There is no denying that social media has had a profound impact on many aspects of society. Well beyond its original intent of connecting individuals, it has transformed the way people, organizations, brands, businesses and governments communicate. It has not only become a new means of self-expression, but has enabled individuals and organizations to reach new audiences, change the world around them and, some say, even start revolutions.

Social media leaves a veritable tsunami of data behind, the power and dangers of which we’re only beginning to grasp, never mind really understand. It’s fair to say that there are few, if any, factions of society that have not been affected by social media in some way; for many, it’s been a seismic shift.

The reaction across the world has varied. Many are embracing social media while some are intimidated by it; others are trying to control it. But almost all are feeling its effects. As a result, we need to better understand it, as it’s likely to play an increasingly significant role in society. To that end, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media has compiled a collection of commentaries on 10 aspects of social media that we’ve deemed to be important. People on the Council hail from a broad range of perspectives including industry, government, NGOs and academia, from all corners of the world, so naturally, our perspectives are quite varied.

That said, given the far-reaching, fast-changing nature of social media, one thing we all agreed on is that identifying the top 10 trends in social media is a bit of fool’s errand. Instead we’ve chosen to focus on 10 dynamics that are highly relevant and likely to have a high impact on a broad swath of society in the future. Each of these topics will be covered in more detail in a blog post published this month.

1. The impact of time

Shugrue adjusts clock's hand on Seth Thomas post clock at Electric Time Company in MedfieldThere’s no question that social media occupies a significant proportion of our digital lives. At the same time, many of the newer social applications impose limits, either in terms of time or word limitations, and these are changing the way we communicate. @linda_abraham explores the question of the impact of time, from six-second videos and 140-character limits to long Netflix binges. What are the implications for both the creation and consumption of content?

  2. The biased web 

A spider-web in the Kosovo village of AcarevaSocial communication has made it incredibly easy, fast and inexpensive to communicate with people and audiences we never would have been able to otherwise. In that sense, it brings society an openness it has never known before. However, is it really as open as it seems? Most people don’t understand that there are a lot of algorithms and biases at play in the background that determine not only on the content we see, but also the flow of content we create. @zephoria leads a discussion on how these behind the scenes mechanisms work, and how individuals can become more educated about them.

 3. The visual web

A boy uses an iPad to play a game, which is projected onto the Fiesp building, during the "Play!" exhibition in Avenida PaulistaAn increasing amount of social communication has become visual. A world that began as standalone words has given way to both pictures and video. In addition, these data are by nature “unstructured” and more difficult to search using traditional methods that were built for structured data, like sentences or numbers. As we move from text based communication to a stronger focus on visuals, @Flygirltwo examines how content creation, distribution and discovery are likely to change.

 4. Social media with a shelf life

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern It’s impossible to “delete” a Facebook profile…or is it? Snapchat photos only last for seven seconds…or do they? These seem like simple questions, but the answers can be complicated. It turns out social media is neither as permanent nor as temporary as we once thought. @heyitsnoah discusses the real shelf-life of content and how much control we have (or don’t have) over it.

 5. A world of social media

The Weibo logo is seen at the NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square in celebration of its initial public offering (IPO) on The NASDAQ Stock Market in New YorkTwitter vs Seina Weibo; Google vs Yandex; Facebook vs Qzone: Are they simply different versions of one another or are they functionally different? @huyong and @tnatsu examine social media dynamics on a global basis. What are some of the most important differences in social media use across the world? How do local cultures, governments and social norms impact social media usage, and what are the implications as the world becomes increasingly interconnected?

 6. Consolidation versus fragmentation

An employee of puzzle maker Beverly holds a piece of the company's white micro 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle at the International Toy Show in TokyoThere are an ever-increasing number of social sites, each purporting to play a specific role or group of roles in the landscape of social communication. How is this playing out in the marketplace? We know that leaders like Facebook are absorbing newcomers like Instagram and WhatsApp. Are these new players nipping at the heels of the major established sites, or are they expanding the social media landscape? @linda_abraham examines the trends in these areas, including whether the big players are getting bigger or if we’re entering a new era of fragmentation in the social space.

 7. Digital overload 

A student from the General Yermolov Cadet School plays with her mobile phone during a two-day field exercise near the village of SengileyevskoyeThe nature of the media landscape has changed dramatically, largely driven by social media. In the current environment, information flies at us at a ferocious speed, from multiple sources at once. Brain science has long suggested that we are incapable of multi-tasking, or at least that we cannot be as effective in doing one thing while also doing another, yet the digital environment we live in, fuelled by social media, almost demands that we do just that. @createdbyerica asks what impact this has on young people in particular.

 8. Online life after death

Stone crosses and gravestones are silhouetted against the sky at Invaliden cemetery in BerlinApparently, it’s never too early to begin thinking about one’s online identity. With digital content from years past following us around for decades on one hand, and parents now creating Facebook pages for their unborn children on the other, what are the implications of social media as it relates to one’s personal brand? Who owns your online identify after you die, and what rights do they have to manage it? @garyvee examines the issue of social media data from cradle to grave (and beyond?)

 9. Social media in the dock 

Justice scales are seen inside the Brittany's Parliament in RennesSocial media produces a large amount of publicly available data. Is it fair game to introduce this as evidence in a court case? How does this challenge some long-established practices that are important tenants of the legal process in many countries? Who owns this data, and under what circumstances can they be forced to surrender it? @ealshafei examines the many new considerations individuals, societies and governments now face as they consider the implications of social media through a legal lens.

 10. Health check for social media


Health check for social media: E-health, wearable devices, endless apps and online resources help us measure, track and analyse the state of our bodies. @garth_japhet examines how social media is changing the way we take care of ourselves. What are the implications of all this data for healthcare systems around the world? And what are the benefits and risks for individuals?

These 10 topics are just the tip of a vast social media iceberg. We hope it stimulates discussion now, and on the ever-increasing social media platforms of the near future. Author: Linda Abraham is Co-Founder of comScore and Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Media. Image: People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel