The Future of Content: Social

This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

This may seem obvious to most people, after all Facebook and Twitter and all the rest have basically taken over the world. Of course our content will be promoted on social media. Of course authors will use twitter. Of course readers will review books online.

Obviously content will be social.

But is that all? What could social really mean?

Beyond content that is shared, tweeted, digged, forked, thrown, liked, hated and reviewed, content will be integrated into life. The content we love will be a hub of our social lives, almost like the centers of tiny universes. You see, social is about a lot more than sharing, posting, and sending. It’s about trust, exploration, and human nature.

Narrative Identity

On the research part of my site, I talk a lot about the concept of “Narrative Identity“. In a quick review, here’s how the idea plays out. We each tell stories about ourselves, to ourselves. I may tell the story of a dashing man with an awesome wife who is an avid reader, innovator, storyteller, and researcher. He likes Star Trek, vintage video games, and cats. I have an entire history, and entire story built up of me. My wife’s story is different: football, thrillers, technology, running, and creative art. These elements, these attributes, form our personal identity narrative.

Without realize it, we try to tell this story to others through our speech, actions, clothing, and all manner of “performances.” My performative identity looks like Star Trek quotes, video game t-shirts, and jokes about cats. My wife wears running gear, colorful things she makes, and talks like a geek. We let people know who we are by the things we do, say, and wear. Others can figure out what we are trying to say because of shared cultural resources. T-shirts with Atari symbols are hints to others who know the symbol that “hey, that guy must be into classic games.”

I have written a lot on the topic, but a good place to start is by exploring Anime Fans.

In any case, it is the “shared cultural resources” that we are interested in. These resources are often content that people interact with. They build friendships around, and define themselves through, this content.

Virtual and Real Life

So, content is already social, even if we didn’t think of it that way. But, technology is allowing us to make content really social in cool ways. Virtual sociality allows people to tweet about their stories, ask questions about that new article, find others who are into Advanced Basket Weaving, or whatever floats our boat. We can connect with people around content, using this cultural resource to share ideas, laughs, and tears.

Non-Virtual Sociality brings these things into the real world. Every time you talk with a co-worker about the new Star Wars movie (I originally wrote this as Star Wars VII premiered), you are being social around content.

Social doesn’t just mean social media, it means “integrated into life and others.”

How Will Content Be Social?

Onto the fun stuff! What could social content look like?


Successful content in the future won’t just hope people tweet, but will be actively sharable. A campaign strategy, quotes and quips, images, and evocative topics will drive people to share with their virtual world. Even more important is a two-way discussion. People like to engage with each other and the content creators.


Reviews, bumps, boosts, dislikes, and favorites — all will be vital as the internet continues to change the way we consume content. Readers want to know what their friends, trusted experts, and even total stranger have to say about content.

Reader to Reader

Readers (or audiences) want to connect with other readers around content. Many times, an interest in a particular piece of content means shared interests in other areas. Any content that provides people with a way to be social beyond just the content itself will have a serious leg up.

Author and Reader

More than just “behind the scenes,” this means that the content creator(s) are part of the community targeted by the content. They live where the readers live (even if not geographically). When readers can be social with the author, magic happens.

Reader and Characters

This is my favorite. The idea that readers can interact with fictional characters is exciting. And, this doesn’t have to stay in the realm of fiction. Interacting with historical figures, experts in whatever field, and “guides” through a certain topic can bring content to an entirely new level.

And More Than We Can Imagine

This is just the start. The future is going to be awesome.

That wraps up five out of the six traits of “The Future of Content.”

  1. Mulit-access – We want our content delivered in many different ways.
  2. Multi-modal – We want content that includes several forms of communication (video, text, sound, etc)
  3. Interactive – We want to take control of our destiny (or content). It should respond to us. Personalized.
  4. Collaborative – Working together with readers and other creators to build something more than we could ourselves.
  5. Social – In real live and in cyberspace, social between authors, characters, and readers.

Next is the last up on the list, Immersive and Expansive.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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  1. This was very interesting. I should go back and read the other articles. – I notice don’t say whether the changes will be a positive or a negative thing. Don’t you think there is usually a lack of depth to most social media interactions?

    • Absolutely there is a lack of depth in social media interactions. Discussing the positives or negatives wasn’t really my goal in the series, but it would be interesting to go back and look at those for each of the six traits.

      I would say that a lot of the positive/negative aspect of social content depends on how the author and audience use the interaction. In my writing, I try to use social media interactions as a way to bring new people into the conversation or as a way to begin deeper interactions.

      And, as the article says, social media is only one aspect of social content. I think the really powerful connections exist around narrative identity. Fan interactions, “water cooler talk,” and meetups centered around content can provide (at least the beginnings for) deep sociality.

      I’m curious to know your thoughts.

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