Social Media Evolution: The Past, Present, and Future of Social Marketing
By Bobby Johnson
August 8, 2023
By Bobby Johnson
August 8, 2023
60% of the entire world uses social media, and they use it for over two hours a day on average. This is an amazing statistic, considering that even just the term “social media” is less than 20 years old.
How did we get from those first flailing for-fun networks like Friendster all the way to a multi-billion dollar industry that shapes everything from politics and social trends to pop culture itself?
And why is social media ad spend in just the United States at over 207 billion this year?
Today we’re examining the past, present, and future of social media, and how brands and marketers have effectively embraced it to become part of consumer lives like never before.
“From the early days of MySpace to the rise of TikTok, the evolution has been revolutionary. The power of social media and the rise of digital marketing have reshaped how brands engage with their audience, those that are tapping into the digital landscape without a doubt have an upper hand.” – Alexa Sorensen, Digital Marketing Specialist, Inspira Marketing
There were earlier proto-social media platforms, beginning with BBS, chat rooms, and messageboards in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. But the real rise of social media began with Friendster, MySpace, and LinkedIn around 2003.
This trifecta of early platforms lead to the coining of the term “social media” in 2004, which would lead to an explosion of importance not only to marketers and brands, but to culture itself.
We put together a little social media timeline, because, well, it’s fun to see history laid out visually:
We know why people fell in love with social media so quickly: it offers connection on a local scale to family and friends, and creates the thrill of quasi-fame (and actual fame in some cases) on a global scale.
But how did brands learn to thrive so well on social media? How did social media forge new connections between consumers and companies, and why did they become so vital to marketing?
“Social media’s evolution has brought consumers closer to their favorite celebrities and public figures, fueling the influencer phenomenon and transforming consumer behavior.” – Emma Richards, Paid Media Specialist, Inspira Marketing
Marketing on social media is so titanically effective because of the psychological concept called “social proof.” The idea of social proof can be boiled way down to “monkey see, monkey do,” and is one of the ground-level underpinnings of human society.
Basically, if everyone in our group is doing a thing, we want to do it to fit in and to thrive. And vice-versa: if no one is eating the red berries on the bush, we’re compelled to also not eat them.
But this group survival dynamic is still part of our basic operating system. If everyone on social media is joking about one thing, we want to jump on. If we see someone we respect or like on Instagram using a product that seems relevant to us, we’re compelled to check it out.
In this way, marketers combine one of the oldest human urges with the newest communication methods to spread the word and foster adoption of their brand.
Influencers and user-generated content are still the strongest methods marketers have to leverage social proof.
Learn more about contacting and working with influencers:
Learn more about user-generated content:
“Brands now wield the power of real-time feedback, enabling them to be agile, customer-centric, and innovative. With more access to users than ever before, thoughtful and targeted engagement can sway consumers positively. On the other hand, mistargeted ads or pestering across channels can leave a bad taste in the consumers’ mouth. To stay ahead, positive relationships and swift adaptation are essential.” – Emma Richards, Paid Media Specialist
Every brand is chasing after virality, for the one post, the one reel that takes off and lifts them to the winner’s circle. And while creating viral content that lands perfectly on a trend (or even creates one) is more art than science, TikTok’s explosive growth shows us how social media is still evolving.
For one, TikTok’s success in the social media market comes primarily from its emphasis on video content. Visual content leads to better engagement. A recent study showed that viewers remember 95% of the message in a video over just 10% remembered from text. TikTok double-down on that data. Short-form video content has been so successful since then that Instagram and Facebook both copied the concept and made it a central pillar of their strategy.
Another reason for TikTok’s success is the way it can capture trends in so many channels. Video trends, music trends, meme trends, they’re all encouraged by the platform. Video trends obviously show up on your main, infinitely-scrolling feed. If many people are using a song in their reels, that song shows up during your own content creation process at the top of the list. Hashtags are encouraged and gather all trending content together.
TikTok was also popularized by Gen Z and Millennials, giving it broad reach and strong brand importance. Millennials are one of the most powerful blocks of consumers in the world right now, and Gen Z sets the trends. Together, concentrated on TikTok, you have a potent combination of social media content and spending power.
And lastly, TikTok just has one of the most thoroughly addictive algorithms on the market, customizing your feed for maximum personalized engagement on its “For You” page.
With TikTok also now expanding into a direct retail platform with its new “TikTok Shop Feature,” expect its dominance to only grow.
“Compassionate, authentic, and ingenuitive use of social media will help secure a sustainable and profitable future for brands.” – Emma Richards, Paid Media Specialist
Predicting the future is tricky at all times, and the mercurial nature of technology and popular social trends makes it even harder. But by looking back at the past, and at the most successful platforms in the present, we see where the ball might be going.
Follow the users. Social media platforms don’t exist without their user base: as we’ve learned recently, you can’t just buy a social media platform and then bask in wild success. Brands that keep an eye on where users are moving, and why, will always have an edge.
Bet on visual content. While there will always be a place for text (Reddit, Twitter, and Threads have made that clear), visual content creates the highest level of engagement. Video and image-based platforms will always be a strong choice.
Never stop monitoring. Brands that watch their engagement numbers are going to be more agile. As Sherlock Holmes would say: “Data, data, data, I cannot make bricks without clay.” Looking at the numbers isn’t enough: brands need a strategy for capturing and analyzing their data over time, to decide where their social media content is hitting and where it’s falling flat.
These numbers will show you what the trends are long before they show up in a business journal.
To learn more about social media brand strategy, or for help creating your own, reach out to Inspira Marketing today to talk to our team of experts.
Co-written by Alexa Sorensen, Client Engagement Executive
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