What Does the Internet of Things Mean for Social Media?

By Sam Butterworth

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The Internet of Things is a colourful phrase and one increasingly heard in tech circles. Essentially, the term refers to the expansion of internet connectivity beyond traditional computing devices – to TVs, refrigerators, light bulbs, plugs, kettles, door locks and thermostats, to name just a few products on a lengthening list of once relatively simple and uncomplicatedly analogue products. You can now, if you have the money and the interest, surround yourself with internet-enabled devices almost all day long, opening up a whole new world of technical interactions in the process. Switch your lights on and off just by speaking, monitor your heating while at the office, see who’s at your door before you’ve even arrived home.

 

It looks like a trend that will only go on accelerating exponentially, thanks in part to the sheer number of products that can be linked. As older models wear out, more people will buy connected models as they become more and more accustomed to a life interwoven with the internet, thanks largely to the sophisticated smartphones most of us now take with us everywhere. There are more than two billion internet-connected phones in circulation, but, research suggests, by 2020 there may as many as 13 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things.

 

Meanwhile, social media has grown from a standing start into a global phenomenon which has also been fuelled by the everywhere-you-go access offered by smartphones. We’ve all heard the numbers: active users on Facebook now comfortably exceed two billion while its command of an ever-expanding slice of the online advertising market has caused dismay amongst the traditional media. Could these two very distinct technological trends intersect?

 

Never mind ‘could’ – they already have! Social media apps for Internet of Things devices like TVs, blu-ray players and set-up boxes are already fairly common, and unsurprisingly so. At the end of a hard day’s work, you can sit on your sofa and browse your Twitter feed on your TV, or scroll through galleries of pictures posted by your pals on Facebook in glorious HD. No need to squint a small phone screen or give yourself arm strain with a heavy tablet: just relax with a glass of wine and a TV remote.

 

Sites like Facebook have become ever-expanding hubs of personal information for their keenest users: life events, photo albums, career milestones, hobbies and personal ruminations gradually accumulate the longer the account remains active. Many people will find extending social media reach to the data generated by Internet of Things devices very natural. It’s already easy to share your runs and workouts with your social media contacts via Fitbits and similar devices. In a few years’ time, keen cooks may relish the chance to share the contents of their smart fridges, and box set enthusiasts their TV watch lists. Many will find it only natural to post data from their smart plugs or thermostats, and such sharing need not be any less compelling than frequently mundane musings already posted by the million.

 

The Internet of Things has already begun to expand the digital footprints each of us leave as we go about our daily lives. Once arcane medical information like our heart rates and calorie consumption is now readily accessible, and a population accustomed to sharing their lives will surely see increasingly little reason not to post this data on their social media sites of choice.

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