This month, competition in the highly-coveted mobile messaging space became fierce. In response to the rising popularity of standalone messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp and LINE, Google launched Google Hangouts, taking personal conversations out of the existing Google+ platform and unifying all chat systems in a brand new app. In response, Facebook confirmed just last week that they'll be testing an option to send private messages directly from the status bar in an effort to increase conversations between friends that will boost return visits to the site.
Some in the tech community question whether this messaging battle signals the end of social networking as we know it. As TechCrunch co-founder Keith Teare notes, smartphones are inherently "good at being social, integrating text, voice, video and images in an endless number of apps that can serve a user's needs, all without the need for a web-based social network." Which begs the question: are larger social networking platforms becoming obsolete? Will they evolve into nothing more than beefed-up messaging apps? Our behavior on social suggests otherwise.
We spend 82% of our mobile media time in apps, and Facebook alone accounts for 23% of that in-app time. Within Facebook, 40% of our time is spent in Newsfeed where we consume, share and comment on photos, news stories, status updates and videos. While web-based networking skeptics like Teare rightly address our increasing desire for direct communication in the social space, they overlook our corresponding need for indirect communication and content discovery.
Social networks like Facebook, G+ and Twitter allow us to connect with a variety of different groups - distant acquaintances, brands, celebrities, social movements, our home towns - through shared content experiences. These experiences enable us to discover new things about our communities and ourselves. And they allow us to feel close to people and groups we may never intend to interact with on a personal basis.
The most successful brands and influencers on social media respect the nature of social discovery. They figure out what kind of experience they want to create for their fans and followers, and do it through the content and information they share, allowing products and sales agendas to take a back seat.
I sign into my own social profiles precisely because they boost me beyond my circle of nearest and dearest to a global, more eclectic network of content and conversations. What about you? What would you miss if you could only share and consume content with your closest friends?