How to Predict any Trend in Social Media or Tech
The world of social media and tech is constantly changing and evolving. There always seems to be a brand new trend that could potentially disrupt everything. But there is also a lot of bullshit and buzzwords out there and not every trend will be the “next big thing” that takes off the way an industry of social media experts predicted. So how can you get better at predicting which trends will catch on and which trends will fail?
To answer this question, it’s worth looking back at the check-in; the once “next big trend” in social media and tech. Cast your mind back a few years back when “location” first became a buzzword. Google was dominating local search and trying to make Google Maps more social with products like Latitude. Foursquare was battling Gowalla to become the number 1 check-in app…and then there was a little app called Burbn.
Like Gowalla and Foursquare, Burbn was just another check-in app. All of these apps were all built on the assumption that people care about where their friends are at a given moment in time. But as time would go onto show, most people don’t care about where their friends are. Unless it’s somewhere cool but we’ll get to that…
With so much competition in the check-in space, Burbn would famously pivot into a little photo sharing app called Instagram, amass over 200 million users, popularise the selfie and get acquired by Facebook for $1billion.
Gowalla would also get acquired by Facebook but that was more an aqui-hire for Facebook to get more engineers. And Foursquare would become the best local search company in the world, but would never become a viable, mainstream social network. And the check-in? The check-in would ultimately become a feature that the majority of social media users seldom use.
Foursquare, Gowalla and Instagram – all three companies started at the same point but only one achieved massive success. Why?
My theory is that all three companies got the initial insight right but only one got the “expression” of that insight right. People do want to tell their friends that they are somewhere awesome. But instead of being a pin on a map, people want to show themselves being awesome, at awesome places, doing awesome things.
The mobile photo was the next big trend, not the check-in. For users, “location” wasn’t about metadata, it was part of the experience that they wanted to share, visually.
While this may seem like just another bit of “ancient” social media history, I believe it gives us everything we need to build a framework to predict whether something will be the next big trend in social media or tech.
It doesn’t matter if it is wearable tech or ephemeral messaging, whether a trend will succeed or not will depend on how it answers the following questions:
- Will this thing catch on with normal people? Will it catch on with enough people? Or will it catch on within a specific niche of people? A yes to anything at this stage is a minimum requirement.
- Is this thing worth worth the effort? Does it create enough value or sufficiently improve an experience? The bigger the yes at this stage, the more potential there is for the idea to succeed.
- Is this trend based on a compelling-enough insight about human behaviour? Is the execution or expression of that insight right or is there a better way to do the same thing? If there is a better way, try find it…
Just because something is technically feasible, doesn’t mean it is a good idea or will catch on with the masses. Today, ideas can come from anywhere, not just programmers or tech people. A few weeks ago at the SnapScan launch, Standard Bank spoke about a new trend where companies are breaking down the silos between R+D and the rest of the business, working with behavioural psychologists and crowdsouricng ideas to get fresh perspectives. But if you are looking for the next big thing, I think the above questions are a good place to start.