Stories, live stream and new functionalities, all with one goal: to offer new features. Social media networks have evolved, and with them also their content and uses. Brands and digital professionals need to be prepared if they don’t want to be left behind. In this article we will provide an overview of the situation of the main social platforms and try to understand in which direction they are heading.
Stating that the internet moves at an ever-increasing speed would be an understatement: technological innovations and software updates are almost a daily occurrence and do not seem to slow down. At the same time, social media platforms are also evolving, trying to offer new features to their users to keep them online for as long as possible. It is obviously difficult to predict the future of the digital world, but understanding the present is certainly necessary for all those who work with social networks and want to exploit their full potential.
Table of contents
To begin, let’s consider the research carried out by Appannie. About 74 billion social apps have been downloaded in total ($ 3.2 billion in the first quarter of 2021 alone, on which users spent 740 billion hours overall, 44% of the time spent on all mobile devices), and over $ 22.2 billion have been spent on those apps
But consumers are switching to a video-centric experience provided by “content creators”. Although Facebook and WhatsApp are still among the most downloaded apps, video players are dominating, especially those with short video content and live streaming: they have risen significantly in the charts, with TikTok the new number 1 in charge for numbers of downloads and Snapchat in the top 10. It is estimated that the total time spent on such apps will exceed half a trillion hours on Android phones alone outside of China in 2021. Proof of this is the fact that the average monthly time per user spent on TikTok has surpassed that of YouTube in the US.
All this has led to the birth of the “Creator economy”: users are now encouraged to give “gifts” (usually money) during the live broadcasts of the influencers. For example, Twitch has introduced the Bits, virtual coins (that can be purchased with real currency) that allow you to express appreciation for a streamer and support him/her financially, in addition to the classic subscription to access exclusive content. The same goes for TikTok too. For this reason, TikTok and Twitch rank among the top 10 apps for consumer spending and the estimate on spending until 2025 is around 78 billion euros.
The most important updates from social media
By reading the data above, it’s no surprise that the world of social media is in constant flux. All platforms work daily to implement changes and new features that will allow users to take advantage of various content, from live streaming to short videos, from podcasts to games.
Let’s now see more specifically how the main social media platforms are evolving, while also trying to predict a potential future evolution and identify the most peculiar characteristics.
The social media platforms belonging to Mark Zuckerberg are perhaps the ones that have most evolved since their first online release, and they are also influencing each other. Between scandals (from Cambridge Analytica to the investigation on the negative effects of Instagram on young people) and more or less evident technical problems (at the time of writing this article, the latest one happened to all platforms on Monday, 4 October 2021), these social networks have nevertheless remained among the most used and they don’t show any sign of decline.
As for Facebook, it seems to be simply a different container of the new features that have previously been introduced on Instagram. However, we shouldn’t underestimate Facebook: the number of active users remains very high, as well as the resources that companies decide to invest in it.
The main novelty is that Reels can also be shared within the Facebook feed, thus increasing their visibility exponentially. The other innovations concern adjustments and optimizations of advertisements and new strategies to ensure a more practical and easy interaction with editorial content, also in audio format.
TO LEARN MORE: How to leverage Facebook to market your business in 2021
Instagram is probably the social media on which Zuckerberg is focusing the most. After being “inspired” by Snapchat with the stories and having also introduced live videos (very used during the lockdown), now Instagram is promoting its own Reels. In addition, with the aim of further promoting audio-visual content, video posts on the feed and IGTV videos will be combined in a single format and will be accessible through a single tab on the users’ profile.
Business-wise, the introduction of the search on the map feature is very useful for all local businesses. Like all the new features, however, it still needs to be perfected.
Another feature is the introduction of chatbots. For now, Instagram only allows you to enter automatic questions that customers can ask via DMs, but in the future, we could move towards a more customizable automation of conversations, so that you can always be available and immediately respond to the various needs of the customers. In addition, it seems that it will soon be possible to combine both the chats on Instagram and those on Facebook Messenger in a single interface. Finally, two really useful elements: the same platform has released more information on how its algorithm works and, in a post, it explained that you shouldn’t use more than 5 hashtags.
TO LEARN MORE: How to leverage Instagram to market your business in 2021
Among Zuckerberg’s social networks, WhatsApp is the one that has undergone the least changes and should not drastically change its features, at least in the near future. The noteworthy element is the possibility for companies to set up a virtual showcase where the customer can see the products, interact with the seller and buy them directly on the app. A sort of e-commerce integrated into the instant messaging app, with great potential for all sellers.
As already mentioned, these three social media networks are still used by many people, but they are not attracting younger people. Will they be able to reverse the trend? Zuckerberg will certainly try and the changes will not end here.
