media owners won’t get a second chance to positively engage.

Apps can easily be copied. Technology becomes outdated quickly. Features can be improved. However, passion, enthusiasm and responsibility for the user can’t be forced. A cohesive, user-centric culture in which all employees and systems are there to take care of the user is what matters the most.

Well, we have built phlow because change has to start somewhere. Our users must be allowed to express themselves and speak their truth in an open and uncensored way. They must be free to tell the stories that mean something to them and to share them with all those to whom their stories are relevant.

phlow is the new medium of communication that revolves around its users. Our goal is to help our users access meaningful stories that are close to their interests, to get recognized for their talent instead of their networking skills and, ultimately, to get rewarded for their content contribution to our platform and the community.

Jovana is a marketer with a university degree in International Marketing and a postgraduate degree in Marketing Management. She has almost 10 years of experience in marketing jobs in various industries and business types and a proven track record of over 50 successfully delivered projects related to digital marketing and business growth.
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