(Originally published on AdAge)
Social media has a funny way of weaving itself into everything: marketing, products, technologies and even the mundane rhythms of our daily lives. Memes become fodder for morning talk shows and dances on TikTok make their way into video games and music videos. Social media content can fuel communities that impact the larger culture. And now, with blockchain technology on the rise, the nature of that impact could change.
That’s because blockchain creates a decentralized database that no single person or entity can change or alter without the consensus of the larger participating group. This consensus format is also what makes it so secure, allowing it to act as a store of value for things including cryptocurrencies and digital goods such as NFTs— a game-changer in a digital world where value was traditionally hard to quantify.
Blockchain technology also means that in digital spaces such as the metaverse the things you own follow you from place to place. Suddenly, your digital selves and objects have a real-world sense of ownership anchored to your digital self—not the digital spaces you inhabit. Without a lot of imagination, it’s easy to see how blockchain’s ability to give a sort of real-world tangibility to our virtual shelves could completely change the way we think of and use social media, from how we buy things to where we work and play to the communities that form around each platform.
We are already seeing new communities emerging from blockchain—and marketers are watching closely. Whether its gamers walking around Decentraland, sports fans and collectors playing the NFT horse racing game Zed Run or buying Top Shot NFTs, or hobbyist investors talking on Discord about the latest cryptocurrency, these communities are opportunities for brands to connect with people who may be interested in what they are selling or doing.
The rate of advancement in the blockchain space is mind-blowing, so fully keeping up is impossible. However, like anything else, it’s important to spend time educating yourself—especially if you are a social media marketer already dealing with an accelerated rate of change driven by new platforms, updates in technologies and evolving audience expectations. The social norms, capabilities and audience expectations of these two formats are wildly different, yet they are almost surely going to intersect, with social media content and marketing strategies evolving in their wake.
Where is all this headed? An honest person will tell you it’s really too early to tell how blockchain will ultimately change our relationship to social. But that doesn’t mean that brands shouldn’t start to pay attention to a few key areas.
A new dimension
When we think about social networks today, we often think about linear, 2D platforms. Someone posts an image or video and other people can comment on it. The rules are simple and decidedly straightforward. But with the efficiencies of blockchain comes the promise of a new type of 3D world—a metaverse with the expansive reach of social but where (with the help of NFTs) actions and consequences have real world value and weight.
As social platforms evolve, we will likely move off of a 2D plane and into 3D worlds that will have a profound impact on the type of content that people are consuming and brands are creating. I don’t just mean a demand for more 3D, multisensory content and deeper storytelling, but perhaps even a more fundamental shift in the balance of social platforms.
Two of the social platforms hosting the most NFT conversations are Discord and Clubhouse. It’s interesting that new, blockchain-based technology has found a home on these relatively new social platforms. Not that there isn’t NFT conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere, but the most meaningful conversations within the strongest communities tend to take place within Clubhouse especially. This may signal a new marketing paradigm that will help some newer platforms rise and cause other mainstays to shift their focus.
All about the money
Another area where we can expect to see social content change because of blockchain is the proliferation of NFTs and the ability to monetize a piece of digital art or a digital collectible. Many of the platforms, most recently Twitter, have already conceptualized a future where social allows users to more directly monetize their audiences. This would add a new wrinkle where each piece of content can be assigned a concrete value and sold.
Because of this, the way people think about creating and posting photos, artwork and writing might change as they look to turn their social content into NFTs and monetize in other ways. This new incentive could completely upend audience expectations, with brands facing new norms and even wider competition for attention.
A new velvet rope
Blockchain technology could even impact the thinking behind how everyone builds their communities. Imagine if more creators or brands began to make their own NFT tokens to give out, sell or otherwise divvy up among fans and followers. It would create a level of exclusivity and controlled access, segmenting the communities even more than they already are.
Remember, NFTs are more than a meme-selling fad. They are smart contracts. Because of this, an NFT can represent more than just the piece of content. The NFT can be a ticket to a fashion show, it can dictate future royalties from the sale of the NFT, it can be access to an invite-only Discord or Slack channel—or something else entirely.
For a brand, this level of blockchain-controlled community building could result in major shifts in the way that they create content to serve these communities.
Brands should be experimenting now. They should be looking at the new opportunities due to blockchain technology and thinking about how it has the potential to change their business from either a marketing perspective or as a core revenue driver. And although it’s hard to truly say the impact that will have on social as we know it, it’s important for brands to begin the process of education and adaptation soon, so that they can be innovators instead of followers.