Let’s now consider TikTok, the social network that has recently experienced a massive increase in downloads and active users. Bytedance, the Chinese company that developed it, is in talks with Google to try to get the videos listed on the SERP: this would mean that when looking for something on the search engine, TikToks will appear among the results. If successful, this agreement would ensure greater video exposure and brands could consider SEO strategies that don’t bring potential customers to their site, but on TikTok to watch tutorials and reviews of their products.
However, if you prefer to stick to the classics, influencer marketing is still a winning strategy. Creator economy is allowing content creators and influencers to earn money directly from the platforms, but collaborations with brands remain a good opportunity for both.
Twitter is still used mainly by journalists, politicians and professionals who comment on news related to their specific fields, but there is also an increasing presence of fans communities revolving around the most varied topics, from sport to cinema, from gossip to fashion.
Also, Twitter is trying to implement new features, some of which have not been so successful, like fleets, the story format available on every social media that have already been eliminated. There is also Twitter Spaces, audio-chat rooms like the ones on Clubhouse. And let’s not forget Twitter Blue (currently only available in Canada and Australia): a premium version that allows access to exclusive features, such as the undo button for tweets, folders for bookmarked tweets and better format for reading long threads in an easier way.
If the stories were a (failed) attempt to conform to the competitors, the other features are used to create communities of enthusiasts and experts who exchange information and opinions. But there are also updates for brands: Jack Dorsey’s social network should soon allow businesses to modify their profile page in order to add shop, info, and newsletter tabs.
TO LEARN MORE: How to leverage Twitter to market your business in 2021
Very different from the social networks considered so far, Twitch is a platform that allows you to follow live streams that usually last more than an hour and a half. A clear difference compared to other social networks, where short content is preferred. The reason for that is loyalty: users follow this kind of content because they are loyal to its creator (so much that they also support them economically).
The acquisition by Amazon has led to affiliate systems and huge investments: if before Twitch was mainly used by gamers, now the contents are very broad (podcasts, monologues, talk shows, tournaments, entertainment). In the future, this social network could become a generic container of streaming content, further incentivizing the creator economy of which it is the greatest exponent.
Perhaps this may sound too unrealistic, but with Amazon entering now in the football broadcasting industry, could we watch Champions League matches on Twitch in the future? It’s too early to know it for sure, but in the social media world (and when it comes to Big Techs) anything is possible.
TO LEARN MORE: Twitch: what it is, how it works and how to advertise on it
LinkedIn is focusing on providing various training opportunities to its members and allowing them to be more prepared to face the challenging work market. LinkedIn has implemented badges, to quickly and intuitively certify the acquired skills, and two new courses on digital marketing. In addition, the developers are working on providing new guides, tips and worksheets to help users to communicate better on the platform and successfully use all its features, including advertisements.
Moreover, the possibility of displaying the offered services on one’s personal profile has been added, and recently it is also possible to write (and therefore also receive) reviews and ratings on these services.
TO LEARN MORE: How to leverage LinkedIn to market your business in 2021
Finally, let’s wrap up this social media roundup by talking about YouTube. Those who regularly upload videos have recently benefited from the new tools to measure data and performance. In addition, to help both youtubers and viewers, the videos are now subject to segmentation by chapters/topics (that can be set up manually or automatically by the algorithm). These segments can also be searched via the platform’s internal search engine so, also in this case, SEO techniques are more important than ever.
Moreover, in order to encourage the creation of communities, the social network has expanded the Community tab of the channels, now available to all accounts with more than 500 subscribers, where it is possible to post various contents such as gifs, images and polls. Keeping this goal in mind, YouTube is also testing the possibility of activating an option that allows you to have comments written by other users pop up on the screen at the exact moment they mentioned in the comment itself.
And now two important announcements that could radically change the media landscape and bring YouTube into direct competition with Amazon and TikTok. First, the social network owned by Google has announced that 4K Plus is available: it is a package in which YouTube subscribers have access to a 4K downloads and an unlimited streaming service. The clear goal, as stated by the social network itself, is to ensure a perfect experience for all sports fans. In addition, to try to keep up with the new generations, even YouTube is adapting to the format of short videos with Shorts, an alternative version of TikTok and Reels.
To sum up, we could say that streaming and short videos are currently the two most successful content on social media networks. But, as we have seen, each social network has its own characteristics and they are constantly updating their features according to trends and to what could be useful to users. However, this does not mean that a format that works well on one platform will also be effective on others. Stories are a perfect example of this.
In any case, brands and companies that want to use new media for commercial purposes should always pay attention to the innovations introduced by the platforms, and experiment with new forms of content.
We hope that this article has been useful and provided you with an overview of the situation of the main social networks, so that you will be able to better understand the current landscape in which marketers operate. If you want to stay up to date, follow our Instagram profile, where every Monday we summarize all the latest news about social media! Let us know in the comments how you think social media will evolve and how you are preparing to face the upcoming challenges. If, on the other hand, you are not an expert but still want to promote your brand online, contact us to discover our marketing and communication services!