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Traditional social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, while still immensely popular, have lost users and have experienced changes in traffic patterns. In fact, according to an August 2018 SimilarWeb report, over the last two years, Facebook’s traffic has dropped from 9.5 billion visits to 4.7 billion. Similarly, in the last few months of 2018 alone, Twitter lost 5 million monthly users, according to The Verge.

This is not to say that social media has run its course, or that these social media platforms are going away anytime soon. Instead, those with data security on the mind are seeking out ways to continue connecting with each other online without risking their privacy. A Pew Research Center study reports that 91 percent of Americans “agree” or “strongly agree” that they have lost control over the way their personal data is collected and utilized by social media platforms. Now, they may be looking to regain this control.

One possible solution? With data security a primary concern, various decentralized blockchain-based networks are making their way into the limelight, introducing primarily advertising-free platforms on which users have more control over the information they post and how it is shared, and can, in some cases, even make money by participating.

What Are Decentralized Social Media Networks?
Most of these platforms run on blockchain, a private ledger that uses cryptography to record and link information in a dispersed network, reducing risk and making it more secure than sharing data on a centralized network, in which a central server manages it.

Here are a few of the decentralized platforms garnering attention today:

Junto – Still in its crowdfunding stage, Junto is a platform that promotes the ability to focus on experiences without the “vanity” metrics that are widespread on today’s social media sites, such as likes, follower counts and emoji reactions. The network allegedly focuses on the human connection to reduce privacy concerns and the addictive quality of social media. The platform runs on Holochain, an alternative to blockchain that promises similar data security benefits.  

Diaspora – Similar to Twitter, Diaspora allows users to save their data on independently-run servers, or “pods,” located around the world. Users can choose which pod to sign up with, reducing risk, as no central server is housing an individual’s sensitive account information. Some of these pods have cross-posting capabilities, allowing users to still participate in more traditional social media platforms. In addition, with Diaspora, users can choose what others see in terms of the content they post.

As with Twitter, Diaspora users can use hashtags to label and follow interests. Additionally, the Aspects feature allows users to organize their contacts according to their role, making segmenting posts a bit easier.

Sola – As Facebook and Instagram currently do, Sola uses AI algorithms and user reactions to segment and share information. The technology analyzes what is relevant and valuable for each user and begins prioritizing that type of content on their respective pages. This network gives users to opportunity to monetize their posts—a feature that over 700,000 are using.

Minds – This platform shares similarities with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, and has 2 million users. Since the network is available to the public, everyone can contribute and review the code, customizing the platform according to their needs. In addition, users can monetize their content using peer-to-peer advertising. In terms of features, the news feed is similar to Facebook and users can use Discovery to find relevant, interesting content; the blog to post their own content; and Groups to network with community members that have similar interests. This network has 200,000 monthly active users.

Mastodon – Similar to Twitter in that it has a 500-character limits on its messages, or “toots,” this platform runs on open-source software and does not allow ads. The network reportedly has anti-abuse tools in place, in addition to moderators, to ensure privacy of data and posts that adhere to a code of conduct. Powered by donations, this network has around 1.6 million users.

A Focus on Narrative Rather Than Networking
What many of these platforms have in common is the inability to outright advertise. Agents can, however, still use these networks to connect with their clients and potential leads—they’ll just have to rely on storytelling, rather than promotional language, to market themselves.

What does this mean? The future may be seeing a shift in the way people communicate online, even in vendor-to-consumer interactions. In order to establish reciprocal relationships on these sites, agents may have to blur the line between business contact and personal friend. For example, since most of these platforms allow users to segment their posts and choose who gets to see them, if agents wind up in a “business only” category, they won’t see the posts being shared with that individual’s “personal” contacts, and therefore won’t have as much content they can leverage to further develop that relationship and stay top-of-mind. Think major life changes like getting married or having a baby—these topics can typically be used as a way to start a conversation and build a strong follow-up system with past clients, but if agents aren’t seeing this information, they have less reasons to connect, making them appear more salesy in their outreach. 

A Better Choice?
While blockchain does promote added security, as with anything, there are loopholes and concerns to consider. These platforms are still new and largely untested, and because of the anonymity associated with blockchain technology, subscribers could use these platforms to hide their identities for fraudulent purposes.

Additionally, as these are so new, scalability is an issue. While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms have established reputations, users may not necessarily jump ship on the familiar to venture to platforms that operate in a completely different arena. Many of these platforms also charge—an immediate deal-breaker for many consumers who have become accustomed to free social media access.

If they do gain traction, however, agents should be prepared to adapt to a new method of online marketing. In an increasingly competitive tech world, it’s safe to say that today’s social media giants would be quick to adopt similar technology should it catch on.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com.

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