A lot has changed in the social media landscape in a short amount of time. In the last year we’ve seen the rise of image-based networks like Vine and Snapchat, privacy and anonymity apps like Whisper and Secret, and the emergence of native advertising on digital platforms. Messaging apps like WhatsApp have become major players, but not big money makers. Facebook’s organic reach has shrunk, and rumors that young users are abandoning the platform have run rampant (they’re not), but the fragmentation of user’s social media attention has continued. In response to new players and an increasingly crowded social space, established platforms are playing with new initiatives and announcing important shifts. Every week it seems that one or more of the major social media players releases an update, announces a buyout, or launches something new. It’s exhausting, and hard to keep up with, to say the least. But we get it, and we’re here to help! Today we’re giving you a social media update detailing some of the more important shifts happening within the big networks right now, and what it could all mean for future of the social. Let’s get started:
The social networking behemoth has had quite the busy summer. Facebook has launched so many new apps and tools in the last few months that we could devote an entire post to explaining them all, so we’ll stick to the ones that stand out. The network’s launch of Slingshot is one of the bigger developments. The image messaging app is a continuation of Facebook’s attempts to acquire, then compete with Snapchat. We covered the launch in our post rounding up the apps that could be the next big things in tech, but already changes have been made to the platform. Consumers’ reactions to Slingshot were less than enthusiastic, and the app hasn’t gained much traction. So last week one of the features seen as a hurdle was eliminated, and users can now exchange an unlimited amount of “reaction messages,” altering the limited “shot-for-shot” set up of the app. Whether this change will make a difference in their user numbers remains to be seen—though we predict it will take more than a few tweaks to draw in young consumers.
The second big change made by the network last week was another involving messaging: now mobile users (the majority of Facebook use is now mobile) must download a new standalone app in order to use Facebook Messenger, which previously lived within the Facebook app. While this reportedly improves the usability of Messenger, it also forces users to download yet another mobile platform. The move is an attempt to “make Messenger the best mobile service for messaging,” which is a veiled way of saying that Facebook is looking to take down competing messenger apps like Line, which have gained huge user bases. Interestingly, Facebook also purchased WhatsApp, one of the biggest players in the mobile messaging space, earlier this year, so in some ways their Messenger app shift is competing with one of their own properties.
In other Facebook news, the site has killed their Facebook Gifts feature, which allowed users to buy and give gift cards to businesses like Starbucks and iTunes within Facebook. Instead, the site will be focusing on the Buy button for making ecommerce transaction within its network. The Buy button allows businesses and brands to publish posts and ads that include a button for transactions without transporting users to the merchant’s site, making Facebook a helpful middleman rather than a product hawker themselves.
Finally, near the end of July Facebook officially became the owner of Oculus, a virtual reality headset “pioneer” that the network purchased for $2 billion. The company will continue to operate mostly independently, with Facebook “helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games,” according to Mark Zuckerburg. Oculus will more than likely announce any big projects they have in development at their first conference in September.
What It All Means: On the surface, all of the launched apps and acquisitions make it appear that Facebook is having an identity crisis. In truth, these are all signs of what Facebook has made clear all along: they aren’t interested in being just a social media platform. Instead, like Amazon, Apple, and Google, they want to influence, and profit off, consumers’ lives in a myriad of ways. Expect that every time young consumers flock to a new app, Facebook will try to buy it or replicate it, and at the same time they’ll continue to develop projects that live completely outside of social media to become the major brand they’ve always wanted to be.
Twitter has a history of people doubting its influence and potential for success (remember the “who cares what everyone is doing or thinking at every moment of the day?” naysayers) but the site is proving itself this year. Its Q2 report showed an impressive rise in revenue, and users, causing the site’s stock to “skyrocket.” At the same time, only 15% of consumers in the U.S. are on the platform—though it is important to note that our June social media tracker showed that 58% of young consumers 14-34-years-old have an account. The network is growing, but they still aren’t making enough money, so efforts to monetize their audience will likely be ramped up. Just this month, Twitter launched a new dashboard for verified users and advertisers to show analytics in greater detail and more clearly report total impressions, engagements, and engagement rates for each tweet.
At the same time, Twitter is about to embark on a mission to convince advertisers and others that even those who don’t officially use the network should be counted as users because they are likely reading Twitter content. They’re also looking to make the site more approachable for new users to continue their growth. A recent trial “translated” hashtags for newbies who don’t know that #oitnb means Orange Is the New Black, #tbt means Throwback Thursday, etc.
What It All Means: In the end, all the messaging and status updates in the world don’t do a social brand any good if they can’t monetize, and now that Twitter has gained enough users to be considered a lasting entity, they will be trying to find as many ways to make money from those users as possible—without disrupting the network so much that they face a backlash. Expect plenty of efforts to gain more advertisers and initiatives to become profitable in the next year.
The image sharing network (owned by Facebook) is branching out. Instagram has launched a new photo-messaging app called Bolt, which is being tested in Singapore, South Africa, and New Zealand and will be released worldwide after kinks have been worked out. Bolt is designed to be a “lightning fast” (get it?) platform for one-on-one picture and video sending. Engaget calls Bolt a “Snapchat rival,” so in some ways the app could be interpreted as yet another of Facebook’s attempts to take down the ephemeral picture messaging app. Users sign up for Bolt using their phone number, so membership on Instagram or Facebook is not required. After a video or picture is taken within bolt, users merely tap on a contact’s picture scrolling at the bottom of the screen to instantly send the shot. The interactions are strictly one-on-one, so the more mass social networking aspects of photo sharing that Instagram has become famous for are eliminated here. Still, some don’t see anything special or unique enough within Bolt to make is a draw, so whether it will be a success upon worldwide launch is in doubt.
But Instagram is making improvements within its own platform as well, “embracing its inner Twitter” with improved features like suggested users to follow and a revamp of the “Explore” tab that helps members find content that is relevant to them. Instagram’s internal one-on-one picture messaging feature, Instagram Direct, is reportedly doing well and gaining steam with small groups on the platform; which means that the network already has another finger in the messaging, “micro-sharing” pie.
What It All Means: Clearly there is a major messaging competition brewing, and the messaging app market is becoming crowded—perhaps crowded enough that users will ignore attempts to replicate something they are already using unless it truly offers something unique. We’re entering a phase of social networking where the focus is on smaller, more direct communication rather than mass updates, and the titans of social are going to war to try to get users to be loyal to their version.
It’s true that Snapchat hasn’t been around as long as the networks above, but its influence can’t be understated. As we’ve already covered, Facebook covets Snapchat’s success and is trying just about anything to match it. As for the changes happening within the app that allows users to send temporary pictures directly to friends, the platform has been rolling out features and making moves that all indicate that they are looking to creatively monetize their passionate and growing young user-base.
Last fall, the app added the now-popular Snapchat Stories. Now they’ve announced another innovation that makes this storytelling a group activity. “Our Story” allows users at the same event to add pictures to the same Story. They piloted the tool at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas, where 140,000 attendees were invited to share their images to a communal stream. In July, Snapchat introduced a new “geofilter” feature that could be a step towards monetizing the platform. The geofilters unlock fun art and labels based on users’ location that they can then use to decorate their photos. When snapping a shot at Disneyland, Disney related art becomes available as an overlay, etc. Interestingly one example given by the app is the ability to add a SoulCycle logo when snapping at one of the cycling studio’s locations. Though they have not confirmed this is a branded partnership, the potential for these filters to be a form of paid advertisement is clear.
More recently, TechCrunch picked up on the news that Snapchat has filed trademarks that will allow them to process payments within the app. The filings indicate that their monetization will not stop at sponsored content and virtual goods, but could also depend on user-to-user money transfers, which could make Snapchat a competitor to apps like Venmo.
What It All Means: Marketers can expect that Snapchat will become a more friendly place for them in the coming months as advertising on the site goes from experimental to a more solidified process. Meanwhile, the line between social networking, messaging, and peer-to-peer payments could be blurring. Snapchat could be attempting to be all three, which could make it an even more formidable social media opponent than it’s competitors even imagined.