The Future Of Social Is Local
Veronica Lin, Head of User Experiences at Playsee

Social media has traditionally been viewed as a means of making the world more connected. It’s not uncommon for the average user to have at least some friends or followers who live in a different part of the country or even a different part of the world. In essence, from traditional social media you are connected online, but the connection remains a virtual relationship.

In addition to the recent reporting of a proposed TikTok ban, and the curated, inauthentic nature of Instagram, social media are users craving a more authentic, deeper community connection.

Influencer MarketingAccording to an American Survey, 69% of Americans say that new friendships are made in places they visit frequently, such as the gym, at work, or a coffee shop. Location matters, connections made online become realized in the real world where we live.

As a result of the pandemic, there’s a social media countertrend gaining momentum: social media users craving more in-person interactions and wanting to create and foster meaningful relationships in the real world. A Recent Playsee survey found that 72% of social media users wish they had more face-to-face social interactions, and 78% would use a social media app that encouraged them to try new things in their community.

We’re continuing to see higher demand for authentic experiences in the form of local connections, such as people in a city or town meeting new friends who have similar tastes in food, outdoor recreation or arts and crafts. As users seek these in person experiences, they are turning for suggestions from people in their neighborhood. Our research shows that social media users trust people in their community more than an influencer 34% vs 26.6%. These fellow community members often serve as trusted figures for recommendations, even more so than online influencers or celebrities.

Similarly, businesses will want to promote themselves more locally in a manner that makes them even more relevant to local community members. For example, there may be three grocery stores in a town, but which one do locals choose and why? Is it the store that’s closest to them? The one that provides the deepest discounts? The one with the best meat and produce? Or the one that provides the best customer experience?

Users and businesses have realized that the virtual world will never replace the real world experience. Consumers are researching items of interest online, but they still want to see, touch or try on the items in a brick-and-mortar store. Or perhaps they will visit a store, try something on there but delay the decision and purchase the item online later. This “hybrid retail” approach is now focused on providing customers with seamless online to offline integrated experience.

The Metaverse Remains a Niche

Augmented and virtual reality or XR have been hyped for several years and yet, their adoption hasn’t been as smooth and steady as expected. The same is true of the metaverse.

Management consultant Geoffrey Moore and Gartner explain this phenomenon similarly: The early adopter stage is all about blue sky benefits and opportunities. Never mind the risks, limitations or other drawbacks. That initial stage is followed by a “chasm” or “trough of disillusionment.” This is the stage when reality sets in. The product, service or experience isn’t perfect after all. It has limitations and drawbacks that weren’t so apparent earlier.

This is precisely what’s been happening with the metaverse lately. However, technology like the metaverse will still have to mature in the medium to long run, but it is not the place consumers will want to spend most of their time. In order for technology used in the metaverse or alike to succeed, they must be able to combine the virtual or digital experience with the physical in a seamless and meaningful way.

The Definition Of “Influencers” Is Evolving

Social media has created a new class of celebrities called “influencers or creators.” Influencers often have a lot of followers, and they’re known for being thought leaders in different specialized fields such as fashion trends, lifestyle or outdoors activities. Some have followers from many parts of the world while others appeal more to a smaller geographic audience.

This year, we’ll see the rise of smaller and more local groups who combine their online and offline experiences. We’ll also see more adoption of technology that personalizes both online and offline experiences more seamlessly and effectively at the local level. Playsee’s recent survey discovered that nearly three-fourths of consumers use social media to find local activities and meet new people.

That way, classic car enthusiasts can do more than just talk online or interact in the metaverse, they can meet with other classic car enthusiasts that live nearby.

The business world will react to this trend by doing a better job of catering to local audiences. For example, grocery store chains already alter the mix of inventory based on the budgets, tastes and desires of the local community. They’ll go a step further to create more connections with the local communities and meet their needs.

Meanwhile, a new class of influencer will emerge: one that has a growing local following. Local influencers will be the go-to people who tell their local community and visitors something about the area, be it restaurants, shops, or dog-friendly parks.

Authenticity Matters

Influencers rise to fame when they have something to say about something specific, like a weekly take on fashion-forward trends. The most loyal followers tend to become even more loyal over time because the influencer becomes increasingly familiar – so familiar, in fact, it feels as though that influencer is a friend or an extended part of the follower’s family. Yet, few followers ever meet their favorite influencers in person and truly relate to them.

However, that’s not true with local influencers.

Local influencers and locally focused social networks serve as the glue bridging the digital and the physical. For example, a local chef might create a video that explains how to make one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Now imagine seeing one of those videos and being curious about the restaurant because you haven’t been there. Alternatively, if you have been there, perhaps you’ve never experienced that signature dish because you’ve never tried it.

Maybe you tried making the dish after watching the video, but it didn’t turn out quite right. So, the next time you patronize that restaurant, you make a point of asking the chef to reveal her secret. This example shows that localized authenticity is much more powerful than being simply authentic.

Whilst authenticity is always critical, that’s what users prefer now, irrespective of the social network, at the local level, location specific authenticity is even more important because the virtual and physical are intertwined.

Bottom Line

Make no mistake: the big social networks aren’t going away anytime soon, but the landscape is shifting to a stronger local focus, and the trend will accelerate in 2023. The reason: users crave social interaction in the physical world, but they don’t want just any experience. They want authentic relationships with influencers, their community, and they expect influencers to be their authentic selves with content that they can relate to.

Meanwhile, businesses will discover many other opportunities to raise their visibility and attract new customers by interacting with the local community in entirely new ways. In doing so, they’ll enjoy greater customer loyalty and the financial benefits that come from that loyalty.