Earlier this year, for the first time in the company’s nearly two-decade history, Meta reported a decline in Facebook’s daily active users. Just last month, the company saw yet another first, announcing a quarterly drop in revenue from the previous year.
While Facebook is just one example, there’s no denying the social networking landscape is changing. From “anti-Instagram” apps like BeReal that focus on authenticity, to more direct social apps like Telegram and Discord that cater to building communities, new ways of forming online connections are continually emerging, driven by Gen Z.
In my role at Pocket Worlds, the vast user base of our virtual worlds provides me a front row seat to how these trends are evolving in real time. Using that knowledge and current industry trends as a case study, I’m hoping this piece sheds some light on why I believe the metaverse is creating the future of social connectivity.
The vast influence of Gen Z
Currently accounting for over a quarter of the global population, Gen Z plays a tremendous role in shaping culture and possesses vast buying power, holding $360 billion in disposable income. Given this, companies and brands are investing top resources into understanding this generation and tailoring their business strategies accordingly.
As these outputs continue to materialize, we increasingly see the vast influence this generation has on our world and its future. From advertising and marketing to politics and Wall Street, a common thread is that this generation is seeking authenticity and genuine connections. For example, where billboards, magazines and television ads used to reign supreme, because Gen Z places higher value on the opinions and recommendations of actual people, we’re seeing influencer campaigns and tangible experiences take their place.
The metaverse: The next gen of social media
Whether inspired by the pandemic, or simply the byproduct of a generation spending an increasing amount of time online, everyone is seeking new ways to evolve their digital interactions. Where follower count once took precedence, a new emphasis has been placed on community and on platforms that foster meaningful, genuine connections. With that in mind, the metaverse is quickly becoming the next iteration of social media. Here’s why:
Online ≠ IRL
Unlike early social networks, these new communities don’t start with friends. They’re created by strangers with shared interests that blossom into something more meaningful. Look at Roblox or the Sandbox. Every day millions of people create a custom, online persona and connect with other users in fully virtual settings — all while knowing full well they may never meet IRL. That doesn’t negate the importance of these relationships, however, as these platforms provide users autonomy over the way they express themselves and interact with others.
Self expression is key
In a recent poll of 1,000 Gen Zers, over half reported that social media was the only place they could truly be themselves. In addition, 58% said their online persona helped them feel more comfortable in their own skin. So if someone’s online identity serves as an extension of their real identity, social platforms will need to be increasingly customizable. Online gaming and metaverse platforms Everskies and Highrise are excellent examples of where attention is shifting, as they provide users control over the way they present themselves, both in their avatars and environments. We’re seeing that static, one-size-fits-all platforms no longer suffice, with a customizable metaverse taking their place.
It’s all about experiences
In lieu of static posts or videos with minimal ways to engage, the metaverse allows users to connect over tangible, shared experiences. It provides an avenue for people to interact and form connections deeper than a like or a follow. Not only that, the growing emphasis on authenticity has brought user-generated content to the forefront; those who interact with the experience want creative control over the experience. Again, in looking at Roblox specifically, users are spending an average of 150 minutes building and engaging with in-world experiences; research shows that a quarter of the population will spend one hour in the metaverse within the next four years.
What does the future hold?
The future of social connectivity lies in the metaverse and with it come infinite possibilities for personal, professional and economic expansion. While I’ve touched on ways the metaverse will fill a gap culturally, it also opens doors for a safer, more private online presence, without the scrutiny and negativity that come with existing social platforms.
If the growth of the metaverse follows a similar trajectory to the growth and adoption of traditional forms of social media, we’ll soon see an increasing number of brands and existing communities enter the metaverse and use its technology to form deeper, direct-to-consumer relationships. What exactly will that look like? Only time, and Gen Z, will tell.
Anton Bernstein is co-founder and CEO of Pocket Worlds.