Amidst fear of social media fatigue, those in the digital space tried to figure out how to engage audiences and refresh their social networking spirits. Then along came Path, a mobile social network available only to Android and iPhone users. Though it was first introduced in November 2010, Path's recent jump in popularity suggests that it has many of the principles people are now looking for in the social space. So, why is Path so successful?

  • It's personal. Path is purposely designed to only work well with a small, established circle of people; with a set limit of 150 friends, it will never be like the sea of Facebook where everyone you knew from college is suddely in your news feed. Path puts managability back into networking, and makes social updating personal again. What's more, close friends are more likely to validate posts from friends, and validation is a key factor to digital engagement across all channels. 
  • It's minimally intrusive. The creators of Path included a special "Awake/Sleep" feature not just so a user could let their friends know it was after hours for them, but so notifications would have a set time to be shut off. In other words, if you tell Path you're sleeping, it won't push a single notification to you until you tell it you've woken up. Plus, because Path is designed for close-knit networks, the notifications are few, anyway. 
  • It's exclusively mobile. A network that exists only where its users physically are? Genius. These days, the socially engaged carry smartphones in tow everywhere they go. Part of why Instagram is so successful is because it can quickly be accessed via mobile to make an update, and Path follows the same model. It doesn't risk social media fatigue becuase mobile phone behavior is, by and large, vastly different from the behavior that occurs in front of a computer screen. Path (and mobile social networks in general) are accessed for short bursts of time over the course of the day. 
  • It's user-centric. The goal on Path is simply for users to have a way to share experiences with one another. It's not a place for brands, advertising, or promotions, which helps take some of the clutter of the "traditional" social network out of the equation. With Facebook and Twitter, it's easy to feel like a popularity contest is in place, and every update, photo, or link shared has to be well-received. Path allows users to get back to basics with a question both Facebook ("What's on your mind?") and Twitter ("What are you up to?") originally posed to users - questions that most have lost sight of since signing up.

The next generation of social networks is still being defined, but Path paints a picture of what they could (and perhaps should) look like. Communication is personal and the relationships on Path are tangible, unlike so many other "relationships" across the social media spectrum. Brands and digital marketers shouldn't approach the next wave of social media usage with fear, however; there's a lot to be learned from Path, and its counterparts. Make a personal connection that feels real, and you'll be ready for what's next.