No Turning Back: AI Is the Future of Social Media

By Geoff Gates

Just as we've witnessed massive shifts in social media since its early days, we find ourselves at another pivotal moment in the still nascent existence of social media — one that I believe has the potential to completely disrupt what we consider social media to be. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is fundamentally changing the way we interact with the internet, and in the coming years it's going to shape social media, and the way people use it, more than any other variable.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have leveraged algorithms, or sets of instructions, to serve users content. These platforms continuously analyze their algorithmic performance and optimize. But with AI, machine learning happens within the system itself. Instead of continuously telling the program what to do, the AI itself determines the best course of action and acts.

Here's what marketers must understand to succeed in the new social landscape.

AI will make follower counts obsolete. With AI powering what content gets seen, the number of users following a brand or creator won't have as large a performance impact as it has in the past. We've seen this effect, before Tik Tok mastered it, with YouTube. Subscribers to a YouTube channel tend to make up a very small portion of total views of any given video because YouTube's algorithms are very good at serving users relevant content.

To put it plainly, legacy accounts will see impressions plummet if they aren't producing compelling, timely content. Marketers will have to update their KPIs and communicate upwards to leadership that followers are no longer a measurement of success.

Competition for eyeballs will skyrocket. Content performance on social media will be more democratized than ever. I don't stand a shot at mass exposure on a platform like Instagram that prioritizes influencers and celebrities with large followings. But on Tik Tok, with AI that grades content individually considering advanced audience insights, everyone has a chance to take off. In fact, we see it happen all the time on the platform. Because of this, we're going to see a large rise in the number of micro-creators, or creators who don't have large audiences but still gain large reach.

In order to keep up, marketers are going to have to increase spending on social and content resources. Platform experts will be needed, paired with content specialists who know what content works, where. Remember, quality content is what drives results. Platforms are simply the delivery method.

Speed and risk will become huge factors in achieving success. The window to catch attention is getting smaller and smaller, and in the future, it will be more important than ever to go where the eyeballs already are instead of trying to get eyeballs onto your owned channels. Trends used to last years, now they last weeks, sometimes days. If a brand or creator is late to the party, they're going to miss it completely.

This approach comes with inherent risk. Accounts that participate will have to be diligent in doing their research before commenting on or participating in conversations. It takes years to build trust and only one mistake to lose it. Put a timely process in place for moments such as this, one that goes through multiple people and that takes a critical look at the context of the moment, but also one that allows for enough speed to capitalize on the moment.

Content production quality will decrease. Because of the new demands for speed, marketers will be forced to capture content for social media in scrappier ways. Cell phone footage and less-produced videos are going to be the new norm due to speed and access. It's difficult and costly to mobilize a production crew. The most successful marketers will be the ones who understand the data, act quickly, and prioritize story over production. And to clarify, production quality decreasing does not mean that the quality of the content decreases. You can have a fantastic piece of content filmed on a cell phone. Marketers will need to embrace this approach to stay relevant and continue to get results.

We're going to continue to see the evolution of AI's involvement in social media, and I for one am very excited to see where it goes. Unfortunately, the platforms who don't keep up will become obsolete. After all, we only have so many hours in the day to scroll.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Geoff Gates is creative director of social strategy and content at Boathouse